Bruins-Canadiens Preview: Julien Pulls Switch On Lineup

David Pastrnak will have new linemates Monday night when the Boston Bruins face off against the Canadiens in Montreal. (photo: nhl.com)

‘Tis the season to flip the switch and turn on the power that in turn, lights up the Christmas trees and Menorahs and just about all holiday decorations. Unfortunately, for the Boston Bruins the switches that turn on goal lights around the NHL have been next to powerless.

In a tale of two seasons, 2015-16 saw, with the exception of Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid, the Bruins, for the most part, employed a young defense corp, that was the personification of the phrase “on the job training.” The club gave up a total of 230 goals placing them 20th overall in team defense in the NHL.

However, offensively, in large part to having three thirty-plus goal scorers in Brad Marchand (37), Patrice Bergeron (32), and Loui Eriksson (30), Boston finished last year with the fifth-best goal scoring total (240) in the League.

Turn the page to 2016-17 and what a difference a year can make.

Despite 20-year-old David Pastrnak holding down second place in the NHL in goals (18), the Bruins are 23rd in offense with 69 total goals.

Boston, conversely, is ninth in team defense, giving up 70 goals.

What has changed?

The defense has that year of experience under its belt and is looking more like an NHL defensive corp with each outing.

The offense is just not there.

After Pastrnak’s production, Marchand is second on the club with eight lamplighters. David Backes and Dominic Moore are tied for third with seven goals each.

To sum it up, Boston has scored two or fewer goals in 20 of 29 games this season.

Bruins coach Claude Julien was candid when discussing the team’s offensive woes after Saturday’s 4-1 home loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.

“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams – chances for versus against – but we don’t outscore teams,” Julien said. “That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games and because of that we criticize everything else in our game – but our game isn’t that bad. If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”

“When you look at the players that (aren’t scoring goals), Bergy (Bergeron) I think he has four or five goals, he had 30-something last year. Marchand had 37 goals. Things are going to come around we just need them to start scoring soon here so that we can get rid of that frustration of playing hard and for the most part not giving the other team much.”

“We’re getting chances,” Julien said. “I’m going to dissect the game and I’m going to tell guys we need greater presence in front of the net, we need to jump on those loose pucks. We talk about that all the time. Sometimes it is there as you saw tonight (versus Toronto) – goaltender makes the big save. We’re not scoring goals. There’s times too, we have players that miss the net too much, they got to start hitting the net and that will help as well.”

Bergeron, ever the consummate professional, accepts his part in the team’s scoring drought and knows what is needed to end his season-long slump.

“I have high expectations of myself so I don’t think I necessarily need to tell you that I know (about his lack of scoring),” said Bergeron. “I think I’m well aware of it and the only way to get out of it is by believing and keep going at it and finding ways.”

Marchand, who became a Canadian hero when he scored the shorthanded series-winning goal in Game 2 of the World Cup of Hockey Final against Team Europe, is frustrated with his and his team’s lack of production.

“Yeah, it is frustrating,” said Marchand, who is in his eighth year with Boston. “We’re going to have to find a way, collectively, to be better and score more goals.”

Perhaps making matters worse for Bergeron and Marchand, they have been Pastrnak’s linemates since Day One of the season.

After Saturday’s loss to Toronto, Julien was asked if he had thought about mixing up the forward lines. He said that he had not considered it but at Sunday’s practice, Pastrnak had been moved to the club’s second line with center David Krejci and left wing Tim Schaller.

Forward Frank Vatrano returned to practice with the club last week. He has missed the entire season with a lower-body injury. Following the workout, Julien said Vatrano, who was taking turns on the wing with Schaller in Sunday’s practice,  is close to returning to action but did not travel to Montreal for Monday’s game against the Canadiens.

David Backes has been promoted from Krejci’s line to play the right side with Bergeron and Marchand.

Ryan Spooner, who had been skating as a winger this season was moved to center between wingers Austin Czarnik and Jimmy Hayes.

The Bruins’ fourth line was comprised of Dominic Moore on the left side with Riley Nash at center and Noel Acciari on right wing.

Clearly, the coach and his staff are looking for a way to jump-start their team. It remains to be seen if plugging players into new combinations and/or positions will flip the scoring switch into the on position.

“(In) practice, you give them an opportunity to play together and get used to each other a little bit so, hopefully, we’ll get the results we’re looking for (Monday),” Julien said in discussing the changes to his team’s lineup. “I think sometimes the changes can create some excitement.”

The Bruins will need that excitement in abundance in the Bell Center against the Canadiens. They take a 15-12-2 record to Montreal, good enough for third place in the Atlantic Division but have lost three consecutive games.

The Habs are not only tied with the New York Rangers for the best record in the NHL (19-6-3) but also the top home record (14-1-1). In their last 10 games, they are 6-3-1.

Saturday, Max Pacioretty went to the head of his club’s point producing class by scoring four goals in his team’s 10-1 win over Colorado. He leads the Habs with 24 points on 12 goals and 12 assists. He is followed by Alexander Radulov’s 23 points and defenseman Andrei Markov’s 20 points.

When Montreal acquired defenseman Shea Weber, they did so with the hope that his powerful shot from the point (consistently over 100 miles per hour) would increase scoring on the power play. He has not disappointed. Seven of his eight goals have come with the man-advantage this season.

Of course, when people talk about the Montreal Canadiens, goaltender Carey Price’s name is usually the first one mentioned.

After backstopping Team Canada to World Cup supremacy, the 29-year-old has compiled a league leading 16 wins on the way to an overall record of 16-3-0. Price’s 1.79 goals against average is fourth-best in the NHL and his .940 save percentage is also the fourth-best among the League’s puck stoppers.

Price enters Monday’s game against Boston with 249 career NHL wins.

The contest will be the third of five scheduled for this season between the two rivals. The Canadiens won the first two by scores of 4-2 in Boston and 3-2 in Montreal.

Monday’s match will be an NHL record 737th between the storied franchises. Boston has a 273-351-103-9 record against Montreal.

Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.   

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