By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Calgary forward Mark Jankowski knows it’s safer to have a war of words with Noel Acciari than it is to carry the puck against the Bruins forward.
So that’s why when he was recently given the opportunity to reveal a secret about his former Providence College teammate, Jankowski took up a reporter on his offer.
“He’s a pretty bad dancer, to be honest,” Jankowski said.
Typically a quiet sort, Acciari couldn’t stand to have his dance-floor prowess insulted without a comeback.
“He’s got no rhythm,” Acciari responded when presented with Jankowski’s comments.
Luckily for the Bruins, they don’t need Acciari to be their Sammy Davis Jr., they just need him to be their fourth-line heat-seeking missile that leaves unprepared puck carriers on their rear ends on a nightly basis.
In five games since returning from missing a couple of weeks with a lower-body injury, Acciari has been that and more. And his return to the right side of Sean Kuraly and Tim Schaller has helped the Bruins’ fourth line continue to be one of the best in the NHL at wearing down opponents and getting a handful of scoring chances a night.
In the Bruins’ last game, a 3-2 comeback win at Edmonton, Acciari got the comeback from 2-0 down started with (albeit with a lucky bounce off an opponent’s skate) a goal that ended his 10-game point drought.
Although his physicality is what got him to the NHL, the Rhode Island native has been adamant about expanding his game. He worked all summer on his hands, having someone feed him the puck so he can make quick decisions with it and practice his accuracy. He’s averaged more than a shot per game in an average of 12:46 of ice time a night in 37 games this season. And he has a career-high seven goals.
“I was talking to [goaltender Anton Khudobin] about it,” Acciari said about his improving shot. “It doesn’t have to be hard; it just has to be on net in the right spot.”
Acciari’s finding the right spot with his shot as well, as he always finds the right way to hit opponents without ever giving the NHL Department of Player Safety extra work to do. Acciari figures his ability to be a bone-crushing hitter started when he was at Kent School before PC. He’s never wavered in his rule-abiding technique or his desire to make contact with a foe.
Although the terms “linebacker” and “free safety” are often used to describe Acciari’s style, it’s ironic that he never played competitive football. He did learn how to handle physical confrontation, though, playing street football, wrestling and doing other sports with his two brothers (Acciari is a middle child).
As for hitting on the ice, Acciari just took what he was taught about checking and applied it the right way. He doesn’t recall ever making an illegal hit, and at least as far his college career, one witness confirmed that.
“I played with him for a while at Providence … and I don’t think I saw him throw one dirty hit,” Jankowski said. “He hits so hard and a couple times in college he got a couple penalties just because the ref thought he had to give him a penalty because it was hard, but it was clean.
“He always stays within the rules, a great player in that sense, a hard hitter. It says something that someone can be effective like that and do their job and stay within the rules and be clean.”
Acciari’s return to the lineup came at just the right time for the Bruins because of their lengthy current road trip and the difficult schedule ahead after they return. Several players filled in admirably for him, but when Acciari plays with Kuraly and Schaller, the Bruins’ fourth line gives the Bruins’ lineup forward depth that few teams can match.
Kuraly assumes that most opponents list Acciari’s penchant for finishing his checks in their pre-scout reports. But it doesn’t seem to matter — Acciari’s still flattening players every game. Kuraly wouldn’t want Acciari to play any other way.
“It kind of gets me in the right mind-set when I see him finish a check and realize that that’s the way we need to be playing,” Kuraly said. “It kind of tugs us in the right direction.”
With a healthy Acciari hammering opponents and executing well-choreographed plays with his linemates, the Bruins have the type of fourth line that could help them dance with the Stanley Cup in June. That would give Acciari bragging rights over his old teammate Jankowski.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.