On Saturday at TD Garden, Ryan Spooner made his season debut on right wing alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron.
Spooner played well. He assisted on Marchand's second-period goal. In 19:56 of ice time, Spooner landed two shots on net. Spooner, once a defensive liability, did not have much trouble matching up against top-line opponents Boone Jenner, Brandon Dubinsky, and Cam Atkinson.
"It's a bit of a change," Spooner said. "I'm used to being in the middle of the ice. When you're out on the wing, it's a change. For the most part, if I just try to use my speed and my skill, for the most part I should be fine."
Spooner's stay at right wing, however, is not a long-term solution. The trial may come to an end, perhaps as soon as Monday against Philadelphia.
"At the end of the day, he's still a centerman," coach Claude Julien said. "So far this year, we've been doing a lot of experimenting with certain things against certain teams. We're certainly looking to get some stability down the road. But right now, we're just looking at our options."
The Bruins have gone through a rotation of right-side help for Marchand and Bergeron. They had never considered Spooner before Saturday's 3-2 shootout win over the Blue Jackets. Donald Trump would have been a more likely right-wing candidate to ride with Marchand and Bergeron than Spooner.
But Spooner was thrown into top-line duty because the Bruins opted to scratch Brett Connolly. By the numbers, the latter decision was not out of the ordinary.
Julien has given Connolly many chances to play with Marchand and Bergeron. Most players would consider it a privilege. In terms of production, Connolly has not made the most of his opportunity.
Connolly has one goal in his last 23 games. There was no goalie on the one occasion he found the back of the net. On Jan. 15 against Buffalo, the Sabres had pulled Robin Lehner for an extra attacker. The last time Connolly scored when a human being stood between the pipes was Nov. 27. It was against Henrik Lundqvist, of all goalies.
Connolly's numbers are lousy (6-9—15 in 44 games). To the eye, however, he's played better than his statistics.
Connolly has been good on the forecheck. He's shown no hesitation to enter the corners and engage in wall battles. He's played the right way. He hasn't been rewarded for his effort.
"Besides the goal scoring, Connolly hasn't been that bad," Julien said. "Even Bergy and Marsh appreciate him on that line because he's big. He's strong. He can make plays. He's been a little bit snakebitten right now as far as goal scoring. But there are some guys in and out.
"We're trying to find different things. Tonight was his night to sit out. But it doesn't mean we're totally unhappy with him. There are certain things we'd like to see from him. But his game isn't a game that's really struggling right now."
As much as Marchand-Bergeron-Spooner turned into a power line, the trickledown effect of creating a top-heavy lineup was not worth the maneuver. When David Krejci returned Thursday against Vancouver after missing 10 games, the Bruins believed they would be stout down the middle by dropping Spooner to the third line.
But Spooner's time as No. 3 center lasted just one game. On Saturday, the third line did not benefit from his absence.
Matt Beleskey, who had played well with Spooner during Krejci's absence, had a quiet night. In 12:42 of ice time, Beleskey pumped two shots on net. Jimmy Hayes, the No. 3 right wing, missed the net on the only attempt he took in 11:39 of play. It makes a difference for Beleskey and Hayes when Joonas Kemppainen is their center.
When things are right, Kemppainen is a fourth-line center and penalty killer. He has lost the former title to Max Talbot. The fourth line didn't do much against Columbus. But Julien has otherwise been pleased with Talbot between Zac Rinaldo and Landon Ferraro. Their chemistry has left Kemppainen squeezed out.
The Finnish forward is serviceable in the defensive zone, on the penalty kill, and on the drop. But offensive creativity is not Kemppainen's strength.
Partly because of Kemppainen's drag on offense, the Bruins' bottom two lines combined for four of the team's 34 shots on net Saturday. The Bruins were lucky they were playing the worst team in the league. Stronger opposition usually takes advantage of six third- and fourth-line ghosts.
Spooner is a good employee. He will play wherever his bosses want him — wing, center, even goalie if that's where they consider him best serving the team.
"It's his job," Spooner said of Julien. "If he wants to keep me on the wing, that's fine with me. If he wants me back [at center], that's his call, too. I don't really care too much. I just do what he wants me to."
Spooner belongs in the middle. He's shown he can make his linemates better. Beleskey and Hayes need his help.