Bruins

Bruins' third line making them a dangerous team

Bruins' third line making them a dangerous team

BOSTON – Boston’s top trio of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak is deservedly getting the lion’s share of the credit due to their dominant work since coming together as a “super line”, but those three forwards can’t do it all. Most nights, they will hold one of the other team’s best forward lines in check and they'll do plenty of offensive damage with Marchand and Pastrnak on pace for 40-goal seasons.

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Still, the Bruins need diversification in their scoring up front if they’re going to be anywhere near as good as they aim to be. That’s why the recent surge from their third line of Danton Heinen, Riley Nash and David Backes has been an extremely important development. The 5-1 victory over the Ottawa Senators on Wednesday night at TD Garden served as Exhibit A of that.

The trio combined for four of the five goals for the Black and Gold against a ragged Senators bunch. The third line continued to exhibit its willingness to play the 200-foot game while lightening the load for Boston’s top forwards. With David Krejci still out with an upper-body issue, that’s been a huge development for a Bruins team rolling on most cylinders with 14 wins in their past 18 games.  

“We’re going to try to get [the Nash Line] against one of the scoring lines for the other team. Usually, [Patrice Bergeron] will get one of those matchups. If Krech [David Krejci] is in there, we don’t mind using him," Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. "He has been in the league a long time – just he has the younger wingers, so the more 200-foot guys

with [David] Backes and [Danton] Heinen – that’s why they were put together,” said Cassidy. “So, they’ll probably see some skill [matched up against them]. If the other team is really looking for a matchup, we might just put them against their checking line to negate it because we think Bergy can outplay any line in the league. We just feel that way.

“Balanced scoring, secondary scoring...it’s something we were searching for. Nash’s line has chipped in on I think on a fairly regular basis. [Ryan] Spooner’s group certainly has the ability to do it. You saw that with Anders [Bjork] tonight, found his legs. It’s a big plus for us, takes a lot of load off of those [top] guys. They’re going to want to score every night; it’s how they play. I think they had drive tonight – Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron’s] line – it just didn’t go in for them, or maybe one too many passes or however you want to analyze it. For us to be able to [score without goals from the Bergeron Line] is a good sign.”

In the win over the Senators, it was Nash who stood out most with a pair of second-period goals against the Senators team that ended the Bruins season last year in the first round of the playoffs. Some will remember that the bottom-six center took it pretty hard after his retaliation penalty led to an overtime home playoff loss for the Bruins.

It might not have completely removed the sting, but Nash scored twice to help the Bruins pull away in a game they never trailed. The first score was a breakaway goal off an Erik Karlsson turnover and the second was a nasty little dangle drive to the net where he slid the puck under Craig Anderson.

With the three-point game, Nash now has two goals and seven points in 11 games in December and is on pace for a very strong 10 goals and 36 points on the season. That’s a step up from last season and a sign that Nash is responding to a little more responsibility on his plate. 

“It seems to be every year it kind of comes in bunches, so you know, now I get two [against Ottawa]. Hopefully, I can keep that rolling and feel good and maybe shoot the puck a little bit more,” said Nash. “I think my linemates played great. They’re both tremendous. [They have] very good shots, so you know, it’s just give and take for our line for contributing, and I think that’s more important than anything.

“Anytime we can kind of give [the Bergeron Line] some support, and you know, not put the pressure on them. I know coming in that they probably want to score a goal or two every game, but some nights it’s not going to happen. And having Krech [David Krejci] out, I think that also puts a little bit of onus on the second and third line. Everybody as the bottom nine is kind of banded together in helping out.”

Clearly, Backes also has been very good since coming back from diverticulitis and has been close to a point-per-game player in December with five goals and 10 points in 12 games as a big-bodied finisher around the net. He’s skating and moving around better than at any point in his first season in Boston and is playing the best hockey of his Bruins career at a time when they really need him.

