Bruins’ Fourth Line Look To Lead The Bounce-Back

( Photo Credit: Jeff Roberson, AP )

By: Jack McCarthy  |  Follow Me On Twitter @73johnnymac

As the Stanley Cup Final shifts back to Boston for Game 5 on Thursday night at TD Garden, the Boston Bruins will be looking to recapture the momentum in what’s been a back-and-forth series through four games.  While the Bruins will need much better performances across the line-up, you can bet the fourth line will be itching to lead the bounce-back as they played nowhere near their usual standard in Game 4’s loss.

The fourth line of Sean Kuraly,  Joakim Nordstrom and Noel Acciari can usually be relied upon to drive possession and help tilt the ice in the Bruins favor.  The line starts the majority of its shifts in the defensive zone and quite often skates to the bench having earned an offensive zone face-off.  That’s exactly what you’re looking for from your fourth line.

There has been an added bonus from the line so far in the Stanley Cup Final-production.  Kuraly (2G-2A-4Pts, 2GWG’s), Nordstrom (1G-3A-4Pts), and Acciari (1G-1A-2Pts) have combined for 10 points in the first four games of the Stanley Cup Final.  The worrying trend for the line, however, is that their 5-vs-5 Corsi percentage has been steadily declining as the series has progressed and culminated with some horrendous numbers in Game 4.

Let’s take a closer look at what the line has produced over the first four games.   As a reminder, Corsi % is a reliable possession metric which measures shot attempts for against shot attempts against, expressed as a percentage and for 5-on-5-play.  A measure of 50% means a team is generating an equal number of shot attempts for and against while that player is on the ice.  Therefore, as a baseline, positive Corsi is viewed as a percentage greater than 50, and more often than not, players and teams generating Corsi percentages greater than 50 are more successful.

Corsi % through four games, stats courtesy of hockeyreference.com:

CF % (5v5) Game 1 Game 2 Game 3 Game 4
Kuraly 45.0 28.6 53.8 15.0
Nordstrom 44.4 32.0 31.2 9.5
Acciari 45.5 34.8 34.8 10.5

As the table above shows, the trend has been going the wrong way, and that’s a worry if you’re the Bruins.  Game 4 was a particularly rough night for the trio as they were held off the score sheet for the first time in the series and gave up the game’s opening goal on their first shift at the 0:43 mark.

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St Louis took full advantage of home ice to get the match-ups they were looking for in Game 4.  The Bruins started with the Bergeron line and St Louis interim-Head Coach, Craig Berube, countered with his fourth line.  After a stoppage, 29 seconds in, Bruins Coach, Bruce Cassidy, sent the Kuraly line over the boards for a defensive zone face-off.  The Blues countered with the Ryan O’Reilly line, and they quickly capitalized with an opening minute goal that energized the building and the Blues.  All in all, not the start the Bruins were looking for or needed on the road in a hostile environment.

As the Corsi numbers show, the Bruins fourth line was over-matched all night in Game 4, generating just 2 shot attempts for, while giving up 12 (14.29 CF%) in 7:58 of 5-on-5 ice-time.  The Bruins as a whole were out-attempted 49-30 during 5-on-5-play.  The difference can be somewhat attributed to the negative numbers put up by the Kuraly line, but you can’t hang the loss entirely on them.  The reality is that the Bruins need more across their line-up.  They are yet to receive a goal at 5-on-5-play from anyone in their top two lines.

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There is no question that the Bruins have enjoyed a significant special teams advantage through four games of the Stanley Cup Final.  Boston has gone 6 for 16 with the man-advantage, good for a 37.5% clip, and have added a short-handed goal.  The Blues, on the other hand, are just 1/12 on the man-advantage, translating to an 8.3% rate with a short-handed goal allowed.  The reality is, however, that as the Stanley Cup Final goes deeper and deeper, history has shown that players adjust and as the pressure amps up, discipline is preached, often leading to fewer power play opportunities.  The Bruins are going to need to be better at 5-on-5-play moving forward as they may not be able to count on receiving four or five power plays per game.

All is certainly not lost, and the Kuraly line has proven it’s worth time and time again in the regular season and playoffs and certainly with its contributions in the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final.  Coach Cassidy will be expecting a bounce-back performance from the trio in Game 5, and they will play an important role if the Bruins are to overcome adversity and go on to win the Stanley Cup.  The fourth line is in no way the scape-goat here, the Bruins need the contributions to come from the top.  This is something they are aware of, but if the fourth line can rebound and help tilt the ice Boston’s way, that in itself will be a major contribution.  Helping the top lines get offensive zone starts may be just what the Bruins need to turn this around.

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No one said it was going to be easy.  The Bruins find themselves in an enviable position, heading into Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final tied 2-2.  It’s now a best of three, and they have two games at home to get the job done.  A win in Game 5 will go a long, long way to making that happen.   The Bruins’ fourth line has been vital throughout this playoff run, ever since Kuraly returned from injury for Game 5 of the opening round series against Toronto.  A strong performance from Kuraly, Nordstrom, and Acciari will help send this series back to St Louis with a chance to clinch the Bruins’ seventh Stanley Cup championship.

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