One clear byproduct in the Bruins’ Stanley Cup hangover season of two years ago was a difficult year for the “Merlot Line.”
The trio produced 22 goals and amassed 44 points in that 2011-12 season, which isn’t bad for your average, garden variety fourth line. But for a trio of forwards that have been called the NHL’s best fourth line on many occasions, it was off their normal secondary production levels. The real shocker, though, was the combined minus-15 plus/minus rating for a line that prides itself on keeping their defensive mistakes to a minimum.
In short, they view their gig as providing energy and emotional spark and keeping the puck out of the back of their net. They were a little short on both categories two years ago while attempting to tap into an energy reserve that perhaps just wasn’t there, and it’s been another slow opening month for that line again this season.
Once again it was a quick turnaround for a group of energy players after finishing the Stanley Cup Final loss to Chicago at the end of June, and now they’ve combined for two goals and three points in 14 games. They are a combined plus-1 rating for the season, and actually haven’t on the ice together for a goal against since opening night against the Tampa Bay Lightning more than a month ago.
So defensively, the B’s fourth line is still getting it done.
Still, Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell have combined for just 16 shots in 14 games, and Campbell is the only Bruins player that has yet to register a single point this season as he continues to find his way back from the broken leg he sustained in the playoffs.
Campbell didn’t want to use the leg as an excuse, but it’s pretty clear he’s not skating with the ease, speed and power that’s always been a part of his game. That will likely improve as it did last year for Chris Kelly once he was far enough removed from his broken leg, but it’s not coming soon enough for the exacting fourth-line center.
“I’m a person that sets really high standards for myself, and feels like I need to be contributing to this team every single night,” said Campbell. “Those standards aren’t being met right now, so clearly there’s room for improvement.”
It was interesting to watch Boston’s game against the Anaheim Ducks last week, and hard not to notice Campbell flexing his healed leg after colliding with Ducks defenseman Brian Allen near the blue line. Campbell skated in circles and stretched out the area during a TV timeout, but finished the game while later assuring this humble hockey reporter that he was fine.
“A lot of is the fact that he’s coming off a broken leg,” said Julien. “[Campbell] suffered a pretty big break in his leg and didn’t skate all summer. It’s going to be a bit of a challenge for him right now to find his rhythm and his speed again.
“So you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to give him time and you let him work through it. We need to give him a month or two and really let him work through things.”
It’s clear they are still searching one month into the season, and that there’s another level of energy that the Merlot Line can attain to help spark a Bruins team that has lost four of its past five games.
“We’ve had some good games and some bad games,” said Shawn Thornton, who has gone 10 games without a fight after picking up three fighting majors in Boston’s first four games. “We were [expletive] against New Jersey, and the production is always a tough thing to gauge our effectiveness on. But could we better than we’ve been this season? I would say without a doubt that we could be.”
Everybody knows that the Black and Gold’s fourth line can be better than they’ve shown this season. Now it’s a just a matter of when they will show it, and if they’ll have issues sustaining as they did two years ago in a long, exhausting Cup hangover season.