Haula Has Been A Huge Help for B’s Second Line

BOSTONEric Haula‘s first season in Black & Gold could have gone sideways.

When the forward was scratched for a Sunday night tilt against the Canucks on November 28, he had just one goal and two assists through 17 games. As a veteran of nine NHL seasons, a night in the press box could have soured him and knocked his game even further off the tracks.

But Haula was not interested in letting that happen. Instead, he embraced the break as a way to reset and improve his play.

“When he sat out in November, he was up front,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “He didn’t think he was playing his best hockey. Did he want to sit out? No. But he said, ‘Listen, when I go back in, I get it, I’ll be better.'”

Haula kept his word. In 44 games since that scratch, the 31-year-old has notched 27 points (seven goals, 20 assists), tied with Patrice Bergeron and Charlie McAvoy for fourth most on the Bruins in that span. His plus-13 rating is second only to Matt Grzelcyk‘s plus-20.

“I think he’s tried to really put an emphasis on moving his feet and being better and play to his strengths – 200-foot game and all the little things required to play center ice in our system, close quicker in the D-zone, activate At the right time, support from underneath instead of leaving the zone early,” said Cassidy.

“All those little things that center icemen have to do for us – I think he’s taking it to heart, I do. And he’s always been a guy that’s been up front when I’ve talked to him. He’ll be honest…if he thinks he’s playing well he’ll tell me…I’m OK with that. We don’t see everything 100 percent perfect.

“But he recognized he needed to be better and he has. Credit to him. We’ve needed it…let’s face it, it’s made our team a lot better with that line going.”

Video: Cassidy chats with media on Friday at WIA

That line, of course, includes Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak on Haula’s wings. The triumvirate has been together since the Bruins returned from their COVID-19 hiatus on Jan. 1 when Cassidy decided to make a shift with his forward lines and break up Boston’s top trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeronand Pastrnak.

Pastrnak bumped down, while Haula was promoted from the bottom six where he had been playing both left and center over the season’s first two months. The switch worked wonders for the Bruins, whose scoring depth was enhanced almost immediately, leading to a surge up the Atlantic Division standings.

“He’s been a good player in the league,” said Cassidy, whose club has gone 26-9-3 with 55 points, second only to Colorado’s 59, since the line changes. “We had to get it out of him and now we are…good for him to grab that position and not let it go. That’s part of it as well.

“You’re given that opportunity, doesn’t mean it would have stayed that way if he doesn’t do well there. It was a bit of a trial there with a lot of different guys moving. It’s worked out well for us. “

Since moving up to center Hall and Pastrnak, Haula has collected 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 36 games, also tied with McAvoy for fourth most on the Bruins during that time. And over the past two games, in particular, the Finland native has been “feeling it” as Cassidy put it on Thursday night, with five assists, including a three-helper outing in Boston’s big win over Tampa Bay.

“I’ve been in the same exact situation before in my career with Vegas,” Haula said of moving up in the lineup. “And so, it was important to me to take that spot, take that role, be at your best. And most importantly, it’s nice to know that Taylor and David like to play with me, and that builds confidence as well.

“I’ve played with those guys now for a while and I feel good there. I want to be at my best for those guys and for the team. It’s going to be important.”

Haula said that while the trio has thrived together for nearly three months, there is still room for growth as the games get more and more important down the stretch.

“If you want to get to where you want to be at the end of the year…I’ve said it before, now it’s time to build towards something bigger. We’ve got like five and a half weeks here to get ready [before the postseason]. And then the games that really matter start. So that’s when you want to be at your best,” said Haula, who added that his line watched video to shore up their forecheck before the Tampa game.

“I feel like we always strive to be better…scoring three goals 5-on-5, the assists, that’s a good game. You’ve got to be happy with those…we always try to be better. That’s what we want to do. We hadn’t scored 5-on-5 for a while, so it was a step towards the right direction.”

Video: Haula speaks with Media on Friday at WIA

Bergeron Closing in on Return

After an unexpected twist on Thursday kept Patrice Bergeron out of the lineup for a fourth straight game with an elbow infection, the Bruins are hopeful that their captain will be cleared by doctors ahead of Saturday afternoon’s tilt with the New York Islanders.

