Loui Eriksson knew that Tuesday’s game against Dallas would be a tough one.
It was Eriksson’s first game against the only organization he had known since the Stars picked him in the second round of the 2003 draft. It was also Eriksson’s first game after suffering a concussion that could have had far worse results.
The good thing is that one game after a so-so 0-0—0 performance against his old team, Eriksson showed it might not take him long to reclaim his pre-concussion touch.
Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, the Bruins’ No. 2 right wing assisted on Brad Marchand’s winning goal. Eriksson landed two shots on goal and played 17:39, including a season-high 3:02 on the penalty kill.
“I felt a little bit more easygoing out there,” Eriksson said. “Just better flow. At the same time, I felt pretty good the last game, too. Just a matter of getting some more games and getting into it again. It was definitely nice to win this tonight.”
That Eriksson is even back and playing might be an upset.
It was just over two weeks ago that Eriksson took a wicked thump from one of the NHL’s biggest players. On Oct. 23, after dumping in a puck against Buffalo, Eriksson absorbed all of John Scott’s 259 pounds when the Sabres strongman blindsided him with a shoulder to the head.
Immediately, headaches kicked in. Eriksson remained overnight in Buffalo at the team hotel because of concerns of how a flight might mess with his head. Upon his return, Eriksson didn’t do much except rest at home and worry about when he might feel like himself.
It didn’t take very long. Last Saturday, Eriksson skated with his teammates for the first time when he participated in the morning workout prior to the Bruins’ game against the Islanders. Two days later, Eriksson took his first bumps in practice.
In retrospect, given the violence of Scott’s hit and Eriksson’s initial symptoms, the right wing was fortunate to miss only five games.
“It’s definitely nice to be back this quick,” Eriksson said. “You never know with those kinds of injuries. I was lucky to feel better in a couple days. I’ve been feeling really good the last 6-7 days. So, it’s been good.”
Eriksson didn’t start the season well. He didn’t score his first goal until Oct. 12 against Columbus, four games into the season. Eriksson, along with then-linemates Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith, had started to find his rhythm before the concussion.
The Bruins had two worries. First, they thought Eriksson might be out long-term. Second, they didn’t know how long it would take Eriksson to find his legs and hands upon his return.
Two games in, Eriksson is going in the right direction. Eriksson skated well and was strong on the puck. His increased shorthanded workload showed he’s gaining his coaches’ trust.
“You’ve seen what happens sometimes with concussions. It all depends on the individual,” said coach Claude Julien. “It’s about him pushing himself to get his game to the next level and continue to push. I know he’s worked hard in practice. We know he’s very capable of much more. He will give us much more. He’s coming off a pretty serious injury. I feel we’re fortunate to have him back this quickly. There’s been guys who have missed months with those kinds of hits. We’ll take it for what it’s worth and give him a little bit of breathing room to find his game.”
A healthy Eriksson can be a difference-maker. Eriksson is an above-average skater and is defensively aware. He has some Marian Hossa-like puck-protection skill. Eriksson is the right-side half-wall man on the No. 2 power-play unit and he can kill penalties.
On Marchand’s goal, Eriksson showed how he can touch the game. He forced a turnover with a hard forecheck along the boards. Once the Bruins gained control of the puck, Eriksson went to the front of the net.
Mike Weaver tried to push Eriksson out of the way. The 6-foot-2-inch, 196-pound Eriksson, who is strong on his skates, held his ground. He gained position on Weaver and clouded Scott Clemmensen’s vision. Eriksson got his stick on Dennis Seidenberg’s shot. Because Weaver was engaged with Eriksson, the defenseman couldn’t recover in time to eliminate a hard-driving Marchand.
“I’m just trying to get good position in front of the net,” Eriksson said. “Lucky enough to get a stick on it, too. We got a good bounce and he got an open net. So, it was nice.”
The Bruins were 2-3-0 without Eriksson. For part of their scuffles, the Bruins were down to a one-line team in Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Jarome Iginla. Eriksson’s injury had a trickledown effect. Smith, projected to be a bottom-six wing, had to move up to the second line. Jordan Caron was back in uniform. Because of the flickering offense, the Bruins had to promote Ryan Spooner for two games.
With Eriksson back on the second line, the Bruins have more balance. Marchand is on Bergeron’s left wing again. Smith is back on the third line. Caron has been a healthy scratch the last two games.
The balance showed against Florida. The Bruins didn’t play well in the first period. But for parts of the second and most of the third, the Bruins took care of the puck and rolled four lines. They need everybody pulling on the chain together to show their identity. Eriksson is a big part of that mix.