In a game that is decided by how many more goals one team scores over the other, it is often easy to lose sight of the little details that a player may do that actually contributes to his teammates making those important goals. Those little details usually don’t show up on the stats sheet in the form of goals or assists. Recently one player has been able to do that in addition to making a couple of critical goals.
Sean Kuraly was acquired, along with a 2016 first round draft pick (which saw the Bruins take Trent Frederic) from the San Jose Sharks for Martin Jones on June 30, 2015. The Lewiston, New York native was originally drafted by the Sharks in the fifth round (133rd overall) of the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Kuraly is playing in his second season of the NHL and has found a solid spot for himself on the fourth line of the Bruins along with Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner. The three of them are sometimes called the energy line, and they are most definitely a grinder line.
“I think a lot of it’s that [communication and chemistry] and playing together for a few games, for a while now, and I know how Noel [Acciari] plays and have learned how [Wagner] plays and they both work really hard and that’s kind of like a staple of what we want on our line and it’s been fun to play with them and I think the reason for a lot of our success is each other,” Kuraly shared. “And on a line like ours we kind of need three guys to all be doing their job and it kind of depends on all three of us, so, we know that, and we come in every night and the best thing about that is we’re kind of trusting that the other guys are going to do their job and no one is trying to do two jobs. That’s when we get in trouble, when guys try to do too much because our nature is to just work.”
The Bruins are a team built on blue-collar work ethic, and do their best in a season when they can count on their fourth line to contribute offensively. And recently that has been the case. For Kuraly, who will turn 26 later this month, he recently had two important game-winning goals. The first during overtime in Buffalo against the Sabres on December 29, 2018 and the second was the third goal for the Bruins during the 2019 Winter Classic on New Year’s Day against the Chicago Blackhawks which was played at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, Indiana. For his linemate Wagner, this meant having to score the first goal of the game twice, when his first attempt was waved off and, upon review, disallowed 20 second into the game on Saturday, January 5, 2019, when the Bruins this time played host to the Buffalo Sabres. Wagner would score again at 10:10 of the first to put the Bruins on the scoreboard first.
In his last five games, Kuraly has played an average of 23 shifts per game, with an average TOI of 16:30. This is an increase of almost five shifts per game and an additional 3:13 ice time. Such increases speak to the confidence Boston Bruins Head Coach Bruce Cassidy has in his fourth line, and in Kuraly.
During the Bruins 4-0 shutout over the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday, January 8, 2019, Kuraly saw time on the penalty kill which kept the Wild from making any shots on net throughout their three power plays. Throughout the feisty forward made three shots on net, had two blocked by Wild players, and one missed shot. While he did turnover the puck once, he offset that with two takeaways. He also blocked a shot from the Wild and was 50% in the faceoff.
“I was really just trying to play, and I think I’m making some mistakes that maybe I wouldn’t but I’m also making some better plays than I would. I’m just trying to live with the bad that’s going to come with a lot of the good and luckily the staff and the team is letting me play like that and I think they’ve seen that it’s better for the team to kind of just go on my toes and keep going and, yeah I’ve just, yeah just go and play and kind of be myself as a player. Usually it works out, like sometimes I feel like I’m turning the puck over, but I just keep going and sometimes I’ll get it back, so it kind of works itself out,” he said of his recent on-ice play.
Not only does he appear to have confidence in himself, but his head coach does as well, and his teammates are recognizing what he has been doing of late.
“I think your teammates kind of take care of you when you have some moments like that, and it definitely feels good when our top guys are noticing and are vocal and communicate with you that you’re helping the team win and contributing. And as a guy that doesn’t always score, it feels good to be able to help the team win,” he told The Pink Puck.
Along with confidence for Kuraly has come a better understanding of his own strengths on the ice and the importance of not overthinking when he’s taking a shift.
“I’m thinking about it less. I’m kind of just trusting my instincts and trusting my game, that if I play hard and play like myself, you know, really my game is hard and that’s how I like to play and I feed off that. So when I let myself play like that, it kind of just takes care of it and I’m just kind of telling myself going into games that, just be myself as a player and everything else kind of takes care of itself, which it kind of has,” he explained.
For quite some time this season the Bruins were a one-line scoring team, with goals only from their top line. The secondary scoring that has been coming, especially from Kuraly and his linemates, makes Boston a formidable team. And right now Kuraly’s line with Acciari and Wagner has helped the Bruins to a season-high five-game winning streak.
“First off, is both of their work ethics and they both finish really well on their checks and go through their body and create some space and they both play downhill and they like to be F1. [Wagner], you’ve seen he can finish and plays well in the o-zone and finds good spots on his forehand side. I think a lot of times he finds good spots offensively and [he’s] just super responsible defensively. And [Acciari], I think a lot of the same. I think Noel is smart, he’s really smart. I don’t think he gets enough credit for how smart he is and kind of in the right spots and he’s patient. I think he brings probably the most patience and timing to our line,” Kuraly said of his linemates.
Yes, Kuraly had two timely goals, but it’s his ability to play a fierce game full of blocked shots, hard hits in the corners, and solid offensive zone time that is helping him to contribute in many ways during each of the Boston Bruins recent victories. He’ll be the first to admit that he has things to work on, but in recent games he has been able to overcome any mistakes he has made and helped his team to take the win.