David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk are starting this return to play process back together on the Bruins' second line. How that works out could go a long way toward determining how far the Bruins go.
If you need a refresher on where Krejci and DeBrusk left off when the season was suspended four months ago, well, it wasn't in a good place.
They both went ice cold after the All-Star break, with Krejci registering zero goals and four assists in the final 14 games before the pause and DeBrusk notching one goal and no assists over that same period.
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy split up the duo for the last handful of games in hopes of sparking something, with Krejci centering trade deadline acquisitions Nick Ritchie and Ondrej Kase, and DeBrusk moving to Charlie Coyle's line. Neither Krejci nor DeBrusk got much going with their new linemates either, though.
With Kase and Ritchie still trying to find their place with their new team, ideally Krejci and DeBrusk would be sure things the Bruins know they can rely on as they quickly ramp up to the playoffs.
But the reality is that they have to be listed among the question marks based on how they were playing before the pause. With so little time to tinker, though, Cassidy is at least going to start with something that's had success in the past, and that means reuniting Krejci and DeBrusk.
"Sometimes absence makes the heart grow fonder," Cassidy said Tuesday. "Maybe they’ll reconnect after a little time away. They’ve had good chemistry in the past. ... We’re going to go back to it. If we don’t like what we see through some of the round-robin or practices, then Jake goes with Coyle and we try probably Ritchie or someone else. But we’re going to give it a look and see where it’s at."
Cassidy also acknowledged that had the pause not happened, he probably would've reunited Krejci and DeBrusk at some point before the playoffs. It's another reminder that while the Bruins seemingly had little to play for in the final 12 regular-season games as they cruised to the No. 1 seed, those games really could've been quite valuable for them.
Not only would it have allowed Kase or Ritchie to get more comfortable, but it would've allowed Cassidy more time to evaluate Krejci and DeBrusk both separately and together.
"We tried different things because we made deals at the deadline to try to get guys in their most comfortable position," Cassidy said. "We didn’t feel we were breaking up a real hot duo either, so it was probably as good a time as any to do it. My guess if that if the pause hadn’t happened, we probably would’ve went back to Krejc and DeBrusk at some point to see what it looked like after a little time apart. So, we’re doing it now."
As for what they've looked like through two practices so far, it's really too early to tell. Cassidy said he'll be able to get a better idea once they start with some five-on-five action, even if that's just an intrasquad scrimmage.
Krejci also said that right now it's more about just getting back on the ice and getting up to speed rather than doing a lot of line work or simulations of game situations.
"Right now I think it’s just about getting up to speed," Krejci said. "It’s certainly good to get back out there with the guys, competing in practice and just being out there and feeling the puck. I feel like within the next week or two, I’m sure we’ll be working on more stuff as a line and as a team. That’ll come. But right now I think the most important thing is just to get up to speed, get the compete level up, and go from there."
The other part of this whole equation, of course, is who's playing on the right wing with Krejci and DeBrusk. It is expected to be Kase to start, but Kase missed the team's first two practices as he waits to be cleared from international quarantine protocol.
That should be cleared up either Wednesday or Thursday, and Cassidy said he's not too concerned about it and that there's enough time for Kase to catch up. Still, with less than two weeks before the Bruins head to the Toronto bubble and less than three weeks before their first round-robin game, every rep the trio can get together is important.
Krejci acknowledges he wishes he and Kase had more time together before the pause, but says he's looking forward to playing more with him now.
"Obviously we didn’t get as many games as we would like to because of the virus going around," Krejci said. "...Hopefully he’ll be back soon and we can start getting some reps as a line and try and create some chemistry."
On paper, the thought of a DeBrusk-Krejci-Kase line with all three guys playing the way they're capable of is an appealing one. Krejci's playmaking and veteran smarts, DeBrusk's finishing and aggressive, direct play, and Kase's speed, skill and ability to drive play could be a lot of fun to watch. The Bruins certainly hope that will be the case, but it's also hard to ignore the possibility that all three will struggle like they were before the break.
One direction could help lead the Bruins to a Stanley Cup. The other could help lead them to an early exit.