BOSTON - These days, speed kills in the National Hockey League. Having a lineup laced with skaters who can rapidly zoom up and down the ice is critical.
It is a departure from previous eras, during which a heavy dose of physicality and power were the norm.
Bruins interim head coach Bruce Cassidy is well aware of the shift in the game's premier style, which is why he made sure to push the pace during his first two practices.
"I like to push the tempo more in practice because that's one thing as a coach you can control is, generally, the condition of the players and their minutes on the ice," Cassidy said during his first press conference on Tuesday.
"The reason our practices are going to be a little more intense with pace is because we want to play that way, too. That's the way the league is going, and we've got to be able to sustain that for 60 minutes every night.
"That's one of the messages we want to drive home with the players."
The message was received. The players noticed not only the uptick in the tempo of play, but also the rapid nature of the practice itself.
"The drills are kind of one after another," David Backes said following Wednesday's practice. "We're expected to be on top of it. There's not four warm-up drills, we're just going right into it. Good, hard practice again today and we need to carry that tempo into [Thursday's] game."
Cassidy also had skating and skills coach Kim Brandvold on the ice for Wednesday's session.
"I think he's a terrific asset," said Cassidy. "Players will gravitate to him to work on skills, skating, puck handling…we've had a couple practices that have been a little longer…some of that is the newness and stuff we're trying to implement.
"To have a guy after practice for a player to get some one-on-one, I think it's great, especially for the younger guys…to have a guy out there to push the young guys and encourage them, that's what he's here for."
Ryan Spooner, a player who possesses natural speed and ability, has embraced the focus on skill and swiftness.
"It's been good," said Spooner, who played parts of three seasons under Cassidy in Providence. "Practice has been good, there's been a lot of pace there. I can skate well…he likes to play with pace."
Spooner, who has played much of the season at wing, was back at center during Wednesday's session, in the middle of Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes. Cassidy is not yet sure where he will plug in the 25-year-old on Thursday night, but acknowledged a shift back to the middle could open up his offensive game.
"I thought he was good at times on the wing," said Cassidy. "You just have to put your work in on the walls and have the willingness to go there and embrace that part of the job. Every position has kind of a lousy part of the job to it…but you've got to do it.
"Those are areas that the staff has encouraged him to do more of when he doesn't have the puck. He's a guy that's used to being a center man and has the puck through the neutral zone, that's where it changes as a winger."
Video: Cassidy takes over at the helm
Boston has scored at least three goals in each of its last five games for a total of 17. But Cassidy believes there is room for more consistency throughout the lineup and, as a result, is still tinkering with his combinations.
"The lines are fluid right now," said Cassidy. "We're looking for what's going to be the best for the group without ripping everything apart. We know [Patrice] Bergeron, [Brad] Marchand, and [David] Pastrnak have been arguably the best line in the National Hockey League.
"Do we want to spread some of that around, do we want to be top heavy? Those are the things we're tinkering with. That's a group collaboration, including our top-end players that have been around that we respect their opinion.
"After that, we're going to see how it shakes out. The best players will play and hopefully they're in the right spots and combinations."
While Boston has received plenty from its top trio of Bergeron, Marchand, and Pastrnak, the Black & Gold has struggled to find much secondary scoring.
"That's where we're trying to get the secondary scoring from, where it doesn't come naturally," said Cassidy. "The Marchand's of the world, it's built into their DNA. Other guys maybe need to channel their youth a little more when they were offensive players, without chaining the whole dynamic of their game.
"Everybody in the room is capable of scoring goals, even if you're not labeled as a goal scorer. That's kind of the mentality. We'd like to create a little more anxiety in front of the other team's net."
Video: Cassidy speaks after becoming interim coach