Boston Bruins: Loui Eriksson Skating On The B’s Top Line.


On Monday, during the Bruins team practice, Julien implemented Loui Eriksson on the top forward line alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.

Here are the line combinations from Monday’s practice:

Marchand – Bergeron – Eriksson
Lucic – Krejci – Pastrnak
Kelly – Spooner – Connolly
Smith – Soderberg – Campbell

Julien’s decision on Eriksson and his future with the top line is ambiguous, but it makes things interesting for a team revamping its roster layout and its systematic approach to crafting line combinations.

Eriksson does not possess the speed of a top line forward, but his play of late suggests he deserves a shot in the eyes of Julien as he generates possible line combinations. In his last five games, the left-shot winger has totaled 3 pts. (2 goals, 1 assist). He finished Thursday’s game against Detroit with 21:26 in ice time. When Bergeron suffered a severe slash to his face in the win over the Red Wings, Julien was forced to adjust his lines. The Carl SoderbergDavid KrejciLoui Eriksson combination was not fluid, as Krejci continues to ease back into this center position.

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Julien, once again, altered his line combinations mid-game to accommodate the opposition. He reunited Reilly Smith with Soderberg and Eriksson. The decision proved to be advantageous, as Soderberg scored on the power play at 5:05. At the time, Boston was on its heels. They had little life offensively. They were caught down low in their own end with the puck, and with susceptible, young forwards such as David Pastrnak, being out-muscled. It took off the rush speed to score late goals and complete the comeback win. Boston is a team with limited speed, aside from Ryan Spooner and Pastrnak, but can generate speed from their neutral-zone play.

Eriksson netted his 21st of the season shortly after at 7:19 when Soderberg stretched a pass to Smith, who maneuvered the puck around the netminder to the result of Eriksson stumbling on the  loose puck in the crease.

Yet as Krejci continues to find his skating legs after returning from injury, it seems Soderberg is the one performing well at his natural position: center.

Krejci saw the wing once again to start the game against Toronto on Saturday night. Perhaps Julien is cognizant that Krejci simply is not ready physically to return to the demanding position of center. To start the game, it was Marchand-Bergeron-Krejci on the first line. At wing, Krejci assisted Bergeron on Boston’s lone regulation goal. Though Julien’s practice lines suggest otherwise, it may be lucrative for the team, and Krejci, to continue his stay at wing.

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  • For the time being against Washington on Wednesday (NBCSN), the Bruins could roll Eriksson with Soderberg and Smith on the third line, with the Spooner line commanding the second. The fourth line could be led by Kelly with Max Talbot and Connolly as wingers.

    Yet as the Bruins hit the home stretch and prepare for their final road trip in Florida, Eriksson may indeed see first line minutes. We may also see Connolly racking more ice time on a third or second line combination.

    A roster shuffle is inevitable if Boston indeed makes the playoffs. Krejci could center Lucic and Connolly on the second line, and Julien could revisit Smith on the first line with Marchand and Bergeron. Granted, Connolly has less than a handful of games under his belt with Boston, the right-shot winger plays a similar game to the that of Nathan Horton, yet with more offensive awareness as a sniper. Lucic, and Julien alike, have yearned for that right-wing shot, and Connolly may be the man come a potential playoff series for Boston.

    For the first time in his five-year career on Saturday, veteran center Gregory Campbell was a healthy scratch. The fourth line grinder has been a constant question mark after his production began to decrease when previous linemate Shawn Thornton chose to sign with Florida after being let go by the B’s after last season. Coach Claude Julien has, atypically throughout his tenure in Boston, configured various line combinations as forwards like Campbell continue to struggle.

    He’s not the only one that has been given the ninth-level view of the game. Before Campbell it was Reilly Smith. Daniel Paille has been a healthy scratch for six straight games. Julien has built a tolerance for veteran grinders when they cannot produce, and as the Bruins battle for a higher playoff position, the decisions become simpler.

    Julien could return to a third line with Soderberg, Kelly, and Eriksson. The conflict of being a ‘natural centerman’ resurfaces with Soderberg, so Julien may have him center this potential line pairing.

    That would leave Spooner to center Pastrnak and either Campbell or Talbot. Campbell’s latest stretch of play suggest Julien may ultimately bestow his trust in a pure fourth line grinder such as Talbot, but Campbell has only one benched game under his belt thus far in Boston.

    Spooner and Pastrnak should continue to play with each other. Their speed is unparalleled on this lineup. They produce offensively. They’ve made Lucic a better player this past month. Yet ultimately, they’re kids. With the playoffs looming, it is a conservative move to place the youngsters on the fourth line, but ultimately a wise one.

    This would be a revamped Bruins fourth line, compared to the previous grinders of Paille, Campbell, and Thornton from past Bruins teams. This would be a speedy fourth line that could counterattack speed-oriented teams such as the Rangers or Tampa, who possess it throughout their respected lineups. If the other teams put grinders against Spooner and Pastrnak, their speed would overwhelm them.

    In Boston’s final two games against Florida and Tampa, look for various line combinations. Also, look for line combinations to morph in the mist of games.

    Julien is preparing his team for the playoffs, and is also preparing his forwards for various linemates as the post-season inches closer.

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