Boston Bruins: Bottom-six forward group in need of shake up

Apr 22, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) and Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dustin Tokarski (31) look for the puck during the first period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Apr 22, 2021; Buffalo, New York, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Jake DeBrusk (74) and Buffalo Sabres goaltender Dustin Tokarski (31) look for the puck during the first period at KeyBank Center. Mandatory Credit: Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports /

After winning their first six games after the trade deadline, the Boston Bruins have now lost their last two. While the last game against the Buffalo Sabres was a bit of an exception with it being the third game in a row against the team and not having Patrice Bergeron, Sunday against the Pittsburgh Penguins was inexcusable.

The Pens were on the second leg of a back-to-back and the B’s couldn’t find anyway to score. Pittsburgh did a great job at mitigating their weakness in between the pipes as they did a masterful job at controlling Boston’s zone entries and forcing the play wide.

While the top-six forward group can make things happen from outside the dots with their vision, skill, and speed, the same cannot be said about the B’s bottom-six. These guys create opportunities by forcing themselves into the middle of the ice and going to the dirty areas.

Yet, they basically refused to do this on Sunday and head coach Bruce Cassidy noticed this, calling out the team.

Which Boston Bruins are safe from being a healthy scratch?

The entire top-six has continued to play well, it’s the bottom-six that has been lackluster.

A few days ago, I wrote a piece saying the third line of Nick Ritchie, Charlie Coyle, and Jake DeBrusk needs to step up. While all three have put up at least a point since then, this statement still holds true.

With this said, I think all three of these players could benefit from a game off and taking a seat in the press box.

Coyle hasn’t looked right the entire season as he’s gotten away from his puck-controlling, power forward type of game and seems to be trying to be too cute with the puck and is overthinking things.

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Ritchie could just use a break. He hasn’t missed a game so far this season and just seems gassed. He’s scored two goals in the last three games now, but he still looks like he could use a break as he still hasn’t been as effective in front of the net as he was earlier in the season.

DeBrusk just doesn’t seem to have a motor this season. He was a healthy scratch for a game earlier this season and responded quite well to it, playing one of his best games of the season. However, he got COVID-19 right after and hasn’t played that well since. Another time being a deathly scratch could get him going.

Along with the third line, the fourth line of Sean Kuraly, Curtis Lazar, and Chris Wagner has lost the energy they had for the first two games after the deadline.

While Lazar continues to play well, Kuraly and Wagner have regressed back to how they were playing before the deadline… poorly. Wagner is basically a non-factor, and Kuraly continues to make noticeable mistakes and take  ill-timed penalties.

Kuraly and Wagner, as well as the B’s, could benefit from these two being a healthy scratch for a game or two.

Who should be put in the Boston Bruins lineup?

The two top options to replace any of these five guys are Trent Frederic and Karson Kuhlman.

Frederic has been a scratch or on the taxi squad for the last couple of weeks. This started when he became sick, but with the better play of Kuraly with the addition of Lazar, Frederic hasn’t been able to find the lineup again. However, with Kuraly playing poorly again, Frederic may find himself back in the lineup soon.

Kuhlman hasn’t had much luck getting into the lineup this season, however, during his most previous look he was playing quite well. He was playing with his normal high amount of energy, but he was also finding ways to score. He could find himself in DeBrusk’s or Wagner’s spot soon.

Besides these two, the Black and Gold also have options in the AHL. Jack Studnicka is definitely an option to play third line center instead of Coyle and Oskar Steen is an option to come up and play wing.

From Monday’s practice in Pittsburgh, it looks like Coyle or DeBrusk will be a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s game as both were taking reps as the third line right wing. Kuraly was moved up to 3C and Frederic was playing 4LW. Wagner and Kuhlman were both taking reps at 4RW.

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While there hasn’t been confirmation, we could see Coyle or DeBrusk and Wagner as healthy scratches with Frederic and Kuhlman in the lineup on Tuesday. While this takes experience and some talent out of the lineup, it may be for the best.