“I believe he’ll be cleared. I believed that Thursday. But this time it looks like it’s more positive,” said Cassidy. “Obviously, we’re hoping he will be in. Jack [Studnicka] would be out in that case. [Saturday] he’ll show up – I don’t know the details, but as long as it morning looks good, he’s in.”

Cassidy said he will dress the same six defensemen on Saturday afternoon against the Islanders as he did vs. the Lightning. Linus Ullmark will make the start in goal.

Brown Makes Debut

Defenseman Josh Brownacquired from the Ottawa Senators on Monday in exchange for Zach Senyshyn, made his practice debut on Friday morning, skating on a pairing with Mike Rilly. The 6-foot-5, 217-pound right shot comes to Boston after two seasons with the Senators that proceeded two seasons with the Florida Panthers.

“It’s unbelievable, an Original Six franchise. A lot of family and friends back home who grew up Bruins fans, so they’re obviously thrilled for me. I’m thrilled to be here,” said the Ontario native, who previously played with Haula and Reilly and has a relationship with Jack Studnicka through their junior team, the Oshawa Generals.

“Great leadership too. I can feel it already just in the room and the way that it’s a tight knit group, too…we want to obviously make the playoffs and go as far as we can and hopefully, we’ll lift the Stanley Cup at the end of it.

“That an organization like this wanted me to come and be a part of that and to try and get in the lineup and just do what I can to help us get there, it’s unbelievable.”

Cassidy expects that Brown, who was brought in to be a physical, gritty depth piece on the right side of Boston’s back end, will get into game action at some point later next week after he gets a few practices under his belt.

“We’ll try to get him in, get him acclimated,” said Cassidy. “This was his first practice with the group, we’re off Sunday…next week it will be easier to fit in. Again, injuries could dictate he goes in sooner. But we’re gonna work him in to sort of our team practice and get him up to speed on how we play. It will happen soon.

“Let’s get him involved and see what he can do. If he makes us better, outplays say a Cliffy, that’s where he kind of fits in as a third-pair D-man on the right side, then give him the opportunity to grab that position. He’s been in the league a long time. He’ll understand that part about competition.

Brown arrives knowing his role, as well as the competition that has been created on Boston’s blue line after the additions of him and Hampus Lindholm.

“I think it is a good problem to have,” Brown said. “It’s not always going to be easy; you can’t just expect to be in the lineup night in, night out. So, I think healthy competition will bring out the best in each other. Obviously, we all want to be playing, but when it’s your time to be out, you just root for the other guys and then drive back to practice, to compete, to get in. I think it’ll definitely bring out the best in all of us.”

Video: Brown speaks with media on Friday at WIA

Power Outage

Perhaps the lone downside of Boston’s win over Tampa was the power play, which went 0 for 5, struggles that Cassidy chalked up to the absence of Bergeron and some issues with zone entries.

We lose that [Bergeron] bumper that’s an automatic out,” said Cassidy. “They were a little bit more of a pressure kill. We didn’t respond well to it. That’s where that outlet in the middle of the ice would have helped us a little more with Bergy, a guy that’s been there.

“At the end of the day we have to manage pucks better, a little more consistent on our entries with structure. If we don’t get in the first time, it’s like we’re all gonna go on our own. like to see us settle down and do it as a group the second time so it doesn’t snowball.”

Friday’s Practice Lineup

FORWARDS

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Jake DeBrusk

Taylor Hall – Eric Haula – David Pastrnak

Trent FredericCharlie CoyleCraig Smith

Nick FolignoTomas NosekCurtis Lazar

Anton Blidh – Jack Studnicka – Marc McLaughlin

DEFENSEMEN

Hampus Lindholm – Charlie McAvoy

Matt GrzelcykBrandon Carlo

Derek ForbortConnor Clifton

Mike Rilly – Josh Brown

GOALIES

Linus Ullmark

Jeremy Swayman

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