After sustaining a concussion in the Bruins 5-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on October 23rd, Loui Eriksson would miss the next five contests. During that span, the Bruins played sub-.500 hockey, winning only two games without Eriksson. Since returning from injury, Eriksson has put up two points in four games, while the team secured seven out of a possible eight points. This is not to say that Eriksson has turned the team around single-handedly, but how big an impact has his return had on the team’s success?
In the five games that Eriksson missed, the Bruins penalty kill went through the ringer. For a team that has been among the best in the league over the last five years in penalty kill percentage, allowing five power play goals in five games was a departure from the norm. Upon returning to the lineup, Eriksson immediately saw time on the PK, most notably in Thursday’s win over the Florida Panthers, in which Eriksson tallied over three minutes of ice time on the penalty kill. His presence has enhanced the unit’s performance, going a perfect 14-for-14 in the four games since Eriksson’s return. In addition to his solid defensive game, Eriksson helps the PK unit’s cause by staying out of the box. Through his first 11 games this season, Eriksson has only two penalty minutes to his credit. By staying on the ice and out of the box, Eriksson has played a major role in getting the Bruins PK back on track.
Prior to Eriksson’s concussion, the Bruins were able to successfully stash the struggling Brad Marchand on the third line and promote Reilly Smith to the second line, without experiencing much of a drop-off in production. Smith’s hot start made this a smooth transition, but the team was not expecting the change to be permanent. When Eriksson went down, the Bruins looked to Marchand and Smith to lock-down the wings on the second line next to Patrice Bergeron. In turn, Jordan Caron was elevated to a third line role, raising expectations for a quarter of the team’s forwards. Caron’s opportunity was short-lived, as he played only three of the five games that Eriksson missed, failing to record a point in those games. The Bruins called up Ryan Spooner to replace Jordan Caron for the final two games, a move that seemed to pay off, as Spooner equaled the production of the Marchand, Smith and Caron trio over these five games with two points. In all, the four players that were called upon in Eriksson’s absence totaled four points through five games. Since Eriksson has returned, Marchand and Smith have returned to their original spots in the lineup, while Caron and Spooner have not seen any ice time in Boston. In four games with Eriksson back in the lineup, Marchand and Smith have combined for seven points (two goals, five assists), in addition to Eriksson’s two assists. Furthermore, Bergeron’s production has been boosted, as he has tallied three goals in the four games since Eriksson’s return. By re-claiming his spot on Bergeron’s wing, Eriksson has allowed the Bruins to restore their depth chart, and everyone involved has seen a boost in production.
Without Loui Eriksson’s presence in the lineup, the Bruins went into an ugly slump. Fortunately, Eriksson made a speedy recovery and has shown little to no rust from the time off. His return has improved the play of his linemates, and in turn, helped to turn around the fortune of the Bruins. Eriksson has only been a member of the Bruins organization for a few months now, but his importance to the team cannot be understated. Simply put, the Bruins are a totally different team with Loui Eriksson on the ice.