Claude Julien has been hinting for a week that the Bruins would experiment with players in the last handful of games this season, and the B’s bench boss has kept to his word. The tweaks included pushing Loui Eriksson up to the second line in the final two periods of Thursday night’s loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs, and having a look at him manning the right wing position with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
It was a spot eyed for the Swedish winger at the start of the season, and a combination the Bruins featured almost exclusively until Eriksson went down with his first concussion courtesy of John Scott’s elbow.
Eriksson finished with 17:21 of ice time and a minus-1 for his efforts, but also generated four shot attempts along with a takeaway and a blocked shot.
Claude Julien said he liked what he saw, and it’s pretty clear the Bruins will go back to that if Reilly Smith carries his struggles over into the playoffs.
“It was another of my quirky ideas,” said Claude Julien. “They were good. We also talk at the same time about pairs that are good together, and [Bergeron] and [Marchand] are definitely that. But Carl Soderberg and [Eriksson] are definitely good together too.
“We’ll have to weigh all those things down the road, but this was a good opportunity to put [Eriksson] in there and give that line a different look. He did a great job on that tying goal [from Bergeron] by setting the screen.”
The move meant Smith, who has a single goal in his last 24 games, was dropped to a makeshift Bruins third line with Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron, and with Carl Soderberg missing from action. Smith finished with zero shots on net, and has no shots in five of the last nine games that he’s played while struggling to generate the offense that was plentiful in the first few months of the season.
Smith carried the puck on a perfect 2-on-1 chance in the second period of Thursday night’s game, and in a more confident mindset might have fired the puck with a clear view of the net. Instead Smith tried to force a pass to Jordan Caron on the right wing, and the forced play was easily broken up by the Toronto defense.
The Eriksson/Smith thing will be interesting to watch over the final few games and then into the Cup playoff run, but it makes sense to stay consistent with the lines going into the postseason. Then at that point all tweaks are fair game, and players that don’t produce will find themselves watching a lot more than playing.