BOSTON — Last year, the Bruins’ top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton clicked early in the season and remained together the rest of the way. Lucic and Krejci tied for the team lead with 62 points, while Horton finished fourth with 53. Although Lucic struggled in the playoffs, Krejci led the team with 23 postseason points and Horton scored three game-winning goals, including two in Game 7s.
Entering this season, there was no reason for anyone to question that trio. It seemed like a given that they would continue to play together and continue to produce, perhaps even more than last year. So far, though, that hasn’t been the case.
Through three games, they have combined for one goal, one assist, nine hits and a minus-6 rating. Horton has been particularly unproductive, as he has no points, no hits and just one shot on goal.
“I think when your top line is supposed to be your top line, it should try to be that every night,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I don’t think they’re in sync. I don’t think they’re working hard enough as a group.”
Lucic and Krejci did manage to create a pair of quality scoring chances in Monday’s 1-0 loss to the Avalanche, including a point-blank chance for Lucic midway through the third that Semyon Varlamov made a great save on to preserve Colorado’s lead. But the line still wasn’t able to cycle the puck and maintain possession in the offensive zone like it did for much of last year.
“We have to support each other better,” said Lucic, the only member of the line who was available to the media after the game. “We just have to come up the ice together. The reason why we were successful last year was we supported each other throughout the ice and we made plays.”
Julien hinted that it might be time to do something that would’ve been unthinkable a season ago — break the line up.
“It’s part of our job here to get those guys going, whether it’s through breaking them up or whether it’s through meetings,” Julien said. “We’ve got to find a way to get those guys going. Right now I don’t think those three, any one of those three, has found his game yet that we know they can play. They’re certainly a little sub-par right now.”
Splitting up the trio after just three games seems like it could be a little bit of overreacting, which is the last thing Julien is known for doing. Given his history with the Bruins, it would seem more likely that he gives the line a few more games to figure things out. The meetings he mentioned would probably be the first option, if that hasn’t happened already.
But if the struggles continue, Julien will have to do something. The next question becomes, ‘Which other line, or lines, get split up?’ The second line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Rich Peverley has looked terrific since being put together in the preseason, so it’s hard to imagine them being torn apart
The third line has featured Chris Kelly, Tyler Seguin and a Benoit Pouliot/Jordan Caron platoon. Seguin is clearly the most dynamic and most skilled player of that group, and his hard work thus far has paid off with three assists. He could bring that top line some energy and jump that it has clearly been lacking so far. The third line hasn’t exactly been oozing with flow and chemistry anyway, so there shouldn’t be any hesitation to break it up like there would be with the Marchand-Bergeron-Peverley line.
As for who would be dropped from the top line, Horton, as mentioned earlier, has been the least productive this season. Seguin is also more comfortable on right wing than left wing, so that would be an easy swap. Lucic has been an effective third-line player in the past, though, so that would also be worth considering. Krejci isn’t going anywhere because he’s simply too talented and too good a playmaker to be on the third line.
Of course, the best-case scenario for the Bruins is that Lucic, Krejci and Horton turn things around Wednesday in Carolina and Julien doesn’t have to change anything.