Sean Kuraly

Fourth line coming around for the Bruins at the perfect time

Fourth line coming around for the Bruins at the perfect time

BOSTON — It wasn’t a barrage of goals from the Bruins fourth line or a round of board-rattling hits that everybody could see, but the B’s energy line was a constant factor in Thursday night’s 5-4 win over the Winnipeg Jets at TD Garden.

That's what they were pretty much all of last season, and that’s what they’ve needed to be this season while falling short most of the time.

But Sean Kuraly, Joakim Nordstrom and Chris Wagner had it going against the Jets with Wagner generating a handful of scoring chances among his team-high seven shots on net and nine shot attempts.

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Wagner didn’t end up scoring and missed a little time after he crashed into the boards following a breakaway attempt in the first period, but their presence was felt throughout the game after Wagner had scored a few nights ago in Nashville.

“I thought [Sean] Kuraly’s line — Chris Wagner had the best game of the year offensively. Hit a post, was in all alone, breakaway, guy makes a great save, had a couple other point-blankers. Their line was going, I thought Nordy [Joakim Nordstrom] gave them a lot of energy,” said Bruce Cassidy of Wagner, whose offense has been down from last season when he popped in a career-high 12 goals and 19 points. “When he’s skating, it makes a difference on that line. They were good.

“We’ve said that all along that what they leave is just as important as what they accomplish for us, so if they can accomplish some o-zone time and then leave us with a good puck getting back on the attack, then they’ve really done their job.”

Certainly there is still ongoing work for the B’s energy after a couple of solid back-to-back games, and the Bruins still have a lot to iron out with the second and third lines still trying to find their workable combinations.

And it goes without saying at this point that they’ve missed the presence of Noel Acciari, who has blown up offensively with 17 goals for the Florida Panthers after signing with them as a free agent this summer.

This humble hockey writer has long been banging the drum for the Bruins to acquire a fourth line bruiser who can throw heavy hits, lean on teams with size and strength and stand up for his teammates when the situation calls for it within games. But right now, that’s just not the way it’s going for the B’s energy line.

Instead, a few promising games in a row is a step in the right direction for Boston’s fourth line, and having both them and the Perfection Line as consistent commodities that Cassidy can rely on will give the B’s building blocks they need to win hockey games right now.  

What we learned in Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils

What we learned in Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Devils

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday afternoon at the Prudential Center in Newark.

1) The Bruins are terrible against bad competition. 

They're 2-1-3 against each of the four last-place teams in the NHL this season and have losses to each of them (the Detroit Red Wings, New Jersey Devils, Chicago Blackhawks and Los Angeles Kings). Most of them were shootout losses so they were at least competitive, with only a regulation loss to Detroit that might have been their worst/most embarrassing of the season.

Is this really a long-term concern for a team that still has a commanding nine-point lead in the division and will be a playoff team regardless of how many times they fumble away points against bad teams? It’s probably not given that the Bruins will be playing with high energy and high effort when it gets to the playoffs against quality opponents and the dregs of the NHL will be long gone by that point. 

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Still, there’s something about teams consistently playing down to their competition that speaks to this group's overall makeup and the ability to consistently focus no matter what’s going on around them. It just isn’t a terribly good reflection on them that they consistently stop playing against bad teams once they feel like the game’s in the bag as they did in the second period vs. New Jersey when the B's went up, 2-0. 

 2) Stop us if you've heard it before, but the Bruins are tracking to be historically bad in shootouts. 

They're 0-6 in shootouts this season and the only good goal they got on Tuesday afternoon was a slick backhanded, top-shelf offering from fourth-line winger Chris Wagner while Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron, among others, couldn’t score on Mackenzie Blackwood. 

In an interesting stat from 98.5 the SportsHub’s Ty Anderson, Bergeron actually hasn’t successfully scored in the shootout since April 2015 and has gone 13 consecutive shootout chances without scoring. 

A great deal of it is predictability as plenty of the B’s shooters have historically tried to go five-hole on goaltenders in the last few seasons, but that wasn’t really the case on Tuesday. They were just getting stoned on their attempts with Blackwood while not really doing anything too exotic. 

The good news as far as this all concerned: The Bruins won’t have to worry about the shootout, or 3-on-3 for that matter, when it comes to the playoffs.

3) Sean Kuraly seems to be getting back on track after a slow start. 

Kuraly was only credited with an assist on the second goal of the game when both the big fourth-line center and Joakim Nordstrom were grinding in front of the net for a rebound of a Brandon Carlo point shot, but it could have easily been his goal. 

