Fourth lines in the National Hockey League aren’t known for their skill as much as they are for providing energy — and in the “old days” bone-crushing hits and fights.
The league has drifted from its goon-philosophy in recent years and teams have started to rely more on bottom-six forwards for supplemental scoring. This area has been a constant struggle for the Boston Bruins this season with their lack of scoring depth and inconsistent lineups.
The Bruins’ fourth line of Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner have combined for only four points (two goals and two assists) through 14 games. Acciari, the Providence College alum, is still scoreless through the first month of the season.
Yet it hasn’t been for a lack of effort. The trio has combined 63 shots on net. They are creating quality scoring chances — for example a 2-on-1 opportunity for Acciari and Kuraly that barely missed the post in the second period against Dallas — but the breaks haven’t gone their way.
The Boston Herald’s Marisa Ingemi said it best during Monday’s contest against the Stars in that there almost seems to be a curse put on Acciari that won’t allow him to get a point this year. That’s how close they’ve been.
Despite their lack of offensive production, the fourth line is starting to look like a well-rounded trio.
“I think they have their personality. It’s just getting it regularly, we’ve seen pockets of it. Now we have to get them to the next step where from the O-zone they are generating a few more slot looks. That’s a bit about their spacing and how they maybe have to change the way they think,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said following Wednesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
“Hopefully they go to school a bit on how Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] line works low, net front and slot. Listen they don’t have that level of talent so it’s not automatic, but if they start using them as guys and talk more, I think we should see more from them and as a result a few more goals.”
The lack of scoring isn’t entirely Wagner, Kuraly or Acciari’s fault, however. A plethora of interchanging parts between lines has caused a delay in chemistry and development.
The fourth line also suffered from the mixing and matching. Kuraly started the year as the third line center, Wagner was often a healthy scratch and Acciari played alongside a wide range of players, including Ryan Donato, Anders Bjork and Joakim Nordstrom.
The lines have somewhat leveled off, at least for the past few games. And slowly but surely, the fourth line is developing chemistry and trust from the coaching staff.
“It’s getting there,” Cassidy added. “I think the trust is always there but last year I don’t know if we had it at this point, I would have to go back and see. They know we have it internally as a staff, it just kind of has to evolve on a regular basis and understanding why is it working out that way. Some of that is the O-zone. When you’re playing against the top line and control pucks in the O-zone, Tyler Seguin is standing there for 30 seconds in his own end and wants to go the other way, it’s frustrating and that’s the idea.
“Hopefully, it translates like I said into more offensive production but just the fact that they control the puck is half the battle.”
Matt is a recent graduate from the Pennsylvania State University with a degree in sports journalism and a minor in business. He currently reports on the Boston Bruins and writes featured stories and game recaps for both Bruins Daily and Boston.com
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