They aren’t the second coming of Cashman-Esposito-Hodge by any means, but Bruce Cassidy isn’t looking for his fourth-line trio of Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner to be offensive juggernauts when they get a tap on the shoulder from the bench.
Sure, Cassidy will take what those three provide on offense (13 goals, 29 points), but that line’s main goal is to throw their weight around, establish puck possession off the forecheck — and in general, make things a living hell for the opposing team’s top line.
“I know what I’m getting out of that group every night,” Cassidy said. “We’re getting physicality, I can trust them against good players. … We’re not banging our head against the wall for them to score every night. We do want the physicality, we do want the penalty kill, we want the challenge of them playing against top players when we go away from (Patrice Bergeron’s) line.”
Sunday’s matinee stood as perhaps the most daunting challenge of Kuraly-Acciari-Wagner’s tenure together — logging shifts against a Colorado top line with a combined 82 goals and 206 points on the season.
“They’re pretty dynamic,” Wagner said. “MacKinnon can make a play out of nothing with his speed and they have a lot of chemistry – they’ve been playing all year together. So, between their speed, their size, and their strength, they have a lot going for them.”
When it comes to negating an opponent’s top trio, Cassidy has had the luxury of rolling out a four-time Selke Trophy winner in Bergeron on his top line, along with another dynamic, two-way winger in Brad Marchand.
Bergeron and his line lived up to its billing as a shutdown unit in Saturday’s OT win over the Kings, holding L.A.’s group of Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown and Alex Iafallo to zero shots on goal during the 10-plus minutes of 5v5 play in which both lines were out together.
Sunday was a bit more arduous for Bergeron and his crew against the MacKinnon line. Fatigue certainly played a bit of a factor — with the matchup standing as Boston’s fifth game in the last week — but it became evident after the opening period that Cassidy’s top line just didn’t have it.
In about 4:30 of 5v5 TOI in which Bergeron was matched up against MacKinnon and Co., the Avalanche held a clear advantage in terms of puck possession and offensive chances generated, holding a 9-5 edge in attempts, 6-2 lead in shots on goal and a goal against.
Having your regular lockdown crew knocked on the ropes might have been the nail in the coffin for some clubs against a dynamic line such as Landeskog-MacKinnon-Rantanen, but Cassidy had an ace up his sleeve.
They may not be the flashiest group on the B’s roster, but Cassidy was quick to note that his fourth line always seems to rise to the occasion — especially when called upon to knock around a couple of high-skill skaters.