TORONTO – When walking into the New York Rangers locker room after the team’s morning skate on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden, not one player asked about the status of the Bruins’ Brad Marchand, David Backes, David Krejci, Adam McQuaid or Ryan Spooner. The opponent wanted to know when Noel Acciari was returning to the lineup for the Bruins. When told it wouldn’t be Wednesday, there was a sigh of relief.
To some, that might seem to be a stretch. Why would NHL players be concerned about a bottom-six forward? It’s simple: He’s scary on the ice. He’s a straight-line player that brings speed and physicality. Players hear him coming.
“They know when he’s on the ice,” said Bruce Cassidy. “He’s a guy that hits and hits clean and people are aware of it. Guys that hit dirty, people are aware of it too, but they’re talking about (Acciari) in a different way. There’s respect for Noel’s game. I believe he’s earned that. You’re talking about a good, hard-nosed, clean hockey player that brings that element every night and (opponents) have to be aware of it when they’re on the ice.”
The Bruins need him back in the lineup. According to Cassidy, Acciari will be a game-time decision against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Friday at Air Canada Centre. He suffered a broken left index finger during the Bruins’ season opener against the Nashville Predators on Oct. 5 at TD Garden. Given the way he plays, injuries are going to happen. Given the way he plays, it can ignite a depleted lineup and spark a team.
“He gives us physicality, straight line (play) and can change the momentum of a game on the forecheck with some big hits,” Cassidy said. “It would be nice to have that element back in the game. He was rounding into his offensive game (when he got injured). It’ll be a little more difficult after missing time. He’ll be playing catch up, probably with puck plays, but the physical part of it, and the straight-line play will be beneficial for us for sure.”
No doubt the Bruins have missed that element.
“At times,” admitted Cassidy. “Matt Beleskey’s doing a good job trying to bring that and when he’s out there, he had a couple of big hits (Wednesday) night. It helps if you can roll one into two where the first guy sets up the second guy, so you’ve got a momentum swing and it can lead to turnovers. We have missed it. Backes, generally brings that as well, but it’s an element of our lineup that we haven’t replaced. It’ll be nice to have back.”
Acciari’s presence starts to bring balance to the lineup. It helps that Riley Nash and Acciari have a built-in chemistry. Cassidy can start Acciari with Nash, or Sean Kuraly, depending how the coach wants the bottom six to look like against the Maple Leafs.
“He can add a lot,” said Patrice Bergeron. “The confidence and the experience he gained last year, late in the year and during the playoffs, he was a big factor for us. His line was really contributing offensively and defensively while creating energy for us. That’s what we expect from him. His maturing, gaining confidence and he’s one of those guys who keeps getting better.”
At the start of the season, Cassidy envisioned a line of Tim Schaller, Nash and Acciari. It can be an effective trio given their relentless style of play. The Bruins desperately need that element right now and Acciari can deliver it. His return to the lineup is the exact shot in the arm that this team needs.