Blues Owe Winning Streak to 4th Liner Noel Acciari

There have been many contributing factors to the St. Louis Blues’ rollercoaster of a season that saw the team win three straight games, lose their next eight, and win their next seven. One of the more under-the-radar moves in the offseason was the signing of Noel Acciari to play on the fourth line (from ‘Noel Acciari has been the glue on the Blues’ effective fourth line’ St. Louis Post Dispatch, 11/20/22).

Throughout the seven-game winning streak, however, Acciari played like anything but a fourth-line player and is going back to his 2019-20 Florida Panther days that saw him score 20 goals and receive consideration for the Selke Trophy.

During the Blues’ extended winning streak that has turned their season around, Acciari had six points and four goals. However, it wasn’t his point production that made him the Blues’ saving grace, it was his ability to play with Ryan O’Reilly.

O’Reilly Has Finally Found a Place in the Blues’ Forward Group

While he has been settling in on the third line with Ivan Barbashev and Brayden Schenn as of late and even on the fourth line, Acciari’s presence on the O’Reilly line stabilized the team and allowed head coach Craig Berube to maneuver some of his other lines to help right the ship.

The departure of David Perron has been a hotly-contested topic for Blues fans over the first two months of the season. After general manager Doug Armstrong opted to sign Nick Leddy to a four-year, $16 million deal that all but took the Blues out of the running for Perron, it left holes not only on the power play but on the top line with the team’s captain.

Noel Acciari St. Louis Blues
Noel Acciari, St. Louis Blues (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Berube entered the season with newly extended Jordan Kyrou on the top line with O’Reilly, but that experiment resulted in just one point through his first 10 games of the season. Being able to form the forward lines based on pairs is something that Berube has had a lot of success with in the past, but to begin the season, nothing seemed to work for the Blues’ bench boss.

Enter Acciari. It only took a few games with O’Reilly for him to bring balance to the Blues forward group and spark an elongated winning streak. O’Reilly is a challenger for the Selke Trophy almost every season, and the Blues have a history of pairing forwards who play a similar style of game. There’s a reason why the Russian line has been so popular for Berube and why he searches for a fourth-line identity of physical, grinding players.

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Acciari gives Berube some flexibility elsewhere in the lineup when he’s paired with O’Reilly. He is able to slot in another top-nine forward with them, which allows him to place Kyrou and Thomas together on the same line.

Acciari’s ability to cycle pucks down low is a valued skill for O’Reilly, who, along with Perron, was one of the best duos when it came to this skill last season. Especially in the second period, when the long change becomes an issue, this grinding pairing can flip a game on its head rather quickly.

Acciari’s 200-foot game and his Selke Trophy history are a perfect match for O’Reilly. The 30-year-old has now graduated to playing with Schenn and Barbashev, who play a similar 200-foot game, but even if he doesn’t finish the season on the same line as the Blues’ captain, another two-way player in the lineup is exactly what Berube needs to maximize this team’s potential.

Acciari Reverting Back to 2019-20 Version

Acciari has had a very distinct NHL career during his eight-year tenure, and while looking at his style of play and NHL numbers, it’s not hard to see why Berube and the Blues coveted the former Florida Panther. He is probably best known for his hit on Robert Thomas during the 2019 Stanley Cup Final that knocked the Blues’ young star out for the remainder of the series. However, after departing to the Panthers for the 2019-20 season, he found his offensive spark. Unfortunately, it also happened to be his last healthy season.

The forward signed a three-year, $5 million contract with the Panthers on July 1, 2019, after a six-goal campaign with the Bruins. But during the 2019-20 season, he broke out for 20 points and aided the Panthers to a fourth-place finish in the Atlantic Division.

Injuries plagued Acciari’s Panthers career, as he recorded just 20 points over the next two seasons after finishing in the top 20 for the Selke Trophy in 2020. Now, a season removed from playing just 20 games in 2021-22, the Rhode Island native is on track to produce at a high level again for St. Louis.

Noel Acciari Florida Panthers
Noel Acciari, seen here with the Florida Panthers (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

The Blues shouldn’t need to rely on this type of production from Acciari all season. He ranks tenth on the team with nine points, and if he finishes in the top 10 in points after the season is over, it’s likely the Blues didn’t make the playoffs.

However, the name of the game during St. Louis’ Stanley Cup run in 2019 was depth scoring, and after having a variety of 20-goal scorers last season, Acciari’s excellent start to the season is welcome, especially after the eight-game losing streak seemed to cripple the team. He has played his way from depth piece to perhaps the most deserving Blues player worthy of an extension before the season is over.

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