Then there’s Heinen, who is coming into his own with offensive playmaking and a 200-foot game that makes him just another well-rounded weapon. He crashed backdoor for the game-winning goal on Wednesday night while connecting with Ryan Spooner on the between-lines score  and has been a point-per-game player this month with five goals and 12 points in 12 December games.

Oh, by the way, Heinen has also busted into the NHL’s top five for rookie scoring.

Only Mathew Barzal, Clayton Keller and Brock Boeser have more points than Heinen among NHL first-year players. His nine goals and 24 points in 31 games projects to 23 goals and 60 points for a full season. Clearly, there is a lot of deserved hype with Charlie McAvoy in his rookie season, but the Heinen, 22, has helped elevate the games of Backes and Nash as third-line partners. That’s quite an impact from a rookie who wasn’t getting hyped quite like Jake DeBrusk and Anders Bjork in camp.

The development of the B’s third line into an impactful offensive and defensive force has helped the Bruins elevate their game over the last month. That’s exactly what the hockey doctor ordered for Boston.  

“You need guys to step up on different nights,” said Zdeno Chara. “You can’t be always relying on the same guys to score goals, you know? So obviously [the win over Ottawa] was a night for our secondary scoring guys, and they did a great job.”

The challenge now for Heinen, Nash and Backes will be to keep building on the promise they’ve shown in December and to keep providing scoring depth that is making the Black and Gold awfully tough to beat right now. 

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Noel Acciari

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NBC Sports Boston illustration

Countdown to Bruins training camp: Noel Acciari

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Noel Acciari.

Noel Acciari has always been known for throwing around his 5-foot-10, 208-pound body with reckless abandon and never backing down from a hit no matter how big the guy he’s tracking down. Those are great traits for a fourth-line center/winger that managed to get a full NHL season under his belt as part of a young B’s fourth line that had some great moments this past year. Acciari certainly has a lot going for him: Physicality, a local boy done good story as a Rhode Island kid and even a little offensive fire that adds to his value as an energy line forward.  

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What Happened Last Year: The 26-year-old Acciari made a nice step forward in his first full season with the Bruins as he suited up for 60 games, cracked double-digits with 10 goals scored and continued to play a heavy, punishing game when he was in the lineup. Acciari plays hard all the time and plays with a fearless tenacity, and those kinds of qualities rub off on the rest of the fourth line when he’s out there running around and making hits. Unfortunately, playing that way also leads to injuries and last season was no different as Acciari missed time after blocking a shot, absorbed a concussion and played through a sports hernia injury that required surgery following the season. It’s probably unfair to say that Acciari is injury prone, but injuries are just the cost of doing business with the way the former Providence College standout plays.  

Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest question with Acciari is if he can stay healthy enough to remain effective in his role with the Bruins. By all accounts Acciari had a very good season providing energy, physical oomph and even kicking in 10 goals while scrapping for offense around the front of the net. He’s dogged, fearless and the kind of player that will help a team win hockey games. But that style of play leads to injuries and time missed, and Acciari needs to find a way to stick in the lineup and finish up strong if he wants to remain an integral part of what the B’s are doing. Given that he’s shown some offensive spark and plays with true fire in his belly, the Bruins will certainly be patient with the aches and pains that go along with Acciari doing his job. But if Acciari truly wants to be a part of the core Bruins group, he’s also going to need to be a reliable, constant presence in the everyday lineup.   

In Their Words: “We’ve got a lot of confidence from this past season, and like I said, that can build up until next year, and get better from there, and make a deeper run next year. We want to continue what we did this past year and get even better, so it’s going to be a good hard summer, and work hard, and kind of have that bad taste in our mouth where we got knocked out this year. Let’s not have that again next year.” – Noel Acciari, on the mentality that he and his B’s teammates are looking for headed into next season. 

