Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wasn’t shy when asked before the Bruins defeated Colorado 2-1 in overtime on Sunday what general manager Don Sweeney needs to add before the Feb. 25 trade deadline.
Cassidy didn’t want to be disrespectful to anyone on Boston’s current roster, and he wasn’t demanding an upgrade , but he couldn’t help but point out the revolving door that’s been spinning in the middle of his forward corps.
“Third-line center, I do believe we’ve been looking at different options all year. So to have a consistent guy in there every night would probably make easier on everybody,” he said.
The only problem with what Cassidy said is he should’ve identified the need as fourth-line center, or just another center. Because the Bruins have a third line, and its center is Noel Acciari.
If ever there was a night that the trio of Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner riding Acciari’s wings proved that they’re not a fourth line – regardless of what Pierre McGuire, Eddie Olczyk or any NBCSN personality says – it was Sunday's win against the Avalanche.
In the second period Cassidy and his coaching staff didn’t think the top line of four-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron centering Brad Marchand and Danton Heinen had enough in its tank to chase the Avalanche’s top line of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog all night. So Cassidy, who has often relied on Acciari’s line to face some of the better lines in the NHL on the road, turned to his Not The Fourth Line Line (along with the top defense pair of Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy) to battle MacKinnon’s trio.
MacKinnon scored a goal late in the first-period at the same second a penalty to Torey Krug expired. So for all intents and purposes the Avs’ top line was kept off the score sheet at 5-on-5. MacKinnon had just two shots during 5-on-5 over the last two periods, while Rantanen had one and Landeskog five. They hardly got a prime scoring chance in the bunch.
“We literally asked them to scrum pucks in the O-zone, if they got it, without turning it over. Obviously, attack the net,” Cassidy said. “I mean Kuraly drew a penalty doing that, but not to get caught. So that’s a big sacrifice for them.”
The Bruins have had a problem holding leads lately, so this time they came from behind. John Moore tied the game in the second period and Brad Marchand won it in overtime. Jaroslav Halak made 35 saves.
But a lot of the credit for the Bruins winning their second in a row and extending their point streak to seven games (4-0-3) had to go to Acciari’s line. Not only did MacKinnon take a penalty but in the third period one of the Avs’ top forwards shot Wagner’s stick away from him, a play that should’ve resulted in a penalty. Wagner said he heard the members of Colorado’s top line yelling at each other.
“You know those guys probably think it’s going to go their way most of the time. But it’s a compliment to us when they get frustrated like that. So I guess we did a good job,” Wagner said.
Acciari, Wagner and Kuraly each average around 13 minutes of ice time, similar to their past NHL seasons. They proved they could be effective for more time against the Avs, with Kuraly even playing 17:46.
They’ve combined for 13 goals, not exactly the type of production a coach wants out of a third line, but enough to help the Bruins get by because their top line and power play produce almost every night.
So the only thing the Bruins are missing in their bottom six is a center, with Trent Frederic now proving, like Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson before him, that's not ready to play an important role in a NHL lineup. Frederic played just 7:31 Sunday. Someone that could help make a new, more-productive third would come in handy, but the Bruins might be best suited to just add an experienced fourth-line center to combine with David Backes and Joakim Nordstrom.
Then Acciari's line would really need to have a new name.
“If we’re going to play 14, 15 minutes a night, then that’s fine with me,” Wagner said about always being called the fourth line.
“We don’t really look into it too much,” Acciari said. “When our line’s called we’re ready to go and whatever anyone wants to call it, they can call it. If we get that call against that top line we’re going to make sure we shut them down.”
Just don’t call them the fourth line; maybe call them the Not The Fourth Line Line.