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‘Haven’t played to their identity’: Jim Montgomery explained his recent Bruins line changes

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The Bruins have lost three in a row and their coach is looking to mix things up.

Jake DeBrusk is took Brad Marchand’s spot on Pavel Zacha’s line at Wednesday’s practice. Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

The Boston Bruins arrived at Warrior Ice Arena on Wednesday searching for a spark.

Jim Montgomery’s bunch hardly had any practice time over the last two weeks. Their product suffered as a result. The defensive struggles against the odd-man rush, inefficient checking game, and a lack of offensive production all played significant roles in Boston’s three-game skid.

With their attention to detail lacking, Wednesday marked a perfect time to return to basics. The high-tempo practice, along with notable lineup changes, highlighted the developments from the 45-minute training session.

Aside from a heavy third trio of Charlie Coyle, Trent Frederic, and James van Riemsdyk, the Bruins haven’t received enough production from their four forward groups. 

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With that in mind, Montgomery mixed and matched with his top-six, moving Jake DeBrusk to his strong-side wing next to Pavel Zacha and David Pastrnak, prompting Brad Marchand next to Matthew Poitras and Danton Heinen. Jakub Lauko, Johnny Beecher, and Morgan Geeike rounded out Boston’s forward groupings.

“We left the lines together for a good stretch there, and just not seeing good enough results,” Montgomery said of his lineup changes. “We kind of like the Coyle line; they’ve been playing to their identity. But we found that the other lines haven’t played to their identity.”

One particular line that struggled to produce during this skid was the Marchand-Zacha-Pastrnak trio.

At a time when the Bruins needed timely offense from their top weapons, Boston’s top line struggled to generate much of anything against the Red WingsRangers, and Blue Jackets. During that stretch, the Marchand-Zacha-Pastrnak trio only mustered seven shots on goal on 28 shot attempts during 5v5 play.

The top-heavy approach paid off when Montgomery put Marchand, Zacha, and Pastrnak together earlier in the season. But their production had dried up, and they weren’t preventing pucks from going in the net either, allowing three goals at full strength over the last two games.

“I think a lot of [the issues] was the puck management of those three,” Montgomery said.

Montgomery likely would’ve pulled his latest round of in-game changes anyway during Boston’s lifeless outing in Columbus. But Zacha’s decision to go to the bench for a new stick prior to Ivan Provorov’s second-period tally prompted the second-year bench boss to act accordingly.

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Yet, aside from injuries and Kevin Shattenkirk rotating third-pairing shifts with Ian Mitchell, Montgomery hadn’t touched his duos on the back end. That trend changed Wednesday after Montgomery watched his defense succumb to odd-man rushes and communication breakdowns.

After allowing 17 goals in the last three games, the Bruins went with a top-heavy approach on their D pairings, putting Hampus Lindholm with Charlie McAvoy. Matt Grzelcyk, who returned from injury during Saturday’s 7-4 beatdown in New York, moved to a second-pairing spot next to Brandon Carlo. Derek Forbort and Shattenkirk remained on Boston’s third pair, with Mitchell serving as the extra defenseman.

“We do it with the forwards all the time, but we haven’t done it with the defensemen,” Montgomery said of altering his defensive pairings. “I felt that our D core hasn’t been at the level that it was for the first 15 games in the last five games.”

Perhaps Montgomery’s lineup changes and a spirited practice will help the Bruins get back on track against the lowly San Jose Sharks on Thursday. At the very least, they’ll try to provide some needed relief for Jeremy Swayman, who will get the start in net after Montgomery pulled him for Linus Ullmark in the second period of Monday’s 5-2 loss.

“Our goalies time and time again were bailing us out, and you’re looking back at a couple saves in the game where we don’t win or don’t get a point if they’re not there for us. It’s not fair for them to ask them to do that every single night, so for us, we’ve got to be better,” McAvoy said.

“Today was a good skate, and we want to work on [our] compte mindset in the D-zone focusing on the details and habits. We have a good chance to implement it tomorrow. We just have to build the game and build it the right way; play a simple brand and we’ll be alright.”

Source: Boston Globe

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