COLUMBUS, Ohio – Loui Eriksson did not see highlights from his former team’s 4-1 win Friday night over Winnipeg.
So perhaps it was coincidence, not through motivation, that Eriksson submitted his best game as a Bruin one day after Tyler Seguin’s four-point explosion.
At 0:49 of the third period, Eriksson’s first Boston goal turned out to be the deciding strike in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Blue Jackets before 14,092 at Nationwide Arena. Milan Lucic added an empty-net goal at 19:27.
“He was really good,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “Smart plays. Competing better. That’s what we talked about. You’ve got to give those guys some time to get adjusted, acquainted, and feeling comfortable with the players on the ice. We’ve talked about that month you want to give those guys before you start assessing. You’re seeing a guy, after a few games, starting to find his stride.”
Both Eriksson and the Bruins knew there would be improvement in the ex-Star’s game. Eriksson went scoreless in his first three games. But it wasn’t just Eriksson’s absence of production that stood out. It was the way he played.
Eriksson was out of synch. He skated into the wrong areas. He rarely had the puck on his stick. He chased the game instead of controlling it.
Against Columbus, Eriksson looked like a different player. The puck regularly sat on his blade. He skated with purpose. Eriksson set up others – his cross-ice saucer for Torey Krug in the first period nearly led to a goal – as efficiently as he looked for his own opportunities. Eriksson led the team with six shots on net. It matched his total from the first three games.
So it was rewarding that those upgrades led to a goal.
Patrice Bergeron attacked the net. Bergeron flipped a cross-ice pass to Eriksson on the right side. Before Sergei Bobrovsky could push to the left to seal off the net, Eriksson backhanded the puck past the reigning Vezina Trophy winner to snap the 1-1- tie.
“I had some slow starts in earlier years too,” Eriksson said. “You know it will come. If you create chances out there, it will come. I thought we did that today. I’d say it was a fun one too.”
Eriksson scored on his first shift with a new left wing. For all of training camp and the first three regular-season games, Bergeron and Eriksson had lined up with Brad Marchand on the left side.
But Marchand has not started well. In Saturday’s second period, Marchand committed his worst mistake yet. From the defensive zone, Marchand’s clearing pass was intercepted by Mark Letestu. Only a quick glove save by Tuukka Rask (26 saves) kept the Jackets from grabbing a 2-0 lead (Jack Johnson had scored a power-play goal at 18:52 of the first).
During second intermission, Julien decided it was time for a change. The coach dropped Marchand to the third line. Reilly Smith, the No. 3 right wing, stepped into Marchand’s usual spot. The line responded with the winning goal.
“He’s been fighting it the last little while,” Julien said of Marchand. “Sometimes you’ve got to take a guy away from where he is and take some of the pressure off. It’s not because he doesn’t want to do well. In his mind, he’s trying. He just has to find his game. Sometimes putting him on another line and taking some of the pressure off will help him find his game. He’s fighting it. No doubt he’s fighting it. As a coach, you make the change you think is right in order to win a hockey game. We know how good we can be. Right now, he just has to fight through it and find his game.”
Marchand had some company Saturday, mostly on the blue line. The defensemen struggled to retrieve pucks and move them out of the zone.
It wasn’t until Chris Kelly beat Bobrovsky (33 saves) with a long-distance slap shot at 16:18 of the second that the Bruins got on the scoreboard. After Kelly’s goal, the Bruins found their legs and played more of their grinding style.
“I didn’t think our back end moved the puck as well as you want them to,” Julien said. “That kind of took away from our game. Our whole back end struggled, in my mind. That kind of took away the pace of our game. But the forwards worked hard, Chris got that goal, and it seemed to give us more life.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.