BRIGHTON, Mass. — While there are obviously plenty of things that have gone right for the Bruins given their standing in first place in the Atlantic Division, their fourth line hasn’t really been one of them.
A big part of it, obviously, is the number of injuries suffered early in the season with left winger Joakim Nordstrom out of the mix for 11 games, so the continuity wasn’t there early in the season with a number of different faces on Boston’s energy line.
But the regular trio has been together for the last few weeks, and still hasn’t completely found the footing that made them one of the most effective fourth lines in the NHL last season. They have combined for just four goals in the first 20 games this season, and both Chris Wagner and Sean Kuraly have been minus players this season.
The good news is that some offensive opportunities are beginning to come their way, enough so that Wagner has been unsuccessfully tapped for the shootout in each of the last two instances where the Bruins made it to the extra season.
But it’s also clear to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy that his fourth line needs to get back to basics and do what they do best in playing with speed and physicality, shutting down top lines and occasionally popping in secondary offense when chances present themselves. Right now they are doing some of that, but clearly haven’t hit the high levels they were at a little more often last season.
“I think [Kuraly] is losing sight a little bit of what makes them a good line, and what makes him a good player. He’s visibly frustrated when he’s not finishing, which I get. Guys want to score. But that shouldn’t then affect the rest of his game, and I think it has a little bit. We’ve pulled them aside as a line, especially the assistant coaches, and have gone through things when they’re solid,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think the puck is finding Sean and the rest of their line; they just have to finish. But he really has to make sure what his primary role is and that’s been our message to him.
“That’s being a shutdown guy and making life miserable for one of their top two lines, and then get the job done on the penalty. I don’t want to say the offense is gravy, but you’ve just got to play through that part of it and not let if affect you mentally.”
Kuraly himself admitted that it hasn’t been an easy go of it this season and understands exactly what needs to be done to get them back to their high level of play.
“My details can be better and that’s my focus. I want to be top end at the little things and the details,” said Kuraly, who has been a minus-3 with just five shots on net in the last five games for the Bruins. “I think some of that might have slipped lately and my focus is going to be getting that back to what it was. It’s realizing when I do that, I give the team a good chance to win — and when I don’t, it can hurt us. A lot of that can fall on me.”
Maybe what the B's fourth line needs is simply to play crash-and-bang hockey with some responsible defense thrown in for a couple of games. Once they have become difficult to play against once again, then the offense will follow afterward.
It remains to be seen exactly when the B’s energy line is going to make the expected turnaround, but it sounds like everybody is on the same page as to how exactly that’s going to happen, when it does happen.
Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.