Overall Outlook: Acciari has earned his reputation as a tough competitor and a punishingly physical player, and he continues to hone the offensive production as a fourth-line player. It’s to his credit that he even got a bit of a look as the third -line center when Riley Nash went down with injury, and speaks to how the Rhode Island kid continues to up his game. That being said, it feels like Acciari is really in his sweet spot as a hard-hitting fourth-line winger that plays with energy and physicality. It all comes down to remaining as healthy as he can within his reckless playing style, and showing that he can stay in one piece at the NHL level while playing the way he does. Other than the occasional run-in with injuries, Acciari brings everybody anybody could want in a fourth-line energy winger.

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

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Countdown to Bruins training camp: Sean Kuraly

From now until the beginning of training camp, Bruins Insider Joe Haggerty is profiling players who will be on, or have a chance to be on, the 2018-19 Bruins. Today: Sean Kuraly.

Kuraly represents a Bruins prospect turned legit player after the fourth line center graduated from the P-Bruins and turned into a solid, strong two-way pivot on a B’s energy line that was actually pretty good for most of the season. There may be a limit to the offensive upside for a rugged, penalty-killing player like Kuraly, but there was more than enough good there for him to earn  new three-year contact with the Black and Gold that will begin this upcoming season.

What Happened Last Year: The 25-year-old Kuraly was the B’s fourth line center from beginning to end last season after really popping in the previous season’s playoff series against the Ottawa Senators, and he performed up to hopes and expectations. Kuraly finished with six goals and 14 points in 78 games for the Bruins, and was a big-bodied center willing to throw his body around on occasion and kill penalties pretty much all the time. Kuraly also had his moments during the playoffs with a couple of goals and four points in 12 games, but the entire B’s fourth line was pretty badly outplayed by Tampa Bay in the second round of the postseason. So there are definitely a few things for Kuraly to build/improve on from last season, and now he’ll have the time to do it with the B’s.

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Questions To Be Answered This Season: The biggest Q for Kuraly is just how high the upside is for the 25-year-old former Miami University standout. Kuraly showed last season that he could be a pretty solid fourth line center that could bang bodies a bit, provide occasional offense, kill penalties and win a few big face-offs while bringing size and strength down the middle. Now Kuraly will be in the mix for the vacant third line center position, and he could win it outright if he can show a little bit more offense and physical aggression as he matures into an NHL career. Is last season the ceiling for Kuraly, or can he harness the impact game we’ve seen out of him in the playoffs to make him an even more impact NHL center. The good thing about Kuraly is that he’s smart, he’s a good teammate and he plays hard all of the time, so the Bruins aren’t going to have worry about any of those things as anything but automatic with the young center.

In Their Words: “I don’t think you could tell me about it and try to tell me what it’s going to be like or how to prepare for it. It’s something you really have to go through, and it’s long, and it’s a marathon, and it’s nights where you’re not feeling 100 percent, and maybe you have to do a little bit more that night. So, there are nights that it’s tough, and I think that’s something that I, hopefully, can get better at next season is dealing with some of the adversity and realizing that this is a long season, and there’s going to be some ups and downs and just try to stay levelheaded.” –Sean Kuraly, on what he learned from his rookie season and how he can apply it to this upcoming season and beyond.

Overall Outlook: The Bruins certainly liked what they saw out of Kuraly last season as a rookie, or they wouldn’t have signed him to a three-year contract. It’s reasonable to expect that the big-bodied pivot is going to improve from the six goals and 14 points posted in his rookie NHL season, and it’s now up to Kuraly to see how good he can be. Could he be a steady third line center at the NHL level where he teams with David Backes to form a physical, grinding third line that can pound other teams? Can he supply enough offense to be a legit third line center, or is the offense the kind of thing that’s going to likely relegate him to fourth line duty. As mentioned above, the intangibles are never going to be in question with Kuraly and that’s a very good place to start. Now it’s just a matter of letting Kuraly develop at the NHL level, and see what he ultimately turns into after showing he’s got the right stuff for the B’s energy line at the very least.

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