Last year, the Bruins had a revolving door on the third line. Sure, they had the reliable duo of Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. But the other forward spot saw guys like Chris Bourque, Jordan Caron, Daniel Paille, Jaromir Jagr and Tyler Seguin (just to name a few) rotate in and out between spots.
Just a few months later, Paille is back with his fellow linemates, Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton, on the Merlot line. Jagr, Seguin and Peverley departed during the off-season via trades and free agency. As for Chris Bourque, well, he’s faded into obscurity.
Caron is the only player from last year who has skated with Kelly for the first part of the season, but even he fell victim to continued inconsistency that has plagued his four-year professional hockey career.
But now things are looking to come full circle with the Bruins’ third line with Kelly being its only mainstay. And that’s because Kelly has some new blood on his side with wingers Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith.
The trio put in another fine display in the B’s 3-2 overtime victory in front of the 179th consecutive sellout crowd of 17,565 at the TD Garden. They combined for six shots on goal while delivering six hits and playing well on both ends of the ice.
Their patience was also on display in the second period. After taking a great feed from Soderberg, Smith circled the wagons and waited patiently as the ‘Canes defense chased him around. Eventually, Smith got Cam Ward down and lifted the backhander past the Carolina goaltender for his fourth goal of the season.
That same patience was something Smith keeps preaching as he gets accustomed to the Bruins’ system in just his second month in Boston.
“Absolutely. Just little things like that where I get more and more comfortable where a few weeks or a month ago I wouldn’t have done that – I probably would have put that on net right away,” he said. “With everyday you build confidence.”
The third line success is also showing on the stat sheet too. Smith added his 15th point of the season putting him third on the team lead in scoring behind Milan Lucic (16 points) and David Krejci, who recorded his 17th point on his overtime winner. Soderberg, who tallied the primary assist on Smith’s goal, is the eighth Bruin this season to record at least 10 points this year, and Kelly had assists in two straight games prior to Saturday’s tilt.
Not bad for a unit that has only been together for a few months.
“They just feel better about playing more and more,” head coach Claude Julien said about the third line. “They’re anticipating well. They know exactly where they want to go with pucks and they’re on top of it all the time – last few games they’ve had a lot of chances and a lot of zone time.”
With the first two lines struggling to find the back of the net lately, the third line’s play has been timely. But the message is still the same for the trio: keep things simple and provide some added depth.
That balanced scoring continues to be a luxury for the Bruins. And its a good reason why Julien continues to use all four lines at his disposal.