COLUMBUS – Loui Eriksson professed to have no idea that the major hockey asset he was traded for, Tyler Seguin, went ballistic for two goals and four points in a win for Eriksson’s old Dallas Stars on Friday night.
That certainly might be the case.
But the Swedish winger played like he had something to prove in serving as the best player on the ice for either team on Saturday afternoon, and snapping home the game-winner in Boston’s solid 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Instead of feeling like he had something to prove, Eriksson revealed he’s been a slow starter before in his career. It may have been double trouble in Boston as he attempted to play a new system where he was finding himself in the wrong spots on the ice during breakouts and offensive zone entries.
That might have just been the case in his new NHL home after going scoreless in his first three games for Boston, but it also now looks like his slow days are over.
“It wasn’t the prettiest one, but I’ll take it. I was just trying to whack at it. It’s good to get the first one,” said Eriksson. “I had some slow starts in earlier years too. I knew it would come. When you create chances out there, it will come.
“I thought we did that one today, and was able to find one. It was nice we were able to get the win with that one too.”
Instead Eriksson ended the scoreless chatter and hockey trade hubbub pretty efficiently on Saturday afternoon.
He was Boston’s best player on the ice throughout the afternoon, fired a team-high six shots on net and flipped a wobbly backhander past Sergei Bobrovsky on the first shift of the third period to break up a 1-1 tie. It wasn’t an aesthetically beautiful hockey shot, but it looked beautiful in the Boston box score when it ended up as the score that stood up.
“You score that first one, and then you don’t try to think that much after that,” said Eriksson. “You just keep it going. I almost got a second one after that.”
The goal iced the game for the Bruins, but also seemed to open the floodgates for a winger that’s averaged 30 goals and 70 points over his last four full NHL seasons in Dallas. It appeared as though a weight had been removed from Eriksson’s shoulders as well, and scoring chances started to come up in bunches.
Or perhaps it was just the extra energy added to their line when Claude Julien switched out the struggling Brad Marchand with the young, hungry Reilly Smith. But Eriksson could have easily finished with a hat trick: Bobrovsky robbed him of a second goal on a twisting rebound chance from the slot off a Johnny Boychuk bomb from the point, and Eriksson dinged a shot off the right post from point blank range late in the third period.
One can easily see why Eriksson finishes off so many offensive plays with the way he can quickly elevate his shot under the bar. It’s an effective skill with so many NHL goaltenders trained in the butterfly style that leaves the top shelf open for speedy puck deliveries.
Eriksson showed it off during the preseason as well in snapping off a goal against the Washington Capitals where he collected a pass just a smidge behind him with his skate, kicked it up to the blade of his stick and then roofed a shot over the helpless netminder.
Once Eriksson is taking that shot to the top floor on a regular basis, the goals will be arriving in bunches with the talent skating around him.
Claude Julien was certainly a believer before Saturday, even if he hadn’t seen Eriksson unleashed much in the preseason or in the team’s first three contests. Instead Julien has been carefully preaching that everyone needs to give the new Bruins a month to get familiar with their surroundings before getting too impatient.
Maybe the coach knows what he’s talking about after all.
“He was really good tonight: smart plays and he was really competing better. But that’s the stuff that we talked about. You need to give those guys some time to get adjustment and acquainted, and to start to feel comfortable in our room and on the ice,” said Julien. “We talked about the month we wanted to give those guys before we started assessing, but I think we’re also seeing a guy [in Eriksson] that’s finding his stride.
“He’s just doing the things that feel right for him. There’s an adjustment on and off the ice, and every day with your family. There’s a lot more than just playing the game. But I saw a guy, no doubt, that had the puck on his stick more tonight than in any of the other games.”
That was difficult to do when Eriksson looked lost in the first three games with a new team, and it was almost impossible when Seguin erupted for his first monster offensive night as a Star in Winnipeg. Clearly it still remains to be seen how much offense Eriksson can put up in a system that’s quite a bit different in many ways from the one utilized in Dallas over the last few years.
But Eriksson’s big day in Columbus should let everybody rest easy that the right wing spot alongside Bergeron is in some pretty sweet, soft hands these days.