NHL On NBC: Bruins have found second scoring line

NBC’s coverage of the 2020-21 NHL season continues with Sunday’s matchup between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins. Bruins-Penguins stream coverage begins at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

There are a lot of reasons for the Bruins to be happy with their performance since the NHL trade deadline.

Not only because they have won six of the seven games entering Sunday afternoon’s meeting with the Penguins. But also for the way they have won them.

Overall, they have started to look like legitimate Stanley Cup contenders again with the way they have played. They are carrying play, they are controlling the shots and scoring chances, and they just seem to have made the right additions to complement their core. But the biggest development might be the fact they have finally managed to piece together a second scoring line that is capable of taking over a game.

Before the trade deadline the Bruins were one of the most top-heavy contenders in the league, relying almost entirely on the top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak to carry the offense. How top-heavy were they? In the 39 games before the trade deadline the Bruins were scoring just 1.55 goals per 60 minutes when that line was not on the ice during 5-on-5 play.

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That is not great, and not encouraging for their chances come playoff time. A lot of times in the playoffs each team’s top lines can tend to cancel each other out, either by shutting each other down, or by matching each other goal for goal. It can then come down to which team has the better secondary options. No matter how great your top players are they are not going to score every single game. Somebody else has to be able to contribute. One line teams do not tend to win championships. The Bruins, for most of the season, were a one-line team.

That has not been the case since the trade deadline when the Bruins added Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres (as well as defenseman Mike Reilly from the Ottawa Senators).

Those additions have helped completely transform the Bruins offense.

Hall has found a spot on the team’s second line alongside long-time center David Krejci and offseason free agent addition Craig Smith.

In the seven games that unit has played together they have not only given the Bruins a reliable and capable second line, they have been completely dominant.

Just look at the numbers so far.

  • In 73 minutes of 5-on-5 ice time that trio has outscored teams by a 6-1 margin.
  • They have controlled more than 64 percent of the total shot attempts, scoring chances, expected goals, and high-danger chances when they are on the ice together.
  • They are averaging more than 80.4 shot attempts per 60 minutes and 4.92 goals per 60 minutes.

That is not just the performance of a strong second line. That would be a great performance from an outstanding first line.

The impact on the Bruins as a whole has been night and day from what we saw before the deadline. The Bruins are now averaging 2.94 goals per 60 minutes when the Bergeron line is off the ice in the seven games since the trade deadline. That is nearly a goal-and-a-half more per 60 minutes than they were scoring before the trade deadline.

It is not just Hall that is driving that.

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Smith has been just as important and is starting to find his place with the Bruins after a slow start. He was one of the focal points of the Bruins offseason and at the time seemed like one of the better long-term free agent signings in the league. His surge in production actually pre-dates the deadline as he had 18 points in his past 20 games while also helping to drive possession the way he did throughout his career in Nashville.

Krejci has seven points (four goals, three assists) in the past seven games as well.

Each player is good on their own. Together, they have been a perfect fit.

The Bruins now have two scoring lines they can count on for offense. With players like Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk that have track records indicating they are capable of more, and players like Nick Ritchie and Lazar rounding out the rest of the lineup, the Bruins are not that far away from rolling a truly balanced lineup.

(Data in this post via Natural Stat Trick)

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Sabres agree with Dylan Cozens on 7-year, $49.7M extension

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    BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Buffalo Sabres agreed to terms with forward Dylan Cozens on a seven-year extension worth $49.7 million.

    The team announced the contract. Cozens will count $7.1 million against the salary cap through the 2029-30 season.

    Cozens, who turns 22, is the latest core player the Sabres have extended over the past six months. Buffalo signed All-Star forward Tage Thompson for $50 million over seven seasons in August and defenseman Mattias Samuelsson to a seven-year, $30 million deal in October.

    Rasmus Dahlin, the top pick in 2020 who’s a Norris Trophy candidate and filled in for Thompson at NHL All-Star weekend, figures to be next for a big contract. He’s signed through next season and can begin talking about an extension this summer.

    Cozens, who was set to be a restricted free agent, has already set career highs with 17 goals, 26 assists and 43 points – with 30 games left in the season. The seventh pick in 2019, Cozens has 34 goals and 60 assists in 169 regular-season NHL games, all with Buffalo.

    The Sabres, led by Dahlin, Thompson, Cozens and 2021 No. 1 pick Owen Power, are contending to make the playoffs. The organization’s 11-year playoff drought dating to 2011 is by far the longest in the league.

    Stanley Cup champion Avalanche steadily returning to health

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    ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Had his coach been watching, this might have made for an anxious moment: Colorado Avalanche defenseman Cale Makar catching an edge and falling in the fastest skater contest.

    Jared Bednar wasn’t tuned in, though, and had no idea what happened in the skills contest over All-Star weekend. Only that Makar emerged from his crash into the boards just fine.

