CHICAGO — This has not been the season Ryan Spooner expected as a third-year pro.
Both Spooner and the Bruins expected he'd contend for a full-time varsity position. Only an injury to David Krejci allowed Spooner to break camp with the big club. Spooner went scoreless in five games before the Bruins returned him to Providence.
Spooner is back as Krejci's replacement once more. This time, he's planning to make his visit last longer.
"I've been playing decent down there," Spooner said. "I'm just happy to be coming back up here."
Spooner centered Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak in Sunday's 6-2 win over the Blackhawks. He committed a pair of first-period turnovers that gave Chicago scoring chances.
But Spooner played better in the second. He assisted on Lucic's goal, then muscled off Brandon Saad to free Dougie Hamilton for a power-play strike. Spooner landed four shots on goal in 15:53 of ice time.
A day before his Saturday recall, Spooner scored two goals in Providence's 5-1 win over Lehigh Valley. He was at center, his natural position. The pair of strikes lifted Spooner's February line to 3-6—9 in seven games.
This past month has been the exception to Spooner's season.
The Bruins weren't satisfied with the start of Spooner's training camp as a center. They tried him at left wing in the second-to-last preseason game. Spooner responded by scoring two goals.
But Spooner didn't have much going to start the regular season. He was not in a good state of mind after being assigned to Providence Oct. 19. His play reflected it.
"When I got sent back down, I wasn't feeling good about myself," Spooner said. "I think it showed. I just didn't have the confidence and all that kind of stuff. In order to play here, you've got to feel good about yourself."
"At the beginning of the year, yeah, I was pretty upset with it," Spooner continued. "At the same time too, I just had to go down and work on the things they told me to do."
In Providence, the Bruins continued to keep Spooner at left wing. It was not a switch that came easily for Spooner.
When he's in the middle, his high-end skating is his biggest asset. At center, Spooner is constantly in motion. But he didn't prove to be trustworthy in the defensive zone in the middle, where he's expected to support down low and take away passing lanes.
On the wing, Spooner was a start-and-stop skater, which blanketed his speed and creativity. Then he hurt his shoulder twice.
"I got hit weird and just didn't feel good," Spooner said. "I actually tried to hit someone, which is new for me. I tried that and it didn't feel good. I talked to the doctor there, who said I'd be out for 2-3 weeks. I did that, then I got hit my first game back and I was out again. Bad bounce. That happens."
In late January, during the AHL All-Star break, Spooner returned to his home outside Ottawa. He committed himself to turning things around once play resumed.
"I was pretty down on myself for a bit," Spooner said. "I went home for the All-Star break and said to myself, 'I have 30 games left here. I'm just going to go back there and play and try to have fun with it.' That's what I've tried to do. It's been working."
This is an important recall for the Bruins. If Krejci's availability remains in question, they need a creative center as they try to remain in eighth place in the East.
It's even more important for Spooner. He'll be a restricted free agent after this season. The Bruins need Spooner to be an NHLer next year if Carl Soderberg, unrestricted at year's end, leaves for more money and a bigger role.
Sunday's rout did nothing to give Peter Chiarelli, who remains on the hot seat, any leeway. But the general manager was pleased to see his team perform amid one of his biggest flashpoints during his nine-year Boston tenure.
"We're not up to where we should be on the overall road trip," said Chiarelli. "But if you look back to the last period of the Edmonton game, our legs and hands are coming around, with the way we skated and moved the puck in the St. Louis game and here too. Some promising signs."
The trade deadline is March 2. Chiarelli has one week to land help, primarily on defense and right wing.
"There are still issues with this team that we have to work through if we want to make the playoffs and have a good run," Chiarelli said. "A win like this is good for the team and good for the confidence. You see a guy like [Reilly Smith], he was flying out there. You see [Zdeno Chara], he's skating a lot better. Once you get the confidence going, things change. It doesn't give you a different outlook. But maybe it tempers it a bit."
Ferlin strong again
Two games into his NHL career, Brian Ferlin looks like a fourth-line fixture. Ferlin logged his first career assist on Gregory Campbell's goal. Ferlin was credited with eight hits in 7:30 of ice time. "He was finishing his checks and had a couple good chances," Chiarelli said. "He made a real nice play, the cycle play and puck-protection play, on Soupy's goal." . . . Daniel Paille and Craig Cunningham were healthy scratches for the second straight game . . . Adam McQuaid dispatched Dan Carcillo in a second-period fight . . . Patrice Bergeron missed several third-period shifts after taking a puck off the left foot. Bergeron stayed on the bench and finished the game. Bergeron opened the scoring with his 200th career goal.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.