Chris Bourque, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley are all eventually going to need to step up their scoring touch. The Boston Bruins’ 2013 slate is only going to get more rigorous from here on out, and they will all but inevitably need to flex more tangible depth.
For at least January and February, though, the 12-2-2 Bruins have been able to subsist on primarily unsung input from their third line. That trend was epitomized in Tuesday night’s 4-1 victory over the New York Islanders, the penultimate game of February and the one that completes the first one-third of their game schedule.
So far, in his first season as an NHL regular, the journeyman Bourque has tallied one even-strength goal and three power-play assists. He did not add to those totals on Tuesday, but did put Boston on its first man advantage late in the opening frame, drawing a tripping infraction on Radek Martinek at 17:18.
Kelly finally hatched the goose egg in his 2013 goal column in the team’s previous venture, burying the first dose of insurance and granting Bourque one of his five-on-four helpers in Sunday’s 4-1 win over Florida.
Black and Gold higher-ups can only hope that is a harbinger of a thawing-out party as springtime approaches on the calendar. Right now, with the one goal and four assists on his transcript, Kelly is on pace to finish this 48-game season with 15 points.
That is coming after he spent his first full season as a Bruin collecting career highs of 20 goals, 39 points and a plus-33 rating. He started 2011-12 with a 5-5-10 scoring log at the 16-game mark, twice the output he has at the same point this season.
But after Boston had sculpted its 3-1 lead strictly on the strength of top-six contributions, Kelly did keep the momentum rolling when he drew his club’s second power play of the night. A mere 62 seconds after David Krejci spawned the multi-goal edge, Kelly sent Islanders defenseman Mark Streit off for roughing, the first of three unanswered infractions against New York.
Before any of that, though, the third line could be credited with warming up the opposing zone for the first strike of the game.
During the sixth minute of action in the first period, Peverley took a hit from Matt Martin shortly before releasing a 46-foot wrist shot.
Within the next 23 seconds, Boston pelted goaltender Evgeni Nabokov thrice more with shots coming from Dougie Hamilton, Peverley and Kelly. Defenseman Dennis Seidenberg subsequently shot wide and Kelly threw a hit on Martin before the unit gave way to the likes of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin.
During their shift in the seventh minute, a similar buzzing session around the Islanders net saw the Bergeron line set up point patroller Adam McQuaid for the icebreaker at 6:43.
By that point, besides the 1-0 upper hand where it mattered most, Boston had a 7-2 edge in the shooting gallery. Barely two minutes prior to that, before the eventful hustle by Bourque, Kelly and Peverley, the shot count was deadlocked at 2-2.
The Isles would draw a 1-1 knot under the decisive heading before the first intermission, only to authorize three unanswered strikes the rest of the way. In turn, 10 Bruins skaters finished the night with an elevated plus/minus rating.
None of the third-liners fell into that group, but they did not lose any footing in that category, either. In addition, they deferred gratification by setting the tone for the eventual outpouring with that sixth-minute shift and likely stalled New York’s bids to retort with the penalties drawn by Bourque and Kelly.
Kelly’s fellow acquisition from February 2011 is on an identical 15-point pace for the 48-game sprint in 2013. And he likewise had twice as many points at the 16-game mark last season as he has at the same stage this season.
But with more of the same from the high points of their outing Tuesday night, all three of the leaned-on depth forwards ought to uncork more of the same from 2011 and 2012.
There certainly should be enough contagious confidence to go around. The Bruins did just win a season-high fourth straight in spite of Peverley’s four-game production drought, but maybe also because of his line’s driven play early on.