carolina_hurricanes_logoThe gauntlet has been thrown down by head coach Claude Julien. Now it’s up to his Boston Bruins player to respond.

A slight switch of the forward lines, with Blake Wheeler and Phil Kessel trading right-wing slots, might shake things up just enough to get the Bruins’ offense — which was once ranked No. 1 but has recently dropped to fifth at 3.3 goals per game — back into a groove starting with tonight’s game at Carolina at RBC Center. But it really doesn’t matter which players are lining up next to each other. It’s up to the individuals to assert themselves more, get a little more creative and find the back of the net.

Injuries or not, this current group of Bruins forwards is supposed to be better than last year’s — with Kessel, David Krejci and Milan Lucic a year older, Patrice Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew healthy and Wheeler in the mix. But in recent weeks this year’s edition of the Bruins has looked too much like last year’s in the offensive end. It’s great to muck and grind, but it would be better to flaunt the skill that put the Bruins at the top of the NHL standings in the first place. Things have gotten stale and predictable when the Bruins have the puck. Part of it might’ve been the lengthy life span of the previous line combos, part of it a product of the grueling schedule.

But things aren’t going to get easier as the season wears on. It’s time to find that second wind, get back to basics and maybe mix in a new twist or two in the opponents’ zone. If the Bruins don’t do that, what was once a runaway in the overall standings could become a race — one the Bruins would rather not have to run.

Season series: The Bruins have won the last four meetings between these two clubs, including the three previous match-ups this season. Krejci has 2-3-5 totals in the three games.

What they’re writing: Chip Alexander in The News & Observer has an update on the Justin Williams injury. Also in The N&O, Luke Decock explains how hard it is to quantify Glen Wesley’s contributions to the Hurricanes, who will retire the former defenseman’s No. 2 tonight before the game. Paul Branecky of the Tracking the Storm blog looks at the opportunity for Patrick Eaves to fill in some holds in the ‘Canes’ line-up.

Carolina player to watch: Although he’d probably like to improve on that minus-7 rating, former Bruins winger Sergei Samsonov seems to have found a comfortable home in Carolina after struggling in his post-Boston days with Montreal and Chicago. He’s approaching 100 games played with the ‘Canes and this season in 57 games he has posted 12-19-31 totals. In his last five games he has posted 3-3-6 totals. Samsonov will also be in the spotlight tonight because he was one of the draft picks the Bruins acquired as compensation for Wesley leaving to sign with Hartford all those years ago.