By Eric Converse
Following the embarrassing losses to the Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames, and Edmonton Oilers, the Boston Bruins called up Brian Ferlin and much maligned ‘prospect’ Jordan Caron to change up the 4th line. Following a run where Dan Paille had 1 goal in about 57 games and Craig Cunningham could best be described as adequate on the right wing. Change was needed to spark the 4th line, among other aspects of the team during their awful losing streak. The 4th line was lackluster for much of the regular season, providing little energy compared to the trio when it had Shawn Thornton.
Although the B’s lost to the St. Louis Blues with a pretty commanding 5-1 goal differential, a significant factor in that score line was the fact that goalie prospect Malcolm Subban was not ready to face that caliber of a team, yet. The Bruins only allowed 15 shots against for the entire game. If a fresh Rask was in goal that night, it could have easily been a much better outcome for Boston, but that was not an option that night.
Following David Krejci’s partially torn MCL injury during the Blues game, Ryan Spooner was called up and placed on a new look 2nd line centering Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak.
Heading into Chicago, confidence was, understandably, not very high amongst most chatter online and in conversations with other Bruins fans. Then the B’s put on a very dominant performance against the Chicago Blackhawks. The hawks have had their struggles this season as well, but not to the same extent as the Bruins.
The Bergeron line had a brilliant performance yesterday. Bergy was an offensive threat every time he was on the ice. Smith had a slick first assist on the opening goal and a snipe to pile on the lead later in the game. Marchand complimented them as well. The D core showed up, with the youngsters Hamilton and Krug getting in on the offensive. Rask was brilliant as well, making numerous key stops early in the game when Chicago was surging. Yes, he made the mental mistake playing the puck outside the trapezoid and he lost his cool following the 1st goal. He’s carrying the team on his back and has played A LOT of games. So no complaints from me.
What impressed me most about this game was the strong performance of the new look 4th line and the “Spooner” line.
Early in the game, Ferlin established himself utilizing his size and skating speed making safe plays, sustaining some offensive zone time. Even Caron played hard on the puck and just played fundamental hockey. These two players seemed to ignite Greg Campbell, who is a legend for his broken leg play, but has struggled for long stretches over the last year.
Their performances is best highlighted by their goal finished by Campbell in the high slot. Ferlin did a lot of the hard work below the goal line, keeping possession with some assistance from Caron. Caron then fought for position in the slot creating chaos there just as Campbell scored the goal.
Their play throughout the day helped create and sustain momentum for the rest of the team, exactly what a Claude Julien 4th line is asked to do.
The Spooner line took a bit of time to gain its footing, especially in the defensive end. There were some significant gaps in coverage highlighted by the wide open shot by Kane at the left circle, which Rask robbed him on. As the period wore on, their overall play improved and culminated in a superb goal by Milan Lucic.
Lucic was able to simplify his game, use his size to make space, protect his smaller line-mates and let Spooner and Pastrnak’s speed and creativity create chances. There were some turnovers by this line, but there were also a lot of great plays. Spooner needs to play at this level to learn how to play against these kinds of forwards defensively and even offensively.
With Krejci out for 4 to 6 weeks now, this will force Julien to give Spooner top 6 minutes for a sigifnicant amount of time. Generally he’s been relegated to 3rd line duties with less ice time. Spooner seems to operate better with regular shifts down in Providence as a line 1 forward, maybe it will translate to the NHL.
It was only one game.
The new look fourth line arguably played 2 good games, but the point still stands. This is obviously a very small sample size. Still, brings a couple of focus points moving forward.
Many wonder why Julien is so insistent on keeping his lines rigid, especially when they are under-performing. Many wondered why Chiarelli did not completely rebuild the 4th line going into this season. Giving young hungry players at shot at the NHL on the fourth line is a REALLY good source of energy for a team that has more than it’s fair share of lulls in play.
If this 4th line continues to perform and Ferlin appears to be the real deal, where does that leave Paille on this team? Does he become trade bait to enhance a deal or does he not have enough value? Paille could be a better fit with the skillful Soderberg on the 3rd line if he can’t be traded and possibly rediscover a bit of his scoring touch he had with Buffalo. Not very likely though.
Caron’s skill set makes him a good choice for the fourth line. It is clearly a better fit for him over playing on the third line. Still, history is against Caron for sustaining a solid level of play. If his play drops off, the B’s may consider demoting him to Providence and simply switch Ferlin to the right wing to give Paille his left side back.
As for Spooner, maybe this is the start of a new era in his relationship with Julien. With few other options, Julien and his staff will be forced to deal with the growing pains of a skilled forward learning NHL level defensive coverage and likely be rewarded with some decent offensive production.
If he falters, the answer is pretty easy for the Bruins. When Krejci returns, Spooner will get sent back down. If he puts up strong numbers over the next week, the B’s have a decision to make. Do you keep him for the rest of the year due to the Krejci injury or do you try to trade him for another piece that will fit in to the team when Krejci returns?
The Bruins options will be clearer by the end of this week.
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