RALEIGH — Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli was in Ottawa on Friday, a day after Tyler Seguin ripped up Calgary for four goals. Naturally, a return to his hometown allowed the people who know Chiarelli best to give him the business for trading Seguin.
That night, Loui Eriksson showed why he was the primary piece the Bruins wanted back from Dallas.
Eriksson scored a goal and an assist in the Bruins’ 4-2 loss to the Senators. In the first period, when the Bruins were rolling, Eriksson was in the middle of the second line’s efficient offensive play. Eriksson and linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron entered the offensive zone with speed, controlled the puck down low and along the walls, and created scoring chances with their in-synch play.
“Loui’s back and finding his stride,” coach Claude Julien said. “I thought Loui played a real good game. To me, he was probably our best player in Ottawa.”
Eriksson’s prize for his performance was a commemorative puck that once belonged to a teammate. At 5:59 of the first period, Bergeron won an offensive-zone faceoff against Jason Spezza. Bergeron pulled the puck back to Matt Bartkowski, who one-timed a shot that rocketed past Craig Anderson to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Bergeron retrieved the puck, believing Bartkowski had scored his first career NHL goal. At intermission, the goal was changed to Eriksson. After Bergeron won the draw, Eriksson had shifted to the shooting lane to screen Anderson or get a piece of Bartkowski’s shot.
The puck now belongs to Eriksson, who might be the only NHLer with the puck from his 154th career goal still in his possession.
All of Seguin’s four goals against Calgary were high-skilled strikes. Seguin has 12 goals, eight more than Eriksson. Neither of Eriksson’s last two goals will make his resume reel. On Thursday, Eriksson was standing in front of the net when Zdeno Chara’s flip from the point bounced off his foot and skidded past Sergei Bobrovsky.
But Eriksson’s positioning allowed him to take advantage of the fortunate bounces. Fourteen games into his career as a Bruin, Eriksson is putting himself in better spots than he did at the start of the season.
“I think you learn a lot through the first couple months,” Eriksson said. “This is a really good team. We’ve got really good depth. I think that’s why they’ve been so good the last couple years. Still a lot of games left. Right now, I’m feeling better and better. My confidence is a little bit higher right now again. So that’s nice.”
Eriksson has not been the complete player the Bruins expected him to be. Eriksson, a lifelong Star, had to adjust to another employer and a new city for his wife and two daughters. Eriksson is now a complementary player instead of a go-to producer.
Then on Oct. 23, Buffalo’s John Scott flattened Eriksson with a blindside wallop to the head. The five games Eriksson missed with a concussion took place as he was finding his rhythm.
Now, six games into his post-concussion return, Eriksson is showing signs of the two-way player the Bruins identified when they placed Seguin on the market. Like most players, Eriksson’s effectiveness starts with his north-south skating. On the right side, Eriksson is learning to hold his ground instead of supporting in the middle.
“The biggest challenge for guys coming here is staying wide,” Julien said. “We like to use the wide ice. A lot of teams are used to what they call overloading, bringing their weak-side winger toward the middle of the ice. He’s had to adjust. When you adjust, you do a lot of thinking. Players are better when they react versus overthinking.”
The Bruins enter Monday’s game against the Hurricanes having killed 28 straight penalties. They went 2 for 2 in Ottawa.
One reason for the penalty-killing improvement is the familiarity of the shorthanded pairs. Bergeron and Marchand have been paired regularly. Gregory Campbell and Daniel Paille are longtime partners. Chris Kelly had been used to killing penalties alongside Rich Peverley. Lately, Eriksson has assumed most of Peverley’s duties as Kelly’s PK partner.
“He’s an extremely bright player,” Kelly said. “He always seems to be in the right place. He’s got a great stick. Just his awareness out there is great. It makes my job a lot easier killing with a guy like that.”
David Krejci and Jarome Iginla are also in the PK mix. Ideally, Julien would use Krejci and Iginla at the end of a kill. Once the Bruins are at full strength, Milan Lucic can roll out, allowing Julien to send out his top line for the first five-on-five shift.
The Bruins did not change their practice lineup Sunday at PNC Arena. Jordan Caron was the extra forward on the second line. Caron likely will be the healthy scratch for the ninth straight game . . . Tuukka Rask had a rare so-so game against the Senators. Given Saturday’s off day in Ottawa and Sunday’s practice, Rask has had enough rest if the Bruins want to go back with their ace against the Hurricanes.