Haggerty: B's fourth line needs to bring more energy

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Haggerty: B's fourth line needs to bring more energy

The barometer for the Bruins, on so many levels, is the energy, effectiveness and wrecking-ball nature of their fourth line.

When things are going well in the land of Black and Gold, Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille are breathing hot fire on the ice, pounding other teams with a relentless, punishing forecheck and reversing the momentum in games when things arent going well.

The fourth line was an unrelenting key to Bostons success last year, and never was that more obvious than Bostons Game 7 triumph over Vancouver. The trio of Thornton, Paille and Campbell set the emotional and physical tone in the first period with shift after shift of tone-setting energy that the more skilled Bs players followed to victory.

Its become a part of Boston sports radio shtick to chide the Bs coaching staff for his fourth-line adoration, but the proof was in the winning last season.

We always use Game 7 of the Finals as an example of their importance, said Claude Julien of his fourth line importance. In the first period they got us going when we put those guys out there, and we hemmed Vancouver in their own end. They did such a great job of forechecking and gave us all kinds of energy.

Thats the kind of role theyve played for us since theyve come together and we need them to continue to do that.

But those energy-altering shifts havent come with the same kind of regularity for the Bruins this season. The Merlot Line has been far from that this season along with the rest of a Bs team finding it difficult to get their motor started. Campbell, Paille and Thornton have accounted for one point in the first eight games, and have a combined for an aggregate minus-10 as a line.

Julien sees a group of skaters that are perhaps a tad too jumpy with their shots in the early going of the season. They need to take a breath, remember their positioning with and without the puck and start creating better scoring chances off the cycle.

The one thing they do so well for us is hold the puck in the offensive zone. It seems like theyre looking to shoot right away when they can hang onto it and make better plays, said Julien. Its about getting back into those good habits and cycling the puck well, and it seemed like last year when they shot the puck there was somebody around the net to jump on the rebound. Right now they just want to throw it right at the net, and thats not always the right choice.

They know they need to be better.

The Bruins simply need them to be better if theyre going to again develop that wave-after-wave attack rolling all four lines that typified their run to the Cup last season. The fourth line isnt going to completely lift the Bruins out of the offensive doldrums that have them scoring almost a full goal less per game than last season through the first few weeks.

But the fourth line can help bring some much-needed energy to once and for all help eradicate the hangover haze thats been hanging over the hockey team in October. Campbell was unceremoniously frank when asked if the fourth line is on the right track eight games into the new season.

Not really. I think we still have some work to do," said Campbell, who is scoreless with 5 shots on net and a minus-3 in eight games "Regardless of whether or not were scoring, its creating chances and having that puck possession time thats important for our line. The goals will come if we get the chances. We put a lot pressure on ourselves as a line, and its important for us to contribute.

When things arent going well you need everybody to step up and contribute. Ill be the first to say that we need more from me. Its a matter of owning the puck and creating chances for ourselves, and being smarter with the puck. Were always going to work hard, but it comes to working smarter to create chances for ourselves.

Judging by Campbells unflinching assessment of himself and the team, the Bs fourth line is acutely aware they need to be better.

Thornton admitted the trio conducted a little meeting amongst themselves prior to Thursday nights game against the Maple Leafs to get on the same page. They knew they needed to be more effective and got back to basics against the Leafs.

Thornton dropped the gloves in two straight games that helped his team tap into the emotional component, and their puck possession has been better in the offensive zone over the last several games. But it takes more than a couple of games to truly change the momentum tide, and they know theyre not there yet.

Thornton knows theres more potential to be mined out of the chemistry between the three forwards, and there have been some promising signs in a win over the Leafs and a near miss against the Sharks.

The last few games I think weve been in their zone a little more, said Thornton. Campbell hit a crossbar and I just nicked the top of Niemis glove. Were right there. It just hasnt expletive gone in. We talked about it a few days ago before the Toronto game, and weve gotten better.

But its obviously not good enough because were a minus-10 or whatever the hell it is. The first couple of games we were trying to get our chemistry back and werent hanging onto the puck as much. We just need to keep doing what makes us successful. We were working hard. Theres no doubt about that. But I think we were just a little too focused on only getting pucks to the net.

The line has fired off 24 shots on net in the first eight games, but its back to basics for the Bs pivotal fourth line.

Its time for Paille, Thornton and Campbell to help spark up the emotional fire thats become such an important part of Bostons success, and once again become the best fourth line in the NHL that they were all of last season. The Bs fourth line created expectations when they provided such a jolt of energy and attitude last season, but theyve embraced that challenge.

Its obvious the Bruins simply arent the same without them.

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

Haggerty: No move may be the best move for Bruins at deadline

The NHL trade deadline is now less than a week away, with plenty of movement expected despite the perpetual lack of sellers, and an expansion draft perhaps preventing some teams from taking on players they will then need to protect. 

The Bruins shouldn’t be much of a seller as long as they can continue their current good stretch for three more games before the March 1 deadline. The expansion draft shouldn’t be much of a scare either based on the players {Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Malcolm Subban) they might be in danger of losing to the Vegas Golden Knights this summer.

