By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com
Seven games into the 2021 season, and after their fourth straight victory, the Bruins have officially heard from all four forward lines.
But there’s something about Thursday’s heroes — the B’s fourth line with Sean Kuraly between Anders Bjork and Chris Wagner — that gets the juices flowing for everybody in the Boston locker room.
“They love it when they get us going,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said after the victory. “They’re well-liked in the room and when those guys score, it always lifts the bench.”
“They’re the guys you hate to play against,” Bruins winger Brad Marchand noted. “Our fourth line was awesome tonight and they have been for a number of years now. And at this level, you don’t win without a deep lineup and those guys play a lot of difficult minutes. They’ve been a huge part of our team.”
Beginning the night with goals from Chris Wagner and then Sean Kuraly (or his leg anyway), the Kuraly line’s success came long before their tallies. Led by some dominant shifts that pinned the Penguins in their own zone, Cassidy even went back to old trick of his by giving that high-energy line the start, which at points was a near automatic on home ice a couple of seasons ago.
“Gave them the start tonight [because] I think in our building they bring energy and they got off on the right foot,” Cassidy said. “They’re starting to generate a little more and feed off each other.
“I thought Anders was real good tonight. Made a great play to [Patrice Bergeron] early on, was around the puck. Wags was getting to the front of the net, winning his wall battles. Sean [had] good discipline playing the middle of the ice.”
In addition to their offensive work, which included those aforementioned goals as well as five of Boston’s 20 total shots on the Penguins’ Tristan Jarry, all three factored into the B’s still-excellent penalty kill, which went a perfect 3-for-3.
All in a day’s work.
“Those guys have to do a lot of the dirty work; D-zone starts, penalty-kill work, always playing against good players,” Cassidy acknowledged. “They did their job.”
“They play a lot of difficult minutes in the D-zone and important draws and penalty kills and sometimes it doesn’t get the recognition,” Marchand echoed. “It’s just great to have those guys have success and that’s why we’re a good team.”
But the added perk of tonight’s game certainly came with the performance of Bjork, who when on provides a rarely seen speed-and-skill element to that line, which started its year with Trent Frederic and has featured names such as Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari in recent runs.
“My game is playing fast, moving my feet, and creating things off that,” Bjork, who admitted that he hasn’t been happy with his start to the year, said. “That has to be my focus every night.”
Thursday was undoubtedly Bjork’s best effort in that respect. And he showed what a difference it can make for that line, as they created the O-zone storms they’re typically asked to weather.
“It’s been a little bit of a change, and we knew if it could get it figured out, it’d work well” Kuraly said of the switch to playing with a speed-and-skill guy on the left. “We’re getting closer. That’s the good sign. I think [Bjork] was the big driver of our line.”
“They got out of the gate and answered the challenge,” said Cassidy. “The guys love it when they get on the scoresheet. They’re all popular guys on this team that players pull for.
“They know how much dirty work these guys do.”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a 4-1 win at The Garden…
Bruins silence Sidney Crosby throughout two-game series
Penguins captain Sidney Crosby came to Boston with three goals and seven points in six games in 2021. And he left town with three goals and seven points in eight games this year.
This was a brutal an erasing of the ultra-talented Pittsburgh captain I can remember, as Crosby was a complete non-factor during this two-game series in Boston, with zero points, five shots, and a minus-4 in 41:33 over the series. Crosby was even dominated at the dot, with wins in just 13 of his 45 battles at the dot in Boston (a 28.9 faceoff percentage).
The constant in this matchup, of course, was Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand against their former Team Canada linemate. And as you’d expect given Crosby’s super-gross 28.9 faceoff percentage, Bergeron simply ruined Crosby’s day at center, with wins in 18 of his 31 faceoffs against Crosby, including a 10-for-14 mark in defensive zone.
One change of note: Tuesday came with Crosby going against the Bruins’ Jeremy Lauzon-Charlie McAvoy pairing, while Thursday saw No. 87 get a heavy dose of Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo. The Bruins seemed to do OK in both matchups.
(And random, but something that surprised me: The Penguins didn’t really try to park Crosby, one of the league’s underrated net-front talents, in front of the Boston net on the power play. He was consistently along the half wall as a distributor. That seemed like a mistake, especially when considering the B’s struggles in shutting those looks down this season.)
Second time has been charm for Bruins
If you were looking for a theme in this four-game homestand, you’d find in the second game of both the series against the Flyers and Penguins. After playing a close, extra-frame contest in Game 1, the Bruins buckled down and simply dominated the second game. In both instances, it felt as if the Bruins were a step faster than the opposition in all three zones, and outright tortured them into playing harder minutes they had absolutely no interest in skating.
Perhaps that’s hotel life getting to the road team. Or maybe it’s the Bruins finding something on video and excelling in applying the changes directly with the benefit of immediate re-exposure.
Marchand noted that the Bruins’ objectives don’t change in the second part of these consecutive showdown sets, but that he wouldn’t mind seeing this stick when society returns to normal. (I gotta admit, this whole ‘when things get back to normal’ is beginning to sound patronizing.)
“I like it,” Marchand said of the mini-series. “I think it’s great as a team to go into a city and be there for a few days. It limits travel. I think it’s a great recipe and you get to enjoy a city for a few days. Maybe not right now, but when things are back to normal, it’d be nice.”