BOSTON — Bruins head coach Claude Julien understands as well as anyone that to win the Stanley Cup, you need to be able to roll four lines.
Depth is critical for long-term success, and the Bruins have lacked the proper amount of scoring depth in the two seasons since their last Stanley Cup Final appearance.
One area that must be improved to provide more depth is the fourth line. This line struggled mightily last season, and it was one of several reasons why Boston slipped to 22nd in the NHL in goals scored after ranking third the season before.
With fourth-line veterans Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille leaving as free agents in the offseason, Julien is hoping to find a fourth-line combination in training camp that will score on a more consistent basis.
“Ideally, I’d like to be able to rely on my fourth line to score some goals, but at the same time, a lot of those guys from the fourth line will give you either energy or score you some goals, will either be really good defensively where they become valuable penalty killers,” Julien said Friday at TD Garden.
“I think there’s a lot of different things you can look at from a fourth line, and I think we’ve got the ability this year to maybe make that line a line that’s going to give us probably a little bit more firepower. We’ll see as camp goes along. And that’s why I said there’s a lot of different scenarios here, a lot of different guys battling for those last spots that, by the end of training camp, hopefully we can figure out what’s going to be the most ideal situation being with that fourth line.”
Being able to roll four lines played a major part of Boston’s success in winning the 2011 Stanley Cup Final over the Vancouver Canucks. Shawn Thornton, Campbell and Paille were able to play as much as 10 minutes on the road in the franchise’s most important Game 7 in 40 years.
But the NHL game has steadily changed since that championship run. Fourth lines no longer are used to just provide grit, toughness, shot blocking and all the other buzz words associated with physical play.
Teams need their fourth line to score goals, create scoring chances and drive puck possession. The B’s fourth line didn’t do much of these things last season or in the second-round playoff loss to the Montreal Canadiens in 2013-14.
Campbell and Paille scored just six goals apiece last season, and Paille didn’t score his second goal until Feb. 24. The Bruins also controlled less than 46 percent of even-strength shot attempts when Paille and Campbell were on the ice. You cannot allow the opponent to dominate puck possession at that level and expect to make a deep playoff run.
Julien has plenty of options for his new fourth line. Chris Kelly could see ice time at center or left wing. Max Talbot is capable of playing down the middle or on a wing. Younger guys such as Seth Griffith, Brian Ferlin, Justin Hickman, Joonas Kemppainen, Alex Khokhlachev and Austin Czarnik also will be in the mix as players who could provide scoring, pace and energy.
Very few forward spots, if any, already are determined at this early stage of training camp. One particular area to watch is the fourth line, a unit that must be improved for the Bruins to return to the league’s elite.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images