The B’s new-look third line with Jimmy Hayes and Frank Vatrano as Ryan Spooner’s wingers is worth an extended look. (Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports)
Frank Vatrano to the left, Ryan Spooner in the middle, and Jimmy Hayes on the right. Unless it’s a faceoff, in which case Hayes moves to the middle and then retreats back into a winger situation while Spooner moves back to the middle once the puck is dropped.
What I just described to you is likely the stuff of Claude Julien’s nightmares. But it’s also the current third line iced by interim B’s head coach Bruce Cassidy in both of his games behind the bench.
It was in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Canucks, too, that the unlikely trio chipped in with some key contributions for the Black and Gold.
Their first goal came with a three-zone effort that started with a battle win, transition, and the little things that often go unnoticed (but clearly didn’t by Cassidy) but allowed defenseman Kevan Miller to join the rush as a shooting option and the eventual goal scorer.
“Well the capsule of that goal, Vatrano winning a puck against the wall, Spooner coming underneath with speed out of the neutral zone, Hayes driving the net and the D coming late,” Cassidy said of their impact on the first goal. “These are things we’ve asked and we’re going to ask that line to do on a regular basis and that should help them create offense. That was a great reward for them.”
Vatrano, with the help of a straight-up pretty pass from David Krejci, put the Bruins on the board with their first lead of the night before the period was over, too, with his fifth power-play goal of the season (and his seventh goal overall).
And it was a smart drop-back pass from Hayes on Colin Miller’s third period goal — a play in which Hayes took a hit to make the pass happen — that allowed the Bruins to keep pace with the Canucks and actually push the pace further in their favor.
“Jimmy did a great job,” Miller, whose celebration said it all on an absolute cannon of a shot, admitted with a smile. he kind of just laid it out there for me, so I pretty much walked into it from the blue line. So, had a lot of time to get it off.”
Under Julien, Hayes was used exclusively as a fourth-liner, but was also relegated to the press box as the club’s 13th forward on a somewhat regular basis. It was the complete wrong fit for him when he was playing, too, as the Hayes the B’s acquired from the Panthers was one that found success when he was skating as the third piece to a speedy combination. Expecting Hayes to be a fourth-line mucker that grinds it out along the walls would work for a game or two, but it was never the right fit for the long haul, and it showed as he fell out of favor for, well, not being great at those things on a game-to-game basis.
It hasn’t taken long for Cassidy to give Hayes a new start and doing it with a combo that makes more sense for No. 11.
“Jimmy can complement speed and will get to the net for shooters so it seemed like a good fit with [Ryan] Spooner and [Frank] Vatrano and so far I think it’s worked out well, it’s a small sample size,” said Cassidy. “If he’s going to find his game, I think that’s a line that we are trying to put him in a position to be successful and I think so far he’s responded very well.”
There is one problem with this line, however, and it comes back to their ability to play defense. In essence, they can’t. Spooner has never been known as a defensive-minded center (and his inability to win faceoffs doesn’t help), Vatrano is still learning the nuances of a 200-foot game, and Hayes has always been a player that benefits from offensive-zone starts and chances.
But they’re improving little by little, or at the very least has not yet led to Cassidy becoming obsessed with their matchups.
“I thought defensively they were solid for the most part, we’ll look at it a little closer but there was no apprehension calling their name out and throwing them out on the ice tonight,” Cassidy said. “That will only ingratiate themselves with their teammates, with the coaching staff, when they can contribute offensively, solid defensively, play a 200-foot game.”
“It’s just having confidence, when you get stuck in the defensive zone, you got to have confidence in yourself, you know you can play against guys, just stick to the simple things, get pucks out, be hard on pucks and if you can get the puck down in their own end,” Hayes said. “Like Torey [Krug] said before you know sometimes the best defense is your own peoples offense.”
Offense that the trio brought to the table in just their second game together.