PHILADELPHIA — It was a month ago that Jimmy Hayes found himself in the press box in Vancouver after a couple of disappointing team performances, along with Dennis Seidenberg and Colin Miller. And then, two nights later, he found himself in the same spot at TD Garden.
While the Bruins weren’t exactly forthcoming about the reasons for the Seidenberg and Miller scratches, coach Claude Julien made it clear that Hayes was a healthy scratch. His was about underperformance.
At that point, Hayes had scored just four goals, and had gone 12 straight games without one.
Now, 14 games later, Hayes got a look on the top line in practice, skating in place of David Pastrnak with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, with Pastrnak moving down to the Joonas Kemppainen line. And while there’s no telling how Julien might rearrange his lines for Wednesday’s game against the Flyers, it’s a sign that the last month has brought more positive results for Hayes.
“You don’t ever want to be scratched, but it’s a learning process,” Hayes said. “But you’re getting to an age now where you’ve got to bring it every night. You’ve got to be ready to go. And it’s something you’ve just got to fine-tune your game and get around those areas and get some bounces.”
Since the Christmas break, Hayes has five goals in eight games, including the only goal against the Rangers on Monday night. He is now fifth on the team in goals with 10.
“Just lately, overall lately, I just see him coming around, producing more,” said Julien. “At one point we scratched him because his feet weren’t moving and he wasn’t bringing anything that was helping us. So every once in a while you make those guys healthy scratches, they watch the game, they come back better. To me, he’s been pretty good since he came back after the holidays.”
The Bruins had known when they traded for him that Hayes was good in the net-front area, that he could clean up those loose pucks, get some tap-ins, score some goals. That was what he did on his way to 19 goals last year.
It’s what they also needed from him this year. It’s what they’ve started to see more of late, and what they’ve liked in his game.
“Production is one of those things,” Julien said. “He needs to be stronger on the puck. He needs to be in position to shoot it more. He’s doing the things that we want him to do. We need some production here. A guy like that gets rewarded sometimes and gets put on that line. You see if it could be a fit.”
The compliment seemed immense. In discussing his fourth line — a black hole for the past two seasons — Julien brought up hallowed names: Shawn Thornton, Gregory Campbell, Daniel Paille. On Monday, the line, which has been a revolving door this season, consisted of Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, and Landon Ferraro.
“To me, that fourth line reminded me a lot of our fourth line of the past there, when Piesy and Soupy and Thorny were doing the same thing here,” Julien said. “They had a lot of scoring chances. They created things. When you have that — I say that all the time — you’re able to utilize your bench a little bit better.
“There are some guys that have played some big minutes since the beginning of the year because we didn’t have that. Here’s an opportunity here to balance things out a little more with performances like they gave us [Monday].”
The line combined for nine of the Bruins’ 33 shots on net against the Rangers, including five by Rinaldo.
But don’t count on those three sticking. Especially with Adam McQuaid sidelined, Julien wants to make sure he has enough muscle on his fourth line for the times when the Bruins are playing teams that require it.
“You almost have to have — not rotating just for the sake of rotating — but there’s teams that have some heavyweights we’ll put on the other side, and you can’t put the onus — McQuaid’s out,” Julien said.
“You don’t want to be putting the onus just on guys like Zdeno [Chara], who you don’t want in the box, stuff like that. [Tyler] Randell is a decent player, but also can handle those kind of situations. So it goes game to game.”
Wednesday will mark Rinaldo’s return to Philadelphia for the first time since the Flyers traded him to Boston last summer for a third-round draft pick. The fourth liner said it was a “different feeling” to be back in the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday for practice. Asked what he’s expecting in terms of a reception from the Philadelphia fans, Rinaldo said, “I’m just hoping for some positivity. I put my heart and soul into the team . . . I’ve done that for the Bruins too. I’ve put my heart and soul for the team and for the city. Some positivity would be nice.” Of course, the last time these two teams met, Rinaldo narrowly missed facing discipline from the Department of Player Safety for a hit that knocked out Sean Couturier.