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Need to Know: Bruins vs. Penguins

Holden could make debut in "measuring stick" game

by Eric Russo @NHLBruins /

BOSTON - The Bruins host the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday night in what Cassidy considers a "measuring stick" game for his club.

After some early-season struggles, the Penguins have emerged as one of the NHL's hottest teams since the New Year and appear poised for another run at the Cup. Pittsburgh is 17-6-1 since Jan. 1 and has moved into third place in the Metropolitan Division with 76 points.

Evgeni Malkin has paced the Pens with 76 points and 36 goals - both second in the NHL - with Phil Kessel (70 points) and Sidney Crosby (69) also leading the way. Pittsburgh boasts the league's best power play (27%) and fifth-best offense (3.22 goals per game).

The Bruins and Penguins have split their previous two meetings this season, with Boston taking the first matchup with a 4-3 victory in late November and Pittsburgh grabbing the second contest with a thrilling 6-5 overtime win in early January.

"I think the best thing for us about the game is to measure where we're at," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "This is the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions. They're playing very well - a lot of people saying they're trending towards a third [straight Cup]. It will be a good measuring stick for our hockey club to see where we're at."

Holden Could Debut

Cassidy said on Wednesday that defenseman Nick Holden, acquired from the New York Rangers on Feb. 20 in exchange for Rob O'Gara and a 2018 third-round pick, could make his Bruins debut against the Penguins.

"There is [a chance]," said Cassidy. "I believe tomorrow is more probable than yesterday."

Holden admitted that he would like to get in the lineup, but is practicing patience as he gets adjusted to his new surroundings and the Bruins' systems.

"Chomping at the bit to get in and hoping tomorrow I get in," said Holden. "For me, I'd like to obviously play and get used to the system a little bit because it is a little bit different than it is before. More just excitement. You become part of this team and the last little piece is starting to play games with them and sweat a little bit with them. Hopefully tomorrow is that day."

Part of the problem for Holden has been the strong play of Boston's other seven defensemen. The likes of Kevan Miller, Adam McQuaid, and Brandon Carlo have all seen time as healthy scratches over the last week.

"You always want to come and everyone wants to play," said Holden. "Coming into this team, I knew that we had depth. Unfortunately, it was gonna be me sitting at first. Just gotta make sure you're playing well and hopefully don't come out."

Power-Play Problems

The Bruins for a time this season had a top-five power play. But a recent rough patch has seen it tumble to 19th in the NHL (19.6%). Boston is currently 0 for its last 18 with the man advantage, a stretch dating back to Feb. 13 when Patrice Bergeron potted his 27th goal of the season on the PP in the third period of the B's 5-2 win over Calgary.

"I believe we'll get it fixed sooner rather than later," said Cassidy. "But it's not a panic situation, I feel, yet for our hockey club. I think it has cost us the opportunity to get back in some games, no doubt - I'm not gonna hide from that - but I don't think it's preventing us from winning every night."

With Bergeron sidelined for at least the next two weeks, the B's are without their first-unit bumper. And with Rick Nash now added to the fray, Boston has some tinkering to do.

"It is back to basics, get pucks to the net, create second chances create some anxiety around the net," said Cassidy. "I've always believed that's what opens up nice plays is when they start running around out of position. Power play at the start of the [road] trip, we had familiar faces. We can't blame that all on lack of chemistry.

"Now you're struggling and you're trying to develop chemistry. It's a two-headed monster for us to fix. I don't think it's an overnight fix, there's plenty of guys on the power play that have had success as this level, some with this team and some with other teams."

Nash Sets Career High

Following Tuesday's morning skate, Brad Marchand was asked about Riley Nash shifting to the B's top line to fill in during Patrice Bergeron's absence. The winger fully endorsed the center, calling him a "mini version" of Bergeron.

"That just means I'm a little worse version," Nash quipped. "I'm fine with that because he's extraordinary."

Nash, who has a 4-4-8 line over his last 10 games, lived up to the billing during the B's overtime win over Carolina, potting a goal in the closing seconds of the first period to set a career high with 11. He then added an assist on Charlie McAvoy's overtime winner, after digging a puck out along the wall in the D-zone.

It was Nash's second such play on an overtime winner in the last week, following his helper on Marchand's tally against Calgary last Monday.

"It's very important because Bergy is a Selke winner," Cassidy said of Nash's performance. "The first thing you're trying to replace is that element on that line. You've got two wingers that like to be creative, and I don't want to say take chances - but I will say, they like to take chances.

"You need a backbone on that line, and that's where Riley - listen, there's no replaying Bergy - but, he has some of his traits, and we've tried to ask him to bring those traits out when he's playing on that line."

Video: CAR@BOS: Riley Nash scores on nice move from the slot

Instant Chemistry

In his first two games with the Bruins, Rick Nash has fit in seamlessly alongside David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk on Boston's second line. The 6-foot-4, 211-pound winger has drawn plenty of attention from the opposing team, providing lots of room for his linemates to get to work.

And on Tuesday night, DeBrusk and Krejci took advantage, combining for three assists in the Bruins' 4-3 win over Carolina. They worked like clockwork on Nash's first goal in Black & Gold, with DeBrusk forcing a turnover along the wall and Krejci providing a nifty feed through the slot, where Nash closed the deal.

"He clearly, he attacks defensemen. He's a big man, so he backs people off," said Cassidy. "It's going to allow Jake some room to get to the net. I thought Jake had lots of juice tonight. He was really flying out there, made some plays, was on the puck, going to the net. He looked like a smaller version of Rick Nash tonight, to be honest with you, which will make Krech, obviously, better because he likes to bring people with him and find the guys with speed."

DeBrusk also added a helper on Tommy Wingels' first goal as a Bruin in the second period.

Video: CAR@BOS: Rick Nash nets first as Bruin, 800th point

Making History

With his overtime winner against the Hurricanes, McAvoy became the youngest Bruins defenseman in team history to notch such a goal, according to NHL Public Relations.

Video: CAR@BOS: McAvoy nets OT winner on two-on-one

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