Taylor Hall’s ‘exemplary attitude’ allows Bruins to have exemplary depth

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Scanning the Bruins’ lineup, there’s one thing that just doesn’t look right: Taylor Hall on the third line.

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A No. 1 overall pick and former league MVP. Someone who’s topped 50 points eight times and who’s making $6 million a year. On the third line?

In a different situation, you might wonder if something’s gone wrong. Has Hall been demoted? Was he struggling so much that he couldn’t cut it on the second line anymore?

That’s not the case here, though. Jim Montgomery’s decision to move Hall to the third line reads less like a message to any one player and more like a message to the rest of the NHL: We’re the deepest team in the league, and good luck matching up with a third line that has Hall on it.

Facing a Lightning team that has had so much success in recent years because of their own third lines, it was Hall, in his new role, who led the Bruins to a 3-1 win Tuesday night with a pair of goals.

After the game, Hall made it clear that he isn’t taking the move as a demotion.

“I think it's whatever's best for the team,” Hall said Tuesday night. “You come into the year, you think you're going to be on one line and you're gonna have a lot of success, and sometimes things work out, sometimes things don't. But for our team -- 19-3 or whatever it is -- wherever you're slotted, you have to make the best of your ice time. Charlie Coyle as a third-line center, that's one of the best third-line centers in the whole league. So I don't take it as a demotion. I take it as, do the best with what you can with the ice time you’re given and the opportunity you’re given. And I think we can be a really good line.”

There are several things that have to go right for this experiment to work. The all-Czech second line of Pavel Zacha, David Krejci and David Pastrnak has to play well. They’ve been solid so far, but not quite great (50% Corsi, 53.1% expected goals in 77 minutes). Trent Frederic has to play well on his off wing alongside Hall and Coyle. He’s done pretty well there so far.

But the two biggest center around Hall: He has to embrace it, and he and Coyle have to have better chemistry than they did a year ago at this time when Bruce Cassidy tried them together on his second line.

Hall’s comments after the game made it clear that he is embracing it, as did his play. His first goal came on a good offensive-zone cycling shift for his new line, with Frederic eventually working the puck back to Brandon Carlo at the point and Hall going to the front of the net for a nice deflection. His second came with the second power-play unit -- another role he hasn’t taken as a demotion.

Hall was one of the Bruins’ best forwards all night, even besides the goals. He was second behind only Patrice Bergeron in shot attempts (5), shots on goal (3) and individual scoring chances (4). The Bruins had a 72.5% expected goals share when he, Coyle and Frederic were on the ice and have now outscored opponents 3-1 in their 19 5-on-5 minutes together.

Montgomery applauded Hall’s “exemplary attitude” and willingness to do whatever it takes to help the Bruins win.

“I was excited to work with him because he's older now as far as where he is, his maturity in his game. And what's important to him now is winning,” Montgomery said. “He wants to win a Cup. He wants to be in a dressing room that values winning and one that has that pedigree, and I think it shows in the way he's playing. He's very accepting of the fact that I'm using him on a third line and we're using him on the second power play, because that's what's best for the Boston Bruins. I can't say enough about his exemplary attitude.”

As for the chemistry with Coyle, Hall said he thinks he just understands Coyle and how he plays better now than he did a year ago.

“I think just games and playing with him and seeing him,” Coyle said. “I think we're working on our dialogue on the bench -- what he sees, what I see, areas that we can contribute and get better at. He's such a good hockey player. He's so strong and he's really good in his own end. Just more games. I think after last year, if I ever got on a line with him again, I had a better idea of what I needed to do and how I needed to play, and I think the line's been really good.”

Montgomery sees two players who can create time and space for each other.

“Taylor Hall likes to have the puck and Coyle is good at driving the middle lane, opening up space,” Montgomery said. “And then Charlie's really good at hanging onto pucks in the offensive zone, which allows Taylor time to get open. … [Hall] drove the net a couple of times, that blocked shot in the second and he takes it and beats [Victor] Hedman to the net. He's doing a lot of what I call championship-type hockey, things that are helping our team win hockey games.”

For years, as everyone measured themselves against the three-time conference champion Lightning, the third line was a key area where the Bruins just didn’t measure up. On Tuesday night, with Hall serving as a third-line luxury item, it was a decisive advantage in Boston’s favor against Tampa Bay.

Yes, it’s still November. No, beating the Lightning twice in the last week is not the same as beating them in the playoffs. But there’s no denying that this 19-3-0 Bruins team has something special going right now, and that their offensive depth has been a critical part of it.

“I think that's the key this year,” Hall said. “We can talk about system changes all we want, but we have such a plethora of players and guys that can play anywhere. And I think that's what really, over the course of a game, wears teams down, is how deep we are -- not just at forward, but on defense. I mean, guys we’ve put on waivers are tremendous hockey players in this league. So I’d say that’s the biggest change.”

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports