Game one of the NHL regular season is not usually the game where everything comes together. It’s not. It never is.
There are a ton of variables to take into consideration. New players on the roster usually means new line combinations and new line combinations usually take some time to get used to. Going into the game one of the regular season, the Boston Bruins line chart looked entirely different with only one line, Patrice Bergeron with Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith, being a usual one. With new additions filling in for the subtractions from last season, the Bruins chemistry of seasons past should have, in theory, not been present to start the regular season on Wednesday.
Except it was. And with it, came a possible solution as to what the Bruins’ third line could look like going forward this season.
It started in the first period of the Bruins’ opening night 2-1 win against the Philadelphia Flyers. On the power play, Carl Soderberg won a puck battle in the corner before tossing the puck away from the traffic to a streaking Smith, flying in from the point to put it past Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason. The ol’ back door score on the power play. Haven’t we seen this before? We have.
“I don’t know how he sees it,” said Smith, ironically. “I’m just happy that he does because I don’t really see too many lanes but for some reason, he always gets the puck through, so I’m pretty fortunate about that.”
Soderberg is an important variable in this story. With David Krejci out, Ryan Spooner centered what would have been a top line of Milan Lucic and Matt Fraser. Loui Eriksson was shuffled down to play with Chris Kelly and Soderberg on a line that ended up being the team’s second behind the Bergeron line.
It wasn’t the first time that the Soderberg line played together, but with Eriksson slated to start the season on the Bruins’ top line, Krejci’s injury gave Claude Julien a chance to reunite the two Swedes with Kelly, hopefully sparking some old chemistry. What was a last minute line put together by Julien, ended up being the Bruins’ best of the night. Soderberg was instrumental in winning another puck battle late in the third period to get the pass to Adam McQuaid on the point who fired a shot that Kelly poked in for the game winner.
“I thought they were good tonight,” said Julien. I thought they had a lot of chances and they moved the puck around. You could see they had played together before. Again, it was important for me to have two lines that were familiar with each other tonight in the situation that we’re in.”
It was important, indeed. The Soderberg line put together impressive shifts in the offensive zone, including one in the third period that included about 45 seconds of possession and cycling down low. With the Bruins chemistry seemingly reset before the puck dropped, this line came through when the team needed them most.
“I think we try to read off one another and support each other in all three zones which is key,” said Kelly. “The days of a guy trying to beat two guys and then you just try to get open are no longer there. We want to defend so well. I think it’s important to support one another and have communication.”
Once Krejci returns, which could be as early as Monday against the Colorado Avalanche, its likely that Julien shakes up the lines and moves Eriksson back up with he and Lucic. But for now, after game one of 82, the Bruins have what should be an incredibly solid second and third line. The personnel is there, but can the Bruins chemistry between some players be enough for Julien to keep the lines intact.
“I’m not there yet, so I don’t have to answer that, right?” Julien quipped. “I got a chance to think about it. I don’t have an answer for you.”
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Mike Miccoli covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers and has been a credentialed member of the media for all Bruins’ home games for the past five years. As a former player, coach and official, Miccoli has been around the game of hockey since the age of three. Along with his work on THW, Miccoli has also been published in the New England Hockey Journal, Improper Bostonian magazine and on BostInno.