Kuraly finished December with a goal and six points in 15 games, along with a plus-3 rating and 13:10 average of ice time, and only the big three, David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk had more points among B’s forwards than Kuraly the past month. 

More important, he was a plus player for the month and his line has done a better job of playing responsible two-way hockey for a fourth line that’s very much relied upon by Bruce Cassidy in many different situations.

Plus

*Nordstrom played a gritty fourth-line game, scored a second-period goal by crashing the net and finished with four shot attempts, a hit and a takeaway in 12:06 of ice time. He gives you everything he’s got every game.

*David Pastrnak very nearly had a goal when he ripped a one-timer through Blackwood's pads on a first-period power play, but ended up with an assist when Brad Marchand swept the puck into the back of the net. He finished with a game-high nine shots on net in 20:54 of ice time and did his job helping the B’s build up an early lead.

*Jaroslav Halak stopped 42 of 44 shots and gave the Bruins every chance to win a game they certainly didn’t deserve the way they stopped playing midway through the game.

Minus

*Danton Heinen was a healthy scratch after getting benched for the third period in the Sunday night win over the Buffalo Sabres. It’s time for Heinen, Jake DeBrusk and other young veterans to start playing with consistency and intensity every game.

*Meanwhile, David Backes, Brett Ritchie and Par Lindholm all got chances to play with David Krejci injured and Danton Heinen scratched and they didn’t do much of anything with it.

*Blake Coleman always plays well against the Bruins and this time around was no exception for the Devils high energy forward with a goal, eight shot attempts and plenty of offensive pressure throughout.

 

Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 8-1 blowout of the Canadiens

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USA TODAY Sports photo

Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 8-1 blowout of the Canadiens

GOLD STAR: Sean Kuraly set a career-high with three assists and had his best game of the season for the Bruins after a lot of struggles in the first six weeks of the season. The first came at the beginning of the game when Kuraly jumped in to replace a dinged-up Charlie Coyle on the power play then fed Jake DeBrusk in the slot from behind the net. Kuraly was skating with his usual oomph and set up a number of plays while displaying the kind of confidence that hasn’t been seen enough this season. Kuraly finished with three assists and a plus-2 rating in 14:32 of ice time to go along with a shot on net, a couple of hits and going 8-for-11 on face-offs. Perhaps the chance to center Anders Bjork and Danton Heinen in a pseudo third line will bring him some needed energy when he heads back to the fourth line for a healthy B’s forward group.

BLACK EYE: Carey Price was done for the night after letting in five goals on 11 shots through the first two periods. Certainly, most of it wasn’t his fault, but the Habs also probably needed Price to make a save on Brad Marchand after Jeff Petry coughed up a puck around the net at the end of the first period. If Price somehow comes up with that shot, the Bruins go into the intermission only up 2-1 and the Canadiens can feel okay about the way they played. Instead, the Bruins take the momentum on the Marchand goal, open up a two-goal lead and set themselves up for a major blowout. While he can't take all the blame, Price has a 3.09 goals-against average and .900 save percentage, and those are poor, poor numbers for him.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins took the game over in the second period by scoring three goals on seven shots, chasing Price and David Pastrnak collecting his sixth career hat trick before the game was even halfway over. The goal scored by Pastrnak eight seconds into the second period seemed to completely daze the Canadiens - who were already wobbly at the end of the first - and paved the way for Boston to have its way the rest of the night. It’s amazing that the Bruins were able to put that kind of whupping on the Canadiens in their own building given how infrequently that happens in this rivalry.

HONORABLE MENTION: Who else but Pastrnak? He has 23 goals in 24 games and is realistically on pace to finish with one of the best goal-scoring seasons in Bruins history. Perhaps the most encouraging part of the evening was Pastrnak scoring two of the three goals in even-strength play. The first one came the traditional route with a one-timer from the face-off circle. But the second goal was a net rush using speed and a puck on edge right out of the starting gate in the second period, and the third goal was a redirection of a Brandon Carlo point shot that showed some good variety in scoring. Pastrnak finished with three goals and a plus-2 rating in 16 minutes of ice time to go along with eight shot attempts and really did all his damage in the first half of the game.

BY THE NUMBERS: 23 – The number of goals in 24 games for Pastrnakl. Only Brett Hull and Mario Lemieux have scored more in the first 24 games of the season going back to 1989-90.  

QUOTE TO NOTE: “You don’t see too many nights like that between the Bruins and Habs.” –Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy to NESN after a blowout of the Canadiens at the Bell Centre.

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