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Boston Herald
Boston Herald
6 Jan 2024
Steve Conroy

NextImg:Bruins notebook: Fourth line has yet to find identity

The Bruins as a whole are not a fully developed team so it stands to reason that their fourth line is the same, from how it needs to play to exactly which players are going to be on it.

But creating a fourth line that can be reliable in important situations is very much on coach Jim Montgomery’s to-do list.

“It is a concern, but it’s a work in progress and we knew all along this year that that was going to be a work in progress. It continues. We believe in the players that we have and we’re going to work with them and develop them until they have the game-in, game-out identity that we need,” said Montgomery.

It can take a while for a fourth line to come together. The most identifiable fourth unit the B’s have had in recent memory was the fan favorite Merlot line of Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille, and that line didn’t become a regular cohesive unit until later in the 2010-11 Stanley Cup season. Montgomery ticked off a list of things for which he’s looking.

“You’ve got to have energy. You’ve got to bring energy to the bench. You’ve got to be hard to play against and you’ve got to hang on to pucks,” said Montgomery. “Those are the things we’re looking for. A line that can go out after goals against or goals for and build team momentum or get it back, be able to start periods to gain momentum, start the right way. There’s a lot of things that go into it. And it’s just not a fourth line, it’s a third line as well. We know what we’re going to get from the (Charlie) Coyle and the (Morgan) Geekie/(Pavel) Zacha line. They know what their role is and how important that is with the icetime they get.”

Right now, there are five players who’ve seen some time on the fourth line – Johnny Beecher, Jakub Lauko, Oskar Steen and lately Georgii Merkulov and Danton Heinen have been thrown into the mix.

From an energy standpoint, Lauko might fit the bill the best. And he has had his moments, especially in a rousing fight at the Garden in the Minnesota game that for a time changed the game’s momentum before the B’s eventually lost in overtime.

But while Lauko certainly isn’t relied upon to score goals for this team, he admitted it’s weighing on him that hasn’t been able to put one behind the goalie this year.

“For me, I just have to get that monkey off my back. There hasn’t been much good going for me in the season so far. I’m just trying to get there. It’s not easy, but I’ve just got to grind it out,” said Lauko.

“I’m trying not to think about it, but obviously I do. For me, I feel like I just need some small thing to go my way and hopefully it’s going to turn my way after that. Sometimes it’s not easy to go there and play the way I want to. It’s just not there yet. I just need to grind it out and get better.”

There’s also dealing with being in and out of the lineup and, when you’re in, going for long stretches on the bench, issues that are endemic to the role. With the exception of Heinen, who has played higher in the lineup, all the players have been scratched recently. Lauko sat out Thursday’s loss to Pittsburgh.

“I’m trying to be positive. Every single time I’m in the lineup, I’m going to practice like it’s the NHL. I’m excited and happy to be here,” said Lauko. “Obviously every single guy wants to play more minutes, right? Me included. But I haven’t given enough to this team to earn more minutes and I’m very aware of that. Coming into the season, I wanted to be a guy that the guys can rely on and make a little difference from the bottom six. I just don’t feel like I’ve been that player so far. I honestly want to turn it around so much. I just need to grind it. There’s the second half of the season coming up and I want to be a better player than I have been so far.”

Beecher, who had played center exclusively until Thursday when he was moved to wing and Merkulov was in the pivot, has been a scratched a couple of times recently. At the start of the season, his size and speed helped him make the roster, but his ability to win draws was eye-opening. As it has for much of the team, that has waned in the last few games for Beecher. He went 0-for-5 on Thursday.

“I think the last four or five games have been off for me. I’ve been doing a little bit of video, trying to see what’s going on. It’s a fraction of a mistake and you’re going to lose it,” said Beecher. “It’s something I’ve got to dial in more. They put a lot of trust in me a couple of weeks ago going into that faceoff dot, especially in the D-zone. I want to build that trust back up. I’ve got to take a lot of pride in that and figure it out.”

Starting with the puck would be a good first step to get the fourth line on the right track….

At the morning skate, rookie Matt Poitras centered a line with Heinen and Trent Frederic, though Montgomery wasn’t ready to commit to his lineup for Saturday’s game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. It would be Poitras first game since December 16 before leaving the team for the World Junior Championships.

Montgomery said he’s looking for Poitras to compete at both ends of the ice and manage his shifts economically.

“When he has the puck on his stick, he makes plays and that’s what excited us about him,” said Montgomery….

James van Riemsdyk was ruled out for Saturday’s game with an undisclosed malady. Montimery termed him day-to-day.