    These days, things are definitely looking up for the Stanley Cup champions on the injury front. Defenseman Bowen Byram returns to the lineup, along with forward Valeri Nichushkin. Defenseman Josh Manson is creeping closer to a return. Same for captain Gabriel Landeskog, who’s yet to play this season. Forward Darren Helm is progressing, too.

    In spite of all their bumps and bruises, the Avalanche entered the All-Star break in a playoff spot. To weather the injury storm, Colorado has relied on 39 different skaters this season, a mark that’s tied for the most in a single season since the team relocated to Denver in 1995.

    “Anybody we can get back right now is huge,” said Makar, whose team kicks off a three-game trip Tuesday night in Pittsburgh.

    Byram returns after being sidelined with a lower-body injury since early November. He was an integral part of their Stanley Cup run a season ago, when he led all rookies with nine assists in the postseason. Byram was off to a fast start this season – two goals and three assists in 10 games – before his injury.

    “He’s looking great. He’s buzzing out there,” Makar said of his fellow blue liner. “Hopefully it doesn’t take him too long to get back into game mode. But I think he’s a guy that can turn it on pretty quickly.”

    Byram missed a chunk of games last season as he dealt with concussion symptoms. This time, he was able to be around the team as he worked his way back.

    “I was just happy it wasn’t my head,” Byram said. “It was a lot easier to be out when you’re still feeling good and feel like yourself. … I’m just excited to get going again.”

    Count on Byram for as many minutes as necessary, too.

    “I’m 100%, so no reason to ease into it,” Byram said. “I’m confident with jumping back in.”

    Manson will join the Avalanche on the trip so he can skate with the squad. He’s been out with a lower-body injury since the start of December.

    “I do think it helps to get on the road, be around the guys,” Bednar said.

    Landeskog could be back “fairly soon,” Bednar said, but didn’t have a definitive timeline quite yet. The longtime Avalanche captain has been sidelined since knee surgery in October.

    The Avalanche entered the All-Star break on quite a roll, winning seven of their last eight. They’ve amassed 57 points, which trails Dallas (66 points at the All-Star break), Winnipeg (65) and Minnesota (58) in the Central Division.

    One thing the Avalanche are guarding against is another slow start out off the break. It happened over Christmas when the team had a few days off and promptly went 0-4-1 upon their return.

    “It’s just shifting the mentality back to game mode. No more vacation,” Makar said. “We still have a long way to go. We’re not where we want to be right now. But there’s a lot of time left.”

    Kraken add some size, acquire Jaycob Megna from San Jose

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    SEATTLE — The Seattle Kraken acquired defenseman Jaycob Megna from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2023 fourth-round draft pick.

    Megna is in the midst of his best season with 12 points in 48 games for the Sharks while averaging more than 19 minutes per game.

    “Jaycob has shown with his play this season that he is a responsible defenseman that can be relied on in all situations,” Seattle general manager Ron Francis said. “He provides welcome depth to our defensive group and we are happy to have him join our organization.”

    The 6-foot-6, 220-pound Megna will add some size and bulk to Seattle’s lineup. Megna ranked fifth for San Jose in both blocked shots and hits.

    Megna previously played for Anaheim for parts of three seasons between 2016-19. The 48 games played this season is a career-high for the 30-year-old.

    Seattle is tied for the lead in the Pacific Division and will return from the All-Star break beginning against the New York Islanders.

    Islanders sign Bo Horvat to 8-year deal after trading for him

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    The New York Islanders signed center Bo Horvat to an eight-year contract less than a week after acquiring him in a trade with the Vancouver Canucks.

    The team announced the contract after their first practice following the All-Star break. Horvat’s deal is worth $68 million and carries a $8.5 million salary cap hit through the 2030-31 season.

    General manager Lou Lamoriello joked to reporters at practice on Long Island that Horvat’s contract was “too long and it’s too much money.”

    The Islanders sent forward Anthony Beauvillier, prospect Aatu Raty and a protected first-round pick to the Canucks for Horvat . He was set to be an unrestricted free agent after the season, and the trade was a result of Vancouver and Horvat’s camp being unable to reach a deal last summer.

    Lamoriello and Horvat expressed confidence about getting a deal done after the trade. The 27-year-old has scored more than 30 goals for a second consecutive season.

    Horvat was chosen as an All-Star and played for the Pacific Division despite the trade. He played with longtime Canucks teammate Elias Pettersson and combined on one last goal together before parting ways.

    “I want to get going,” Horvat said after the All-Star 3-on-3 tournament. “That’s enough. Let’s start playing some games and getting to know the guys. I just want to start playing hockey again.”

    Horvat was on vacation with his family in Orlando when he was traded. He said coach Lane Lambert wanted him to enjoy All-Star festivities before getting rolling with the Islanders, who play at the Philadelphia Flyers.

    “Obviously getting my legs under me is going to be No. 1 and getting systems down and obviously chemistry with the new linemates and stuff like that,” Horvat said.

    After facing the Flyers and Seattle, Horvat will play against his former team when Vancouver visits UBS Arena.