Haggerty: Bruins changes finally starting to take

Haggerty: Bruins changes finally starting to take
November 26, 2013, 6:00 pm
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BOSTON -- Now everybody is starting to see what this new edition of the Bruins is going to look like.

The changes haven't been radical. It’s still Claude Julien’s defensively-responsible system that features stellar goaltending, opportunistic offense and puck possession, as well as the same overwhelming depth that’s served the Bruins so well over the last few seasons.

The Bruins also have the sweet imperfections that mark every hockey team, and helped lead to Sidney Crosby's game-tying goal with 0.3 seconds remaining in the third period of last night's 4-3 overtime win over the Penguins on Monday.

“I took a look at the clock, and then you realize it was zero seconds and you’re like, 'Really? That just happened?' " said Tuukka Rask of Crosby’s goal. “But, the game still goes on.”

Ongoing has been the introduction for new Bruins forwards Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson as their arrival has taken some getting used to. Similarly, the revamped third line and youth movement along the blue line have also given the Black and Gold a new look.

Though there have been growing pains, on a night like Monday night when new guys Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith and Torey Krug all scored goals, and with the Big Swede Carl Soderberg making plays on the first two scores, the possibilities for the Bruins seem endless.

“I think it’s a growing thing . . . absolutely," Julien said. "People realize there wasn’t just one or two changes this year. It was more than there has been in a long time. I think as far as the guys getting along, it’s been great. But chemistry on the ice develops with time and through adversity, through tough times, through good times, and through situations like we just talked about -- different guys stepping up and scoring goals.

“So I think it’s an ongoing thing, and those guys will let that evolve throughout the whole year. You just hope it’s at its best always at the right time of the year. Right now I think we have just as good of a crew as we’ve always had, and a lot of credit goes to our leaders that create that atmosphere in our dressing room, and to those guys also -- when it comes to playing together on the ice -- seem to be very respectful and supportive of each other.”

Boston’s first two goals were an impressive show of chemistry from the Swedish Mafia with Soderberg and Eriksson finding each other with a well-placed pass, and Eriksson showing off his one-on-one skills by going between his legs with the puck before slipping a backhanded shot through the five-hole of Marc-Andre Fleury.

The new guys also crushed it on the second power-play unit that needed all of nine seconds to score again off an offensive zone face-off win.

Eriksson got it to Soderberg down low and he immediately executed a no-look spinning pass to Smith crashing the backdoor for a goal that rattled the "Flower" in his cage.

While many have been obsessed with the big goal numbers Tyler Seguin put up in his first few weeks with the Dallas Stars, Smith is third on the Bruins with 16 points and Eriksson has 10 points (3 goals, 7 assists) in 11 games in the month of November.

Meanwhile back at the ranch in Dallas, Seguin has one point in his last three games along with a minus-1 rating and appears that he’s going back into chill mode after trying to prove a point to the Bruins. Nathan Horton still hasn’t taken a shift yet for the Columbus Blue Jackets this season, and the Bruins are still tops in the Eastern Conference without Rich Peverley and Andrew Ference.

It’s difficult to argue Boston's roster changes haven’t made it a better, different team with the depth and consistency needed for long-term success. The growing four-point lead as the Eastern Conference’s top dog would attest to that.

The best part: The Bruins know they can get even better as chemistry improves, and the coaching staff figures out what works best for the Black and Gold.

The perfect example of this development was Julien’s move to a formation of three forwards and one defenseman in overtime. The B’s are 2-for-2 since changing up their OT combination, which makes use of personnel that’s built to attack in four-on-four play rather than waiting around for a shootout.

“It’s great. I like it. You’re in attack mode, you’re trying to win the game, and it shows something to us and the other team that we’re trying to win the game,” said Krug. “We’re not just sitting back and content with a shootout. It definitely can be risky at times, but we have the personnel to be able to do that.

“[There’s a] lot more room on the ice to skate and play with the puck. It’s more of a possession game, you’re not just chipping pucks up the wall. If you watch me play you understand I like to play with the puck, so it’s a lot more fun for me . . . for sure.”

Fitting all the new pieces into the Bruins way of doing things is of the utmost importance, finding out what little wrinkles will bring the best out of their games, and then putting them into positions to succeed.

Another wrinkle the Bruins might want to consider: elevating Soderberg up to the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson in favor of a slumping Brad Marchand.

The seemingly automatic chemistry between Soderberg and Eriksson was eye-opening, and stunned the Penguins defense in the first period in the few times the two Swedish playmakers were out on the ice together. It’s difficult to ignore the potential of such a move when looking at a player like the scuffling Marchand who has three goals in 24 games after leading the Bruins in scoring last season.

Marchand did set up new guy Torey Krug’s overtime game-winning strike with an aware point pass, but one has to wonder if Soderberg could help make Patrice Bergeron and Eriksson more productive on the second line.  

“I played with him a long time ago, but I felt that when he played in Sweden that’s what he’s been doing," Eriksson said. "It’s really nice to see that he’s playing with confidence and making good plays out there. He made a great pass today on the power play, and even to my goal there. It’s really nice to see that from him. I think he’s getting better and better.”

Actually, the entire Bruins team is getting better and better as their reshaped roster continues to form it’s identity a quarter of the way through the season. It’s not a finished hockey product by any means, but there is good reason for why the Bruins are looking down at everybody else in the Eastern Conference.

The big roster makeover prior to this season has worked out for the Black and Gold, and Monday night's from Boston’s new pieces is proof.