TAMPA — Up until the final period of the final preseason game, it looked like Carl Soderberg was going to be a boon for the Bruins. He was starting the season with the team, not coming in with two months off, and he was in shape and playing well.
And then he hit the rut.
That rut — in the ice in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan — resulted in an injured ankle, and in Soderberg’s replacement on the third line by Jordan Caron. But on Saturday, Soderberg was in and Caron was out, with the Big Swede showing little rust from his three weeks out of action.
“That’s the only thing that I would say about his game, is maybe his touch was a little off and that’s from not playing,” coach Claude Julien said. “But certainly the pace of his game, the skating and everything, seemed really good. He had some opportunities too, some two on ones.
“A little bit like [Reilly Smith], sometimes you’ve got to be a little bit more selfish — instead of forcing that pass, shoot. But other than that I was really pleased with his game for a guy that’s been out for this long.”
Soderberg had a good chance with Loui Eriksson, and played a solid all-around game, including getting his first point of the season with an assist on Chris Kelly’s second-period goal.
“I’m just happy to be back,” Soderberg said. “It’s really hard to stay out, actually. But now I’m back and we played a really great game, probably one of the best this season. So I’m very happy with this win – just want to go home now.”
Soderberg said he didn’t have any problems with his ankle, and liked the way he fit into the third line, with Kelly and Brad Marchand.
“I’ve been playing with Kelly before, and I like to play with him,” Soderberg said. “Marchy is a great player, so I felt we played really good together. If we can get some more games, we will see.”
Soderberg’s presence helped the Bruins’ lack of net-front presence, something the team has been trying to address. The team showed better net drive on Saturday night in a 5-0 victory over the Lightning.
“It’s always important, especially on the power play, but it’s always good to go to the net,” Soderberg said. “I scored a lot of goals in Sweden last year in front of the net on the power play and also five on five, so hopefully I can do a couple of goals here, too.”
Both Gregory Campbell and Kelly pointed out that most of the goals in the NHL are a result of increasing the traffic in the net area, of getting close and having that presence.
“Look around the league — I don’t know the stat — but close to 90 percent of the goals are scored in and around that crease area,” Kelly said. “When you have a big guy like [Soderberg] that can hold his ice and battle hard with defensemen, it’s always a good thing.”
Added Campbell, “That’s something we should try to do every night. Goalies are all good in this league. Net-front presence is the key to our success. It’s really critical to get in front, take their eyes away because, like I said, they’re all pretty good.”
For the second straight game, it looked as if Julien had the magic touch. Julien brought Dougie Hamilton out of the press box and onto the ice on Thursday against Florida, and the young defenseman scored. On Saturday, Julien did the same with Adam McQuaid, who sat out Thursday’s game. He scored his first of the season Saturday night . . . The crowd at the Tampa Bay Times Forum broke out into a “Let’s go Red Sox!” chant in the third period . . . The Bruins got Sunday off after the win, with three days until their next game, Wednesday in Buffalo . . . Kelly got his third goal of the season. He had three goals last season . . . With Soderberg in the game, Caron was the healthy scratch among the forwards.