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Rejiggered Bruins fourth line stands out in loss at Penguins

Matt Kalman
December 14, 2018 - 10:16 pm

Coach Bruce Cassidy has had to juggle his forward lines for most of the season because of injuries, ineffectiveness and occasional call-ups from Providence.

The Bruins' fourth line has been in as much flux as the other three trios, but Cassidy might’ve found the right combination despite Boston’s 5-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on the road Friday.

Led by right wing Chris Wagner’s career-high nine shots on net, the newest incarnation of the fourth line with Wagner and Sean Kuraly flanking Noel Acciari combined for 12 shots on net, 16 shot attempts and eight wins on 12 faceoffs (Kuraly was 3-for-4; Acciari went 5-for-8).

Wagner made sure his active night didn’t go to waste, scoring his third goal of the season at 7:08 of the third period to tie the score 3-3 after the Bruins had been behind 2-0 and 3-1. Unfortunately for Boston, Jake Guentzel’s tip-in at 10:47 was the difference, and Zach Aston-Reese added an empty-net goal in the closing seconds.

The Bruins outshot the Penguins 51-28 and out-attempted them 81-37, but it was just one of those nights.

Wagner, Kuraly and Acciari have probably been the most-used fourth-line combination by Cassidy this season, but against the Penguins the coach tweaked that line. He brought Acciari back into the lineup after three games as a healthy scratch and pulled out left wing Gemel Smith. Instead of having Kuraly center the line, Acciari went into the middle – allowing Wagner to play on his strong side on the right and the left-shooting Kuraly to play a rare game on his strong wing.

Needless to say we shouldn’t see Wagner anywhere but right wing the rest of the season unless there’s an emergency. He’s played there a few games now and looked 180 degrees different than when he was playing his off wing. He never had more than six shots in a NHL game before Friday.

And if the offensive performance, including several shifts against the Penguins’ top two lines centered by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, of the fourth line wasn’t enough, Kuraly, Acciari and Wagner combined for 14 hits.

Cassidy’s going to have to try to ride his rejiggered fourth line for a while. Now it’s just a matter of figuring out where David Backes, who was thriving on the fourth line for a stretch, fits in the lineup.

*Backes seemed comfortable playing again with Joakim Nordstrom and Colby Cave. That line’s not going to give you much at the offensive end, but it has been pretty responsible. And although it was on for a goal against (no one can figure out why all five Bruins skaters dropped away from Malkin as though he smelled like a skunk before he set up a Phil Kessel goal), they were asked to carry a lot of the toughest assignments, taking 10 of the Bruins’ 16 5-on-5 defensive-zone draws (they won six of the 10).

While that line was constantly starting in its own end, Cassidy managed to keep the Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson line with wings Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato from taking any defensive-zone draws the whole game. It paid off because that line held its own against Pittsburgh’s third line most of the night, and survived a couple scary shifts against Malkin’s line.

*Congratulations to Brandon Carlo on scoring his first goal in 116 games (since March 4, 2017). I look forward to his next goal in October 2020.

Related: How Bruins pick Studnicka is faring early at Team Canada WJC camp

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