Bruins’ third line is producing like a first line

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If Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak are the Perfection Line, perhaps Taylor Hall, Charlie Coyle and Trent Frederic can be the Protection Line.

The Bruins’ third line is playing more like a first line these days, with their latest impressive outing coming in Wednesday night’s 4-0 win over a banged-up Colorado Avalanche team.

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Those three scored three of the goals, with two of them featuring the whole line getting involved and factoring into the scoring.

On their first, which gave the Bruins a 2-0 lead midway through the second, Coyle forced a turnover at the offensive blue line, Frederic collected the puck and quickly moved it to Coyle, and then Coyle made a nice pass to find Hall in front for the finish.

The second was a showcase of what this line, and Coyle specifically, does best: Use their size and strength to protect the puck in the offensive zone and then turn it into a scoring chance. Coyle shielded off Ben Meyers, going one way then the other, before sliding the puck over to Hall, who had moved into open space to give Coyle an outlet. Hall then found Frederic in the high slot for a one-timer goal, his second such goal in the last three games.

The third was a breakaway goal for Hall, who got behind the Colorado defense right off the bench and used his speed to pull away before snapping a shot past Alexandar Georgiev.

Wednesday was their best game yet, but the reality is that this new-look third line has been clicking since Jim Montgomery first put them together a couple weeks ago, and especially since Frederic returned last week after missing a couple games with a minor injury.

Hall said last week that he wasn’t viewing the move from the second line to the third as a demotion, and his play continues to back up that attitude. He is positively thriving next to Coyle and Frederic and now has five goals and two assists in the last four games. If anything, this new role is bringing out a more physical and possession-oriented side of Hall and getting him more time on the puck.

“I want to be out there as much as I can and I want to have the puck as much as I can,” Hall said Wednesday night. “With [David Krejci] and [David Pastrnak], there’s only one puck out there. At times, it can be hard to get in the game and get as many touches as you want. The line I’m on right now, I get to carry it up the ice a little bit more. I get some more zone time and possession time.

“Freddy’s fine being an option in the slot, getting open. Coyler’s obviously a guy that can rag guys down low. I think there’s a good mix there and I’m enjoying it.”

Frederic is playing the best hockey of his career. He has three goals and two assists in the last four games. He looks way more confident than we’ve seen in the past, showing off his own puck protection skills as well as a strong shot he’s previously been too reluctant to use. With Frederic on the ice this season, the Bruins have outscored opponents 17-4 during 5-on-5 play. The only Bruin with a better 5-on-5 goal differential is Hampus Lindholm.

Frederic feels more confident, too.

“Those two have helped a lot,” Frederic said of his linemates. “They’ve been really positive to me. The coaching staff has been really good. Monty’s been pushing me to play with confidence. It’s easier said than done but the guys around me have helped a lot.

“I think just holding on to the puck more, knowing that I have maybe an extra second, believing in my skills and the people around me…not so uptight.”

Then there’s Coyle, who’s at the center of it all. While his point totals (12 points in 25 games) may look modest, he has been playing a great all-around game all season, including serving as the Bruins’ top penalty-killing forward and posting the best faceoff percentage (53.2%) and by far the best goals-for percentage (69.2%) of his career.

“He’s a beast out there,” Mongtomery said of Coyle. “He’s putting people on his back and makes plays. He kills penalties for us. He does a lot of great things that help us win hockey games…it makes our depth really good, but what it does is it creates matchups that are very favorable to us.”

Very favorable indeed. The Hall-Coyle-Frederic line has been dominant, and the numbers back that up. In their 41 5-on-5 minutes together, the Bruins have outscored opponents 6-1, outshot them 26-11, and have 68.8% of expected goals.

Their 8.89 goals per 60 minutes isn’t just the best mark among the Bruins’ various line combinations; it’s the best mark in the entire NHL among lines that have played at least 30 minutes together, according to Evolving-Hockey.

The Bruins would still like to get some more 5-on-5 production from their top two lines at some point. With all the talent there, you would have to imagine it’s coming. Until then, they’ll continue to happily take first-line production from their third line.

Featured Image Photo Credit: Getty Images