The new-look Bruins caught a break coming out of the extended Christmas/COVID break.

While Coach Bruce Cassidy did some major surgery on his forward lines, the NHL served them up perennial loser Buffalo, an improving-but-not-there-yet Detroit, and a depleted New Jersey squad for the Bruins to get their footing as new linemates became accustomed to each other.

Now the training wheels are coming off.

The Bruins host the Minnesota Wild (struggling lately at 0-4-1 but still explosive) Thursday then travel to Tampa (to face the league-leading Lightning) and on to Washington, where the Capitals are holding their own among the NHL’s elite.

After those three games, we’ll have a better idea of just how excited the Bruins should be about this team. But with three wins in a row that have produced 14 goals from 13 different goal-scorers, there is reason for some optimism. Cassidy chalked some of it up to the line changes and some to the Bruins getting healthy during the break.

“What we expect is more of that, it’s just going to be harder to score,” said Cassidy. “Good teams tend to make it tough on you to get inside and score goals, create offense. It doesn’t mean we can’t do it if we continue to play with good habits and willingness to get there and sacrifice.”

The Bruins did hit a somewhat significant bump in the road on Wednesday when fourth-line center Tomas Nosek entered the COVID protocol, the 14th Bruin player to test positive this season, joining Jake DeBrusk and Karson Kuhlman as the remaining players in isolation. Nosek has been front and center in the Bruins bottom-six revival, anchoring the fourth that has scored four goals in the last two games while winning important defensive zone draws, especially on the penalty kill.

In Nosek’s absence, Trent Frederic will move back to the middle and Anton Blidh will draw into the lineup. Frederic is at 41% in the dot.

“(Faceoffs) is an area we’d like to see Freddy continue to work on after practice. He was playing center for a stretch there so it shouldn’t be foreign to him but it’s an area where (he needs to improve) … Freddy’s going to have to step up and work on that part of his game,” said Cassidy.

As for the restructuring of the top nine that so far has been a grand success, Cassidy said he held a sit-down with the previous top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak – together for years with great success – before going through with it, getting some ideas on who might work with whom..

“They have a great pulse of the room,” said Cassidy. “We moved Charlie (Coyle) back to that third hole. We know Charlie has played with different guys over the years and can pull a line along, especially this year. He’s going really well. So I guess you can say that he’s the one that got demoted but almost got more responsibility to pull more guys into it. So give him a lot of credit for not balking at the idea.”

Coyle, who is back producing to expectations after offseason knee surgery (8-8-16 in 29 games), accepted the assignment with his usual whatever’s-best-for-the team approach.

“Wherever I’m playing, that’s where I’m going to play and my game’s not going to change too much. It doesn’t really matter a whole lot,” said Coyle. “It seems to be working. Every line contributed. It’s great to see up and down the lineup when everyone gets rewarded. It helps everyone”s confidence and it helps everyone as a whole.”

Starting Thursday night at the Garden, that burgeoning confidence will be put to the test.

RASK NEARS RETURN: Tuukka Rask continued to practice with the team in Tuesday’s morning skate and though Cassidy said it has not yet been agreed upon for Rask to play this weekend in Providence, that remains a possibility if and when he’s cleared medically for live action.

Rask drew praise from Cassidy for how he’s approached his rehab from hip surgery.

“He looks good. I’ve watched him for years and I’m stating the obvious, but he’s an excellent goaltender. Technically sound, not a lot of wasted movements for Tuukka. It’s been a strength since he came into the league since he was a 20-year-old. I think it’s been well documented, if you go back and look at scouting reports and how people have talked about him. It’s his strength. I remember in Providence when he was a young guy. He’s just in control and that’s been his game since Day One,” said Cassidy.

OLYMPIC DECISION: While all the potential Olympic players had been asked about the NHL deciding not to go to Beijing in February, Cassidy was finally asked about his own disappointment. He had already been named to the Team Canada coaching staff under Jon Cooper and had already been doing some work on the team. While he managed to make light of it, the decision was clearly a gut punch to him as well.

“They asked for their computer back, rightfully so, but they didn’t get their other swag back. That’ll look good in the summer with the golf shirts, etc,” said Cassidy. “Listen, everyone’s disappointed. I was grateful for the time I spent in Banff with same great hockey minds, Coop and Barry Trotz and Doug Armstrong … It was a good group and it felt like it was going to be a family already. That’s the disappointing part. You’re excited about doing video on Connor McDavid, (Sidney) Crosby, guys I haven’t crossed paths with. I get to coach elite players every day from Canada but these are a group of them. So there’s a lot of that and maybe when the Olympics happen in February and you’re watching team Canada, you may get a little sentimental, like ‘Hey, it could have been me over there.’ But you look for an opportunity down the road.”

Cassidy, who has acquired his U.S. citizenship, said he’d welcome an invite from either country in the future.


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