fb-pixel Skip to main content

Zac Rinaldo gaining traction on Bruins’ fourth line

Zac Rinaldo (left) realizes that he doesn’t have to hit everything in sight to contribute to the Bruins’ cause.Eric Bolte/USA Today

Had it been earlier in his career, perhaps even earlier this season, Zac Rinaldo would have interpreted Alexei Emelin picking the puck off the boards as a green light to blast the Montreal defenseman into next week.

The sense from both player and employer, however, is that the ex-Flyer is getting better at trusting his mind more than his body. So in Tuesday’s third period at Bell Centre, with the Bruins up, 2-1, Rinaldo did something he might not have done in other games — and definitely not in an orange-and-black uniform.

As he approached Emelin, Rinaldo heard teammate David Pastrnak, who was supporting the play from behind, call for the puck. Instead of freight-training Emelin, Rinaldo tried a more nuanced maneuver. He tied up Emelin and rode him off the puck. Pastrnak picked up the loose puck, curled around the net, and beat Canadiens goalie Mike Condon for a much-needed insurance goal on the way to a 4-1 win.

“Maybe the goal that Pastrnak scored, I would have tried to have that guy go in front of me just so I could make a hit,” Rinaldo said. “Instead, I just let the puck go behind me. I heard Pasta behind me saying, ‘Let it go. Let it go.’


“So I played hockey. I let the puck go and he brought it to the net.

“I think it’s just me growing as a player and doing what’s better for the team and for us to win hockey games instead of making a big hit to create energy and lose myself for no reason.

“It was a 2-1 hockey game. There was no need for hits. We had that energy all game long, so we didn’t need that extra step in our game.”

Five games ago, coach Claude Julien made Rinaldo a healthy scratch against Ottawa. In the five games since then, something has taken place among Rinaldo, Max Talbot, and Landon Ferraro to turn the fourth line into a trusted unit. The line was without Ferraro against the Canadiens because of his lower-body injury, but it still played to Julien’s satisfaction.


“Once they saw what our line brought in New York, that was the first game where we really clicked,” Rinaldo said. “Then we did it again in Philadelphia. We continued to do it.

“I’m new to this team. Max is brand new to this team. Lando is brand new to this team. We’re still working the systems and getting comfortable with their systems.”

Now, even with David Krejci just about ready to play, scratching Rinaldo would be a hard thing for his coach to do. The combustible left wing is finding the balance between controlled aggression and out-of-bounds play to the point where Julien has a good idea of how his fourth line will play.

“He was probably thinking too much at the beginning or not thinking at all,” Julien said. “He was all over the place. It was one or the other. Now he’s found that middle ground that makes him be in the right position without overthinking.

“It’s coming natural for him. We know he’s a good skater. We know he’s a grinder. Plays like [Tuesday] night, we’re getting used to seeing him do those things. That’s why that line’s been so effective for us.”

Krejci is close

During Wednesday’s practice at TD Garden, Krejci skated in his usual second-line spot between Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson. He practiced on the point on the No. 1 power-play unit. He took some contact during three-on-three battle drills down low.


Krejci did none of those things in Monday’s practice prior to Tuesday’s game against Montreal, the 10th straight time he was missing from the lineup.

So it’s a good bet that Krejci will be available for Thursday’s game against Vancouver. It would be his first time in the lineup since Dec. 27, when he suffered an upper-body injury after bumping into Ottawa’s Bobby Ryan.

“Today was his first day with contact,” Julien said. “He did a little bit extra there at the end. We’ll see how he feels tomorrow.”

Once Krejci returns to the second line, Ryan Spooner, his fill-in for the last 10 games, will drop down to the third unit. Spooner has recorded two goals and seven assists while centering Beleskey and Eriksson.

“Ryan has taken some huge strides here in this time when David Krejci’s been out,” Julien said. “You hope it makes our team better.

“That’s what we’ve talked about — take advantage of the opportunity and make yourself a better player. That’s exactly what he’s done. We’ll see where we’re at when that moment arrives.”

Roster move due

The Bruins are carrying the 23-player maximum. They will have to make a move before activating Krejci from injured reserve. They could place Ferraro on injured reserve. The fourth-liner was injured during Monday’s practice and missed Tuesday’s game. He didn’t practice Wednesday. The Bruins also could assign Frank Vatrano to Providence. Vatrano has one goal in his last 12 games. He was a healthy scratch against the Rangers on Jan. 11.