After Tuesday’s 4-0 win over the Minnesota Wild, Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy was asked if he saw David Backes being a long-term solution as the team’s second-line right wing alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
“I don’t know if I ever have long-term solutions,” Cassidy said with a smile.
Cassidy admitted that he’d keep things as is so long as Backes was working out, but seeing as the veteran forward logged the fewest amount of ice time of anyone on the team in Saturday’s 3-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, it seems clear he’s at least somewhat fallen out of favor in the two games since Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Sean Kuraly’s performance lately has been too good to ignore. And due to that lack of stability to Krejci’s right, Kuraly has more than earned his chance to get a crack as a top six forward.
The 25-year-old had a hand in every Bruins goal Saturday, tallying the first three-point game of his career. His puck control as he skated deep into the attacking zone resulted in him maintaining possession as he came to a hard stop before turning and feeding Krejci for the game’s first goal.
Down 2-1 in the second period, some nice forechecking from linemates Chris Wagner and Noel Acciari led to a Wagner pass that found Kuraly at the right face-off dot. Kuraly uncorked a heavy shot over Toronto netminder Michael Hutchinson’s right shoulder.
But it was the third point that really made the difference. With the game locked at a pair in the third, Charlie McAvoy dumped a puck in from the red line so the Bruins could change lines. Kuraly remained on the ice to chase after the puck, embarking on a one-man forecheck against three Leafs. Due in part to a lackadaisical effort from Toronto, Kuraly managed to gather the puck at the end boards and hit David Pastrnak at the doorstep, and the winger finished what proved to be the game-winning goal.
In Kuraly’s last 10 games, he’s slashing 4-3-7 with 28 shots. And what substantiates the case for Kuraly to get the bump is what Joakim Nordstrom provided the second line in his opportunities in the role this season. Nordstrom is willing to make plays in small areas and bring a less-than-glamorous brand of hockey to whatever grouping he’s slotted into, and his presence next to Krejci and DeBrusk helped bring some energy to the line in a time when it was struggling.
It seems clear by the way Kuraly plays that he’d be a seamless fit on the second unit, as he is more than capable of creating scoring opportunities for DeBrusk and Krejci. And with Krejci putting his goal-scoring ability on full display lately, Kuraly’s deft passing would do nothing but give the center more chances to unload his shot.
Of course, the obvious obstacle would be what Kuraly’s absence means to the bottom-six forward group. All season long secondary scoring has been an issue, but Kuraly serving as the catalyst on the third and fourth lines lately has made the Bruins a far more productive offensive group. So while moving him up potentially could have its share of benefits, there is an inherent risk in eliminating arguably the most efficient offensive player from the bottom six.
That aside, the revolving door of wingers the second line has featured makes it seems reasonable to give Kuraly an opportunity. There’s logic to keeping him locked into his current role, sure, but suffice to say he’s given Cassidy ample reason to consider giving him a chance to prove he can enhance the second line.
Thumbnail photo via Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports