Boston Bruins Third Line Takes Flight with New Wing


As Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner and right wing Jimmy Hayes finally burst onto the scoresheet in Colorado on Wednesday and seemed to find their games with new linemate Chris Kelly, it appears their former right flank Brett Connolly may have to look to secure his wings elsewhere in the B’s lineup for the time being.

Connolly played right wing on the third line with Spooner and Hayes throughout training camp, the preseason and the first couple of regular season games until top line winger Brad Marchand sustained a concussion in game 3. While Connolly was moved up to replace Marchand, Kelly slotted into Connolly’s old spot for the rest of that game and against the Avalanche. The new trio took off in Denver, putting seven points on the board while creating pressure on the forecheck and turnovers that they quickly transitioned into goals.

“It was big,” Spooner told the Boston Globe. “The first three games didn’t really go as we planned. I was minus-4 and Hayes was at minus-5. It wasn’t good, so it was good to get back at it. Shot a little bit more. Just one of those things where it kind of clicked, so that was good.”

Sep 24, 2015; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Bruins center Ryan Spooner (51) skates with the puck during a shootout against the New York Rangers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The newly formed line combined for what may have been the Bruins’ best goal of the season when midway through the second period Hayes intercepted a pass in the neutral zone, quickly crossed the blue line on the right wing and fed Spooner curling from center who then laid a perfect backhand pass through a defender’s legs to Kelly streaking into the slot where he stickhandled by goalie Semyon Varlamov and scored on a backhander. Six minutes later, a speedy Spooner forecheck forced an errant pass from behind Colorado’s net that Hayes picked off in the right circle and quickly maneuvered back to Spooner, who fired it in at the goal mouth. Hayes and Spooner also had a nice give and go on Hayes’ first period goal, and seem to be developing a good chemistry.

And just like that, the damage was done en route to the Bruins 6-2 win. Kelly’s veteran presence, competitiveness and stabilizing experience on the defensive side of things, and particularly the line’s communication with one another on the ice were perhaps all that was needed to unleash the younger Hayes, 25, and Spooner, 23.

“He’s a big energy guy, so you see someone like him who’s a big-time veteran and he plays really hard every night, makes you want to play hard, too,” Hayes said in the Globe. “He brings a lot of energy and he’s got a lot of knowledge and he helps a lot. A lot of communication, making the game easy for everyone else.”

“I think when you’re playing with newer players, communication is huge, and I thought we were talking well and reading well off one another,” Kelly, 34, added.

Spooner and Hayes had been showing signs of breaking through prior to Denver. Hayes had started to shoot more in practice, and Spooner drew two penalties in the Bruins previous 6-3 loss to Tampa Bay and started the initial passes on a couple of powerplay goals. He was also much better on the faceoff dots against the Lightning than the first two games, winning 57% of draws to go with adding three hits and three takeaways.

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  • Last season Spooner showed his ability to create offense generating speed with the puck through center ice, as well as finding his wings with some great passes. It worked well with fellow speedster David Pastrnak and the big, bruising Milan Lucic crashing the corners. If he continues to develop this new dimension to his game, using his speed on the forecheck as well to create turnovers and quickly transition to offense, combined with Hayes using his size to get to the front of the net and Kelly bringing his experience and energy, the Bruins may be on to something here.

    “He’s really quick, so it pushes the pace, which is the type of style [I like to play],” Hayes said of Spooner recently on the Bruins website. “We like to play a north-south fast paced game and he can push the pace, and he can slow it down with his east-west game, as well. He’s highly skilled and he’s a great playmaker, so he’s a great kid to play with.”

    Consistency and continued chemistry will be keys to the third line’s progress, as the B’s need all the points they can get from every line this season. “It’s nice, you get one early, but you’ve got to make sure you’re ready to play like that at all times,” Hayes told the Globe.

    Meanwhile, Connolly, 23, put up an assist in the last game but has struggled to find a scoring touch and utilize his hard shot to develop a knack for hitting the back of the net. As Marchand nears a return to his familiar spot, it is unclear where Connolly will find himself once that happens. But it won’t be back on the third line, at least for now.

    “You’ve got to find the right fit and as you know, Kells has stepped into that third line and that third line’s really taken off and seems to be having some good chemistry there so there’s no reason for me to break up that line right now,” coach Claude Julien told the Bruins Blog. “[Connolly has] had some good stretches where I think he’s a strong player along the walls. But, you know, there’s been a little bit of inconsistency in his game and there’s a part of it where I think he’s still trying to find himself a little bit. He didn’t play much with us last year [five games]…so he still has to be in that category of new players trying to find their way here. We’ve got to keep working with this guy, because the potential seems to be there. He can shoot the puck, a big, strong skater, good size, not afraid to battle along the walls. We’ve got to fine-tune his game a little bit here in areas and that’s going to help us.”

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