BOSTON (CBS) – Bruins center Ryan Spooner’s goal in the loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday night was overshadowed by coach Claude Julien’s postgame comments about Spooner being a “defensive liability.”
The coach, though, didn’t bury the 22-year-old forward. Instead Spooner was back in the lineup for the Bruins’ 2-0 preseason win against the Washington Capitals at TD Garden on Wednesday.
Spooner didn’t get on the score sheet. But he won seven of 10 faceoffs and showed enough improvement to please Julien.
“He was better,” said Julien, who had been frustrated Spooner was on the ice for a goal against and several other Canadiens scoring chances Tuesday. “Again, like guys are going to make mistakes. I think we saw one there where he had his man there in the third, and still I think it was [Joel] Ward, he still took a shot. He understands it. What we’re saying is that we keep reminding him he’s got to keep working on that because he had a decent game tonight with his speed, he made a couple good plays. And as I mentioned before, offensively he can excite you and he can be real useful player. So we hope he is committed at the other end so he can be a good player for us.”
It’s not like Julien to call out a player the way he did Spooner. Considering Spooner is one of a legion of forwards, young and old, competing for about three open forward jobs with the Bruins, it couldn’t have been a great sign that Spooner was getting slack after just one game.
Spooner, however, showed thick skin.
“Yeah, at the end of the day I think he just wants me to be a more all-around player,” Spooner said Wednesday. “It’s something that I’ve been trying to improve on. So I’m just going to go forward with it like that.”
Spooner said that being responsible at the defensive end is something he’s never really focused on. Now he’s taking a crash course in reliability while also fighting to stay in the NHL. He does not require waivers, so it will be easy for the Bruins to send him to Providence of the American Hockey League if he doesn’t lift his game to the Bruins’ standards.
It’s important to remember, and for Spooner to understand, that Julien isn’t asking Spooner to become Patrice Bergeron or even Chris Kelly overnight. He just wants to see some attention to detail and execution without the puck.
“When it comes to defensive play, it’s called commitment and that’s all it is,” Julien said before the game. “You don’t ask necessarily for skill when it comes to playing defense. It’s a commitment. Are you going to back check hard? Are you going to work hard to have your man? Are you going to be in position? Are you going to battle to get the puck so that you can get it out? I don’t think it has a lot to do with skill. I think it has a lot to do with commitment. In order to win championships you need commitment.”
Spooner has 11 assists and no goals in his 27 NHL games over the past two seasons. He had 57 points in 59 AHL games last season and he once had an 81-point season in the Ontario Hockey League. Until the offensive talent translates to the NHL, the other parts of his game could keep him around long enough for his skills to blossom.
Though there have been ups and downs, Spooner’s satisfied with how the first week of training camp has gone.
“Yes. Fitness testing went well. I did well on that,” he said. “The game [Tuesday] night. I thought I used my speed well. Obviously there were a couple mistakes I had. But that’s part of being a younger centerman. And then tonight I tried to play a little bit better away from the puck.”
Spooner’s coming along and maturing. He’s already shown maturity by not sulking in the face of criticism and not lashing back at his coach. Now he just has to follow orders on the ice and let the Bruins make him the best player he can be and the best player that fits their championship formula.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets.
Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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