Simon Gagne

Simon Gagne

WILMINGTON – It has been 10 games since forward Simon Gagne signed a contract with the Bruins after his tryout in training camp and became mostly a fourth-line player for Boston.

Coincidentally, Gagne’s 10th game was against the Florida Panthers and the player he’s replaced on right wing Shawn Thornton on Tuesday. Painfully for the Bruins (although they won the game 2-1 in overtime), the Panthers game was also one of the worst this season for the trio of Gagne, center Gregory Campbell and winger Daniel Paille.

Gagne and Paille were on the ice for the only Panthers goal and much of the night Florida dictated play against the Bruins’ fourth line, despite Campbell’s 7-for-9 at the faceoff dots.

As they get ready to face the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday, Gagne and his linemates have already diagnosed their problem.

“The team’s winning but at the same time, as a line, [Tuesday] night was not a really good game for our line,” Gagne said after practice Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena. “But things like that happen. I thought we had a good start as a line. Now lately, we spoke a bit as a line, sometimes you try, you want to score goals, you’re a hockey player. So you get away from what you’re doing well and you change your style a bit. And that’s not what we have to do. We’re there for doing a job and create some energy and spend some time in their zone, not getting scored on. I thought the last maybe two games we got away from it because maybe we’re doing some good things, but we thought maybe we could add some more offense to it. But when you do that, you get out of what the coach wanted you to do. So that’s something. I think we spoke as a line, we spoke with the coaching staff too, and that’s something we need to get back at it.”

Gagne and coach Claude Julien had a lengthy 1-on-1 chat at center ice after the formal portion of practice ended Wednesday.

“We spoke about that. Trying to get back at that,” Gagne said. “I’m a player that used to be on the other side, trying to create a bit more offense. Maybe that’s what I did the last two games, but that’s not our role right now. So get back at using my speed and create some turnovers and keep it simple.”

With Gagne and Paille flanking Campbell, the Bruins’ fourth line should be a lot faster than in recent years with Thornton taking a while to build up a head of steam in order to get in on the forecheck. Gagne’s hands, which once scored 47 games in a NHL season, also should be providing an increased amount of production, even if Gagne is coming off a one-year sabbatical from the NHL.

The 34-year-old, however, clearly needs more than 10 games to become fully immerses in the life of a fourth-liner. You can see it on the rare occasions he has the puck and can’t decide what to do with it. He spoke Wednesday about simplifying, and there’s no doubt the easy dump-in or pass to the front of the net will be Gagne’s best option, especially with the way Campbell and Paille have learned to play together the past several seasons.

Julien continued to give Gagne the benefit of the doubt because of the player’s year off. Julien repeated his often-mentioned mantra that Gagne’s skating is back but his hands are still a work in progress. But regardless of where Gagne’s hands are in the process of maximizing potential, Gagne should still be able to battle along the walls, make the necessary chips and passes out of the defensive zone and have an active stick on the forecheck. Too often of late, those things that require work more than skill haven’t been there.

Gagne might be the weak link on that line right now because it hasn’t been one Julien can trust at key moments.

“I think they’re very capable of scoring. What I don’t want to see, when you have that type of experience on your fourth line, when you look at all those guys they’ve been around for a long time, you don’t want the other team’s fourth line to score on them,” Julien said. “Because we should always be the better line and we should feel like we’re the better line. So those are the things. When they get scored on, it’s a slap in the face and it should be. So it doesn’t mean they can’t score. If they want to spend their whole shift in the offensive zone, they’re going to get my support on that no doubt. But I just don’t want that puck going in our net, especially when they’re playing against other teams’ fourth lines. When they’re really on top of their game, I’ll throw them against other teams’ top lines any night.”

There’s still a long way to go and Gagne’s resume suggests that the Bruins should give him a little more time to prove himself. He admitted Wednesday that as much as he likes Julien’s system, he’s still indecisive at moments and has to concentrate more on video as well as instincts. There are other options in the organization, like Providence captain Craig Cunningham and even Matt Fraser, a third-liner that could drop down when center David Krejci returns from injury, the Bruins could turn to down the road.

For now the experience, skill and speed of Gagne are what Julien and the Bruins want to fill that spot. Gagne just needs to maintain the right mentality to make his assets the right fit for the fourth line.