Coming into this season it was pretty clear the Boston Bruins had the best first line in hockey. The combination of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak was ridiculous last season scoring 99 goals and posting 228 points.
The unit combines scoring, playmaking and strength on the puck in such a way that there’s no line in hockey that can shut them down. Add in Bergeron’s faceoff ability and defensive acumen, and it’s unlikely you’re going to score on them either.
We knew all of this entering 2018-19, but the way they’ve come out of the gate has been beyond even the loftiest expectations for the group. Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak have scored 15 goals — 62.5 percent of the Bruins’ tallies and more than 10 NHL teams — and their 34 points top any line in hockey.
Perhaps more impressively, all three have seen their ice time cut significantly this season, almost three minutes in Bergeron’s case and closer to two for the wingers, making them ridiculous on a per minute basis. Bergeron’s 7.75 points per/60 is tops in the NHL and Marchand and Pastrnak are sixth and seventh respectively.
Some of this, of course, is the result of good fortune. The entire trio is shooting over 20 percent and that’s not going to hold up. There appears to be something real here as well, though.
Because both Marchand and Bergeron missed time last season, the step forward this unit took went under the radar a little bit. In total they added 20 more points than the previous year, but on a per game and per minute basis all three improved from Pastrnak’s first season as a staple in 2016-17.
It probably seemed safe to assume what they did last year was their ceiling, but this season has shown a blueprint for finding another offensive level.
That blueprint starts with Pastrnak. Considering how well established he is, it’s easy to forget that the Czech winger is just 22 and still improving. This season he already produced the goal of the year against the Edmonton Oilers.
There’s no way to say “I have another gear” in a single play, but if you could, it’s hard to do much better than that. It’s becoming clear that Pastrnak is one of the best pure trigger men in the league and his early season line of seven goals and three assists reflects that.
Another interesting development is Marchand finding more of a playmaking role. Just three years ago the infamous winger was scoring 37 goals against just 24 assists, now he ranks second in the NHL in both assists (9) and assists/60 (5.04). Even one of his two goals was an attempted pass.
It’s unlikely that Marchand is going to turn into Adam Oates, but he’s been making a transition into more of a passer in recent season as he’s shot less and collected more helpers.
This season he’s only put seven shots on net in seven games, which puts him in Henrik Sedin territory. Because he’s such an accomplished sniper he can still sell the shot and dish off to his linemates in prime positions, like he did to set up Pastrnak against the Detroit Red Wings.
Marchand is passing all the way, but he still moves the goaltender and defender, giving Pastrnak an easy scoring lane.
When you put a good-at-literally-everything pivot like Bergeron between one winger who’s blossoming as a scorer and another who’s improving as a playmaker you really can’t go wrong. The Bruins won’t be able to get the kind of production they’ve seen so far all season, but it’s possible an already impossible-to-defend grouping can give them a little extra.
There’s an argument to be made the Bruins fell a half step behind the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning this offseason, but their top line is inarguably second to none.
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