WILMINGTON — So far this season the Bruins are 1-for-2 in building their top lines by integrating a newcomer into the established structure.
Free-agent signee Jarome Iginla has been a perfect fit for the right side of the David Krejci-Milan Lucic combo and that line has combined for 36 points.
However, trade acquisition Loui Eriksson hasn’t quite made the same sweet music with the duo of Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. Eriksson’s return to the lineup against the Dallas Stars on Tuesday featured Bruins coach Claude Julien sticking the winger back with the Marchand-Bergeron combo even though the coach had given up on that a few games before the night Eriksson was injured. Once again, that group gave the Bruins nothing on the score sheet against Dallas.
While Eriksson was out for five games with a concussion, the coach often lamented the fact that Reilly Smith, Bergeron and Eriksson had just started to click and created some scoring opportunities against the Sabres before the John Scott hit derailed that trio’s progress. In explaining his decision to give Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson a second shot, Julien expressed a desire to see if Carl Soderberg, Chris Kelly and Smith could find the chemistry they flaunted during the preseason. In the back of his mind, though, he has to also be thinking “this is what we brought Eriksson here to do: be the second-line right wing.”
During the shootout loss to the Stars, no one was throwing roses at the feet of Bergeron and his linemates. Nor were they harkening back to the days when Marchand, Bergeron and Mark Recchi were leading the Bruins to the Stanley Cup championship. However, on a night that the Bruins were facing the last player to reside on the right side of Marchand and Bergeron – Tyler Seguin – there were baby steps taken toward the Bruins’ second line resembling what Julien and the rest of the Bruins’ brass imagined for that group when the Seguin-Eriksson trade was made in July.
“I think we moved around together a lot better and we seemed to be in sync a little bit more,” Marchand, who has scored once in 14 games this season, said after practice Wednesday. “I think a lot of it is just confidence. We weren’t scared to make plays and we were executing the ones that were there, so we definitely felt a little better.”
Really, if the Bruins are going to challenge for another spot in the Cup final with the roster and organizational depth they have now, Eriksson, who has 2-1-3 totals in nine games, has to be a fit for Bergeron’s line. Smith has shown more skill than expected, but at this stage of his career he’s not a long-term answer in the top six. No one else in the bottom six has really played well enough to earn a promotion, although Daniel Paille’s struggles might be solved by a greater, rather than lesser, role on the team. And we saw what the best forward with Boston’s Providence farm club has to offer the Bruins right now, as Ryan Spooner contributed with some speed and creativity for a couple games. However, he’s not ready to battle in the trenches as a winger and there’s no room with the parent club for him to play center. The Bruins brought Eriksson hear to give them a veteran two-way player that could complement Marchand and Bergeron. Marchand hasn’t been the same player since the Stanley Cup Final and even Bergeron (3-3-6 in 14 games) has seen his production slowed in the early stages of 2013-14.
Eriksson’s taking a somewhat passive approach to blending in. And he’s not panicking.
“I’m just trying to do what I’m good at and try to help them,” he said. “Of course we need to score some more goals and be a little bit better and sharper. But there’s still a lot of games left, so you’re trying to build on the things we’re doing.”
For a while the Bruins were living with production from just one line because they were winning. Now they’ve dropped four out of five. Eriksson has to shake off the rust and prove he can be a top-six guy. Otherwise, it’ll be up to general manager Peter Chiarelli to go outside the organization to find someone who can better fit that spot and make sure his club isn’t a one-line wonder when it reaches the stretch run.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.