DETROIT – Just as Claude Julien has started searching in earnest for answers at Bruins training camp, the players are providing them for their coach as if on cue.
The B’s third line was probably the most wide open area on the team entering training camp while Boston management and their coaching staff looked to overhaul most of a forward line that struggled last season. Not one of Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley or Chris Bourque played with much of a spark offensively, and they became a weak link defensively on the Bruins during the regular season.
So Peverley and Bourque were out of the picture by this summer, and Chris Kelly was back centering the third line as he has for each of the last three seasons in Boston. But it wasn’t Kelly that really led the way this weekend.
Instead Soderberg made a big splash worthy of his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame by potting both goals in a 2-0 preseason win over the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. He had been flashy and inconsistent in a series of training camp drills and has even looked slow at times over the last few weeks.
But it all clicked in on Saturday night, and both Soderberg and Boston should plan on more days like this during the regular season.
“I thought we played well for the most part. I thought we had a good first period, and we were on the puck for the most part and fore-checking well. Then things kind of settled in over the next two periods.
“A lot of times you hope for [the chemistry]. But it doesn’t always happen. Sometimes it takes some time, but I thought tonight everybody was on the same page and working toward everybody’s strengths.”
Interestingly enough Soderberg did all the offensive damage while playing on the left wing for the first time during camp, and may have to put away any aspirations of centering a line for the time being. He certainly didn’t have any problem skating with Kelly after building up a rapport after teaming together on more than one occasion last season after coming over from Sweden.
“I thought it was fun to score. I’m playing the third line with Kelly and Smith, and our role is to play solid defense and not have any goals against,” said Soderberg. “So we played pretty good defense, and we were able to create some scoring chances as well.
“I felt very comfortable from the start today. Kelly did a pretty good job at center, as always, and I could just get in there on the left wing. I felt comfortable. I love playing with them. I just love playing hockey, so I want a spot with them so I can play as hard as I can.”
The first goal was a pure hustle play as Kelly brought the puck into the offensive zone and fired a puck that went wide of the net, and bounced right to Soderberg’s stick on the left wing. Soderberg immediately fired the shot at the open net, and put the Bruins on the board after a nearly scoreless first period.
Kelly, Soderberg and Reilly Smith were Boston’s best line throughout the game while teaming up for six of Boston’s 21 total shots on net, and it doesn’t take much to envision that being the third line on Oct. 3 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Kelly provides the heady, two-way play and defensive backbone, Soderberg will bring his size and strength along with an ability provide offense on the third line and Smith is a gritty, skilled winger coming off an excellent first few weeks of training camp.
Claude Julien liked all three together, but still isn’t sure if that gives him the impetus to call off the third line battles.
“They got a power play goal and an even strength goal. [Soderberg] is known for his scoring, and we need some scoring from the wings,” said Claude Julien. “It was an opportunity to see.” If anything Soderberg might have clinched his spot on Saturday night by cleaning up a couple of loose puck rebounds around the net, and showing the size, strength and offense he can bring to a third line that lacked all three of those qualities last season. Kelly, Rich Peverley and Chris Bourque simply couldn’t get to the spaces on the ice where Soderberg set up camp.
The second goal was another case of cleaning things up around the net. Dennis Seidenberg wound up from the left point on the power play, and created a rebound in front that drew a lot of bodies. Soderberg beat everybody else to the puck and fired back into the net for his second goal of the game.
It’s exactly the kind of breakout offensive game that everybody has been waiting for since Soderberg arrived in Boston last spring, and it’s exactly what the Bruins needed on a night when the rest of their offense stalled.
“That was the way I scored a lot of my goals last year in Sweden,” said Soderberg. “I’m pretty good on rebounds and in front of the net. It was good to score two.”
The Bruins will take a lot more than two for Soderberg in his first full season in Boston, and he’ll be given every chance to be part of the solution for a third line problem that dogged the Bruins for an entire year. The B’s coaching staff might have taken the first step toward that by placing Soderberg, Kelly and Smith together as the odds on favorites to win those three roles.