With the Bruins currently outside of a playoff spot by virtue of the one game in hand held by the Florida Panthers (both teams have 66 points vying for the final wild-card spot), it would be no surprise if GM Don Sweeney wanted to be a buyer at the deadline for a Boston roster that could use a big top-six winger with finishing ability, a top-four defenseman that can move the puck and a backup goaltender should Anton Khudobin have any more struggles this season.

The Bruins and Avalanche had been talking steadily in recent weeks about a possible deal for 24-year-old left wing Gabriel Landeskog, but those discussions have hit a standstill with Sweeney refusing to part with either Brandon Carlo or Charlie McAvoy in the trade package. That's the 100 percent right move for a Bruins team that shouldn't start trading away blue chip D-man prospects. 

Landeskog has made sense for the Black and Gold because he’s signed long term with a reasonable $5.7 million cap hit, and because he’d theoretically be a good, power forward fit alongside David Krejci.

It’s that type of trade Sweeney and the Bruins are looking to make for a young player with term that will be part of the long-term solution in Boston. They aren’t looking for a repeat of last season where they shipped off good future assets in exchange for pedestrian rental players Lee Stempniak and John-Michael Liles and missed the playoffs anyway after dipping into the trade market.

In other words, Sweeney doesn’t sound all that keen in dipping heavily into the rental market, for a Patrick Eaves or a Dmitry Kulikov for instance, as he did a year ago.  

“Do I think we have an opportunity to make the playoffs? Absolutely, there’s no question this group has a chance to get in. Whether or not I can find a player between now and the deadline that sort of fills all those gaps, that does remain to be seen,” said Sweeney at the time of the Claude Julien firing, prior to the current four-game winning streak. 

“But I think it dovetails with the fact that I’m not going to be short-sighted. I’m going to stick to the longer term view as to what I have put in place with the intention of being able to bridge and bringing in players like David Backes and surround our guys that we get a chance to win now and be competitive now.

“I’d prefer to err on the side of a player that will integrate into us on the longer-term. Last year, we gave up draft picks. I wasn’t prepared to move players that I felt in the same regard that teams had asked for in order to get a higher-level rental or a different kind of rental. I’m not going to deviate from what I said. Are there players and we have a surplus? That’s what I want to try and evaluate and find out whether or not we can deal from a position of strength.”

Some of that may change after a current four-game winning streak with a Bruins team that looks much more playoff-worthy than the aimless group that struggled through the first 55 games. But it would have to be the perfect rental at the right price for it to make sense for the Bruins this time around and chances are that might not materialize for a team just looking to hang in there until McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson and Zach Senyshyn are ready to contribute a couple of years down the road.

So, would people be okay if Sweeney and the Bruins stand pat at the trade deadline if they can’t swing a big hockey deal for a young player like Landeskog who would be part of the long-term plan? Is it acceptable to just let it ride with the current group that has suddenly shown a different gear under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and bet on the core group rising to the occasion like they didn’t the last couple of years under Julien?

The answer from this humble hockey writer is that Sweeney should pass on anything less than a home run deal for the Black and Gold. The worst thing the Bruins GM could do is get in the way of the momentum that’s naturally starting to roll with his team, or make another severe misstep with his NHL talent evaluation. Right now, draft and development seem to be his strengths, and he should lean into those and away from being a wheeler dealer with wiser, more experienced managers around the NHL looking to once again rob the Black and Gold blind.

So, there’s a chance the Bruins do very little at the deadline and, after thinking about it, the fickle fans should be perfectly okay with that as they watch a newly transformed hockey club. 

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Wednesday, Feb. 22: Talking Bruins with Ray Ferraro

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while getting ready for the February heat wave headed our way.

*In the interest of self-promotion, here’s a podcast I did on Tuesday talking Bruins with former Hartford Whalers great and current outstanding TSN hockey analyst Ray Ferraro, who is also a great FOH (Friend of Haggs).

*Good piece on a Hockey Night in Canada broadcaster that has already gained plenty of internet plaudits for his great, and now legendary, Nick Bonino goal call in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

*It’s never too early to look at this summer’s crop of NHL draft-eligible players. Right, Kevin Allen?

*Apparently Toronto Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has his own rap song, so he’s got that going for him…which is nice.

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer Jason Brough has James Wisniewski trying to revive his NHL career after a short stint in the KHL.

*There’s a call for Nashville backup Juuse Saros to get more playing time between the pipes for the Predators.

*Larry Brooks brings his always interesting take to the Bruins situation in allowing Claude Julien to take the head gig in Montreal, and said it all came down to money. Big surprise there. I think there was also a concern from the B’s about having another PR nightmare on their hands if it was perceived that they stepped in and didn’t allow Julien to gain employment someplace else, regardless of what waited for him in the offseason. It also tells me that the Bruins aren’t afraid of Julien coaching their arch-rivals, which makes perfect sense since they just fired him.

*For something completely different: the image of Woody Harrelson in the Falcon cockpit is both jarring and super awesome.