No one is filled with more lineup suspense when he shows up at the rink than Daniel Paille.
If the Bruins forward skates in the last four games of the regular season, it would mark a season-high eight straight games dressed for the fourth-line speedster.
Learning how to handle the revolving door of Claude Julien’s lineup has been a challenge for Paille, who played 73 or more games in his previous three full NHL seasons. Now he’s skated in just 39 of Boston’s 78 contests, but is starting to contribute the way he’s supposed to.
“I feel great. I think I feel faster and I’m just more patient on a lot of plays,” said Paille after his shorthanded goal — his fourth score of the season — helped the Bruins beat Atlanta Saturday. “I feel really happy with it right now.”
Despite his in-and-out relationship to the Bruins’ starting 12 forwards, Paille is actually on the same point-production pace of a year ago, when he finished the year with 10 goals and nine assists. He’s recorded four goals and six assists this season, while playing almost exclusively on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton.
Last season, injuries forced Paille to play higher in the lineup many nights. Let’s face it, he’ll never be known for his hands or his shot, and he was glaringly miscast playing alongside the likes of Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. In a smaller sample size of ice time, Paille’s been able to better focus on his physicality and penalty-killing while playing exclusively in a grinder’s role.
That showed up with his shorthanded goal against the Thrashers and has also shown up in the improvement of Boston’s mostly under-performing penalty kill. Obviously the addition of Rich Peverley and Chris Kelly has made things better too, but in the 11 games Paille has dressed since March 1, the Bruins’ penalty kill — at just 82.4 percent on the season — has clicked at a rate of 84.6 percent.
Paille’s formed a solid PK duo with Gregory Campbell.
“Campbell, he’s got speed and he’s real smart, especially on the penalty kill,” said Paille. “It was just like [Steve Begin] last year – if one guy goes, one stays and we just kind of rotate. … Most of the time he’s right there.”
The emergence of Brad Marchand and late-season surge by Tyler Seguin, not to mention the additions of Kelly and Peverley, forced Julien to make plenty of hard decisions about his lineup on a nightly basis this season. More often than not, the coach has opted to sit Paille. However, as Paille has gotten more used to sitting out and then contributing when re-inserted, the coach’s choice has been made so tough he even scratched staff favorite Michael Ryder a few times over the last few weeks.
“I think we’re starting to see Dan skate a lot better,” said Julien. “I think his confidence is much better as well. So he’s been an efficient player for us. Penalty kill, forecheck. As we talked about early in the year, when he skates, he’s a great forechecker.”
When Marchand was making his name at the start of his rookie season alongside Campbell and Thornton, the Bruins sported one of the best fourth lines in the league and it made them a team that was hard to contend with. That dimension has sort of diminished in the months since Marchand moved up.
If Paille can keep improving and thriving, there’ll be no rest for weary opposing defenses when four Boston lines are rolling. And Paille’s play of late has probably earned him the right to reduce the suspense about when he’s going to play and when he’s going to sit. He should be in there until he does something to lose the spot.