Boston Bruins daily notebook: 3rd line has been key

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 27: David Backes
BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 27: David Backes /

In case you haven’t heard by now, heading into Thursday’s game in Washington, the Boston Bruins have won 14 of their last 18 games and are currently on a five game win streak. The team’s third line has played no small part.

There have been a lot of factors that have contributed to the Boston Bruins recent success, but one of the key components has been the emergence and reliability of the team’s third line. The unit consists of David Backes and Danton Heinen on the wings with Riley Nash centering the group. I figured the timing was perfect to talk about the group, since all three found the back of the net in Wednesday’s 5-1 win against the Senators.

While Backes was out for almost the entire month of November, there was a lot of shuffling of the lines and trying to figure out who meshed well together. Since his return to the lineup on November 29th, the group has been skating together, and its no coincidence the team’s record is 10-2-1 since that date.

Backes, 33, signed a 5 year deal with the Bruins before last season, and after spending all of last year all over the place in the lineup, he has settled in nicely on the right wing next to Nash and Heinen. During this recent run, he has notched 10 points (5-5-10) over 13 games with a +3 rating and averaging 15:49 TOI.

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Nash, 28, was also brought in prior to last season. After spending his first five seasons with the Carolina Hurricanes, Nash played in 81 games for the Bruins last season, spending the majority of it as a bottom-six forward. This season however he has been given the task of centering the third line, and he has ran with it.

Never known for being a major scoring presence, Nash has always been a guy who does all the little things well. Since teaming up with Backes and Heinen, he’s a +3 and has contributed eight points (3-5-8) while averaging 15:07 TOI.

Boston Bruins
BOSTON, MA – DECEMBER 9: Danton Heinen /

Heinen, 22, has been producing nicely in his rookie season. The 2014 4th round pick leads all Bruins rookies with 24 points (9-15-24) this season. Thirteen of those points, (5-8-13) have came since Backes returned to the lineup and slotted in next to him and Nash.

While Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork struggled and both were benched at different points in recent weeks, the question was asked if Heinen should be skating with David Krejci on the second line. Cassidy never wavered, and left the 22 year old with Nash and Backes, the decision has payed off nicely, and since Krejci has missed the five games due to injury, it would have been short lived.

With this line producing the way they have, it has lessened the load of the first line (Marchand, Bergeron, Pastrnak) in the fact that they don’t have to be relied on to produce the majority of the offense while also shutting down the other team’s top line. Bruins fans should be smiling as it feels that for the first time in a while it appears the team has three solid lines that can produce offensively, which leads to less shuffling of the lines and better chemistry among the units.

Other Gameday Notes

Anton Khudobin will start Thursday night in Washington as was expected. Khudobin shut out the Buffalo Sabres in his most recent start, coming back on December 19th.

Still no David Krejci (upper body) or Adam McQuaid (leg) in the lineup, as Cassidy said Wednesday, no need to rush anyone back while the team is on a lengthy win streak. Hard to find fault with his logic there.

Noel Acciari has been cleared by the medical staff after taking a hit to the head in last night’s game against Ottawa. He did return to the action later in the game, and showed no effects from the hit so expect him to be in the lineup tonight.

Next: Bruins Week 12: Charlie McAvoy = Awesome

It has been brought up that the Bruins have lost 11 straight games to the Capitals, dating back to March 2014. The Bruins broke a long regular season losing streak to Ottawa last night, so here hoping for more of the same tonight in Washington.

Thursday’s Projected Lines

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen – Riley Nash – David Backes
Jake DeBrusk – Ryan Spooner – Anders Bjork
Tim Schaller – Sean Kuraly – Noel Acciari

Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Matt Grzelcyk – Kevan Miller

Anton Khudobin
Tuukka Rask