It’s funny that in all the talk about moving Loui Eriksson onto a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic leading up to the Bruins’ game against Buffalo on Sunday, that move turned out to be a mistake.
Luckily for coach Claude Julien, he corrected his error late in the second period. After goals by Chris Kelly, Dougie Hamilton and Eriksson, the Bruins had a crucial win against an inferior opponent.
So now the line Kelly, Carl Soderberg and Eriksson should be set in stone for the foreseeable future. Julien would be nuts to break that line up. He was reluctant to make that move in the first place.
Of course, it’d make Julien’s life a lot easier if he juggled his other lines. Despite describing the play of Patrice Bergeorn’s line with Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith as “inconsistent” on Sunday, Julien has been gun shy about breaking up that group. Only when the brief NHL audition of prospect David Pastrnak forced Julien’s had did the coach make a move with that trio. Now is the time to do it.
Craig Cunningham is a solid player and a strong net-front presence, but he’ll be the first to tell you he’s no No. 1 right winger. Seth Griffith and Matt Fraser are also not worthy. The only player not on the Kelly-Soderberg-Eriksson line worthy of playing with Krejci and Lucic is Smith. So Julien should put him there.
It’s not like Smith is irreplaceable on Bergeron’s line. When Smith was out during his contract dispute in training camp, Griffith decently filled that role. Griffith now has a couple months NHL experience and he has shown he can at the very least be responsible in his own end even if he has a hard time finding space to make offensive plays.
Cunningham might also be a sufficient placeholder on Bergeron’s right. It’s not like Bergeron, Smith and Marchand have been tearing it up offensively. Breaking that line up probably wouldn’t affect its production either way, and Smith moving to Krejci and Lucic’s right could be the spark those two need to start playing the way their salaries say they should. With Lucic opening up space, Smith could find room to make his lizard-like moves and maybe work a two-man game with Krejci on the attack. Smith protects the puck well and also gets most of his goal in tight. He’s not a prototypical power forward but his approach is similar enough.
Julien’s been in a jam all year long trying to find effective lines and dealing with injuries and inferior play. He clearly has one line that has to stick together. It’s time to get bolder with the rest of the forward corps and make Smith a first liner.