Talking Points: Bruins 3, Sabres 1

696942.jpg

Talking Points: Bruins 3, Sabres 1

GOLD STAR: Johnny Boychuk took a tied game in the third period and inserted himself into the proceedings with his two biggest assets. He thumped Thomas Vanek on one shift when the Buffalo forward had his head down around the blue line and followed that up by smoking one of his patented Johnny Rocket slapshots through three Buffalo defenders and just under the crossbar. Boychuks goal ended up being the game-winner and put the punctuation mark on a solid 21:53 of ice time for the defenseman. Boychuk finished with four shots on net and four registered hits to go along with his fourth goal of the season.

BLACK EYE: One shot on net and a pair of giveaways for Brian Rolston led to his demotion to the third line along with the promotion of Jordan Caron to the Patrice Bergeron line alongside Brad Marchand. Rolston has been working his way into shape with the Bruins after failing to get a great deal of ice time in his last few weeks with the New York Islanders, and he still doesnt appear to be where he needs to be. Claude Julien admitted after the game they made the Caron-for-Rolston switch because they needed more offense alongside Bergeron and Marchand. Rolston has one point and a minus-2 in six games with the Bruins since the trade.

TURNING POINT: Johnny Boychuk stepping up and delivering one of his trademark body checks on Thomas Vanek snapped the TD Garden crowd awake and got the momentum spinning in Bostons direction during a tied hockey game in the third period. Minutes later, Boychuk ripped the game-winning slapshot and the Bruins were off and running while potting two goals on only six shots in the final 20 minutes.

HONORABLE MENTION: Gregory Campbell hadnt scored a point in 19 games, but dutifully played his fourth line role and continued to power ahead with a game of musical wingers on either side of him due to this seasons injuries. Campbell finally snapped out of the offensive spell with a second period goal and added four hits along with the single shot on net and 15:14 of ice time. The Bruins are a much better team when their fourth line is contributing and that was the case again tonight.

BY THE NUMBERS: 20 the number of points for the David KrejciMilan LucicTyler Seguin line in their first five games together. It looks like theyll be sticking together for quite a while.

QUOTE TO NOTE: Let me ask you a question: did I look tired in Game 7 last year? Tim Thomas when asked if theres credence in the theory that his high-energy style can cause him to wear down and suffer fatigue after long stretches of consecutive games.

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

bruins_ryan_spooner_120216.jpg

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.