On Chris Wagner as Tim Schaller's replacement
Through the Bruins first three games of the 2018-19 season, head coach Bruce Cassidy has done some line juggling as he searches for some stability behind the Patrice Bergeron line.
If Monday’s 6-3 win over the Ottawa Senators taught us anything, it’s that Cassidy may have found himself a fourth line.
After the 11-point Bergeron line, the trio of Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly and Noel Acciari were by far the Bruins best. Wagner scored his first goal as a Bruin, Acciari had three shots on goal and the three combined for seven hits.
All three brought different things to the table on Monday, but it was Wagner that impressed me the most.
Despite being just three games into his Bruins tenure, Wagner is no stranger to TD Garden and the city of Boston. The 27-year old Wagner grew up about a half hour away from TD Garden in Walpole, Massachusetts.
Previously, Wagner made stops with the Ducks, Avalanche and Islanders where he made three tips to TD Garden as the opposing player. Wagner failed to score in each of his three trips.
Making his TD Garden debut as a Bruin Monday, Wagner made sure it was a memorable one, tipping a Charlie McAvoy point shot past fellow Massachusetts native Mike Condon.
“Kind of surreal,” Wagner said of his goal. “I don’t think it’s really set in yet. I didn’t really see it go in either, which I was kind of surprised, but we kind of work on that high tip in practice a lot so it’s nice to see it pay off in a game.”
The goal came in front of about 20 family and friends Wagner had in attendance. With many more watching at home, Wagner’s phone was unusually busy.
“Uh yeah…I got plenty of texts already, so I’ll have to take a couple hours to respond to them,” Wagner said with a smile.
With a career high of just six goals, Wagner is not going to be lighting up the score sheet each night, nor is he expected too. But as long as he and his line make the most of their opportunities and do the little things needed by a fourth line, he and the line should be just fine.
“Yeah, I mean some guys aren’t going to be going on certain nights, and you’re playing probably the least amount of time out of the four lines, so you have to make the most of your minutes and try to get that energy for the other guys…when they’re on the penalty kill like drawing penalties and stuff like that, so you know, definitely goes unnoticed sometimes, but we take it very seriously,” said Wagner.
After the Bruins were embarrassed in their season opener in Washington, Wagner was scratched for the Bruins 4-0 win over the Sabres. Being reinserted into the lineup against Ottawa, Wagner did exactly what he said he needed to do: made the most of his opportunity.
“Yeah, no one likes to come out. You don’t like to watch and it’s never an easy pill to swallow, so obviously you’re not going to be happy about it” said Wagner. “But you kind of use it as motivation to play well today and you have to take it in stride because you don’t really know all the time what the coach is thinking, but you have to trust the process, and like I said, it worked out today.”
Part of the Bruins success last season was the consistency they got from the fourth line. Kuraly, Acciari and Tim Schaller made up what was arguably the best fourth line in all of hockey. The trio combined for 28 goals and five shorthanded points last season.
Cassidy knows that expecting 30 goals from a fourth line is a bit of an unfair ask, but that doesn’t mean he won’t ask for similar production from the line this season.
“No, we can always ask because we won’t get it, but I think they expect – you know Noel had 10 goals [last season], he doesn’t want to go backwards. Sean was five or six or so and some in the playoffs, so he certainly wants to get to double digits. Wags [Wagner] was seven I think, so they’re all I believe could be 10-goal scorers,” said Cassidy.
“If you can get that out of your fourth line and the responsibility and the gritty part of their game, then we’ll be in good shape. You said it, last year was a big reason this team had some success and got through tough times because our fourth line was very good for us.”
Kuraly and Acciari have the continued chemistry they built a season ago, but Wagner and Acciari have some familiarity with each other. The two played on a line together several years ago as members of the South Shore Kings in the EJHL.
“Yeah, me and Noel have it [chemistry] from our younger days, but I was looking forward to playing with Sean,” Wagner said. “Kind of a similar player. I saw their success last year, and was happy to fit in with them. I thought we had a pretty solid game together.”
With Schaller now in Vancouver, Wagner will look to fill the shoes of Schaller. 12 goals may be a stretch, but as long as Wagner brings efforts like he did on Monday, no one should have any issue with Wagner as a replacement for Schaller.