It isn’t always fair to size up the play of Boston’s fourth line by staring at the stat sheet.
A forward trio tasked with wearing down the competition and extending O-zone shifts by way of a heavy forecheck, Boston’s regular grouping of Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom haven’t had the luxury of favorable ice so far this season — with just 22.02 percent of their faceoffs coming in the opponent’s zone.
Given their less-than-desirable assignments (often against top-six talent), one can only draw so much from the numbers when it comes to a fourth line’s effectiveness — given that their role often has them taking some heavy punches from the competition, night in and night out.
But given their track record, especially after last year, Bruce Cassidy hasn’t let his fourth line off the hook in what has been a rather inconsistent 2019-20 campaign.
Even if that bottom-six unit isn’t going to be relied upon to consistently generate 5v5 offense, their efforts towards tilting the ice in Boston’s favor by way of physicality and sheer determination should be a regular sight whenever the Nordstrom-Kuraly-Wagner line hops over the boards.
“Still looking for them to get to — I don’t want to say their ceiling — but higher to their game. More to their standard,” Cassidy said of Boston’s fourth line after a 2-1 overtime loss to Columbus last week. “We’ll keep working with them to get there. It’s a tough challenge every night. You’re typically starting in your own end, playing against good lines. That’s what’s in front of them. It will make us better when they get there.”
When Boston’s fourth line isn’t holding its end of the bargain when it comes to negating a top-six group, the domino effect can often be catastrophic.
Patrice Bergeron’s line is often pressed into service in an effort to stop the bleeding on the defensive end, taking that group away from valuable O-zone possessions. Cassidy’s in-game lineup shuffles start to take place, with Boston searching for a suitable stopgap against the opposition’s top offensive weapons.
But when the B’s fourth line is clicking, they can often dominate a game for extended stretches — all while providing a spark for their teammates on the bench. Much to Cassidy’s relief, those performances are starting to become more and more of a regular occurrence down the second half of the 2019-20 season.