WILMINGTON, Mass. -- One step away from the press box?
Bruins forward Michael Ryder knows that’s where he just might be now that he has scored just one goal in the team’s last 18 games and practiced in a brick-colored jersey typically reserved for the club’s fourth line Friday morning at Ristuccia Arena.
After some line juggling by coach Claude Julien, Ryder was one of five players in brick, along with Daniel Paille, Steve Begin, Trent Whitfield and Shawn Thornton. Ryder’s former center, David Krejci, was flanked by Marco Sturm and Miroslav Satan. Ryder’s ex-left winger Blake Wheeler moved to right wing on a trio with center Vladimir Sobotka and Brad Marchand. Milan Lucic moved into Sturm’s old slot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi.
“Definitely it could happen when you’re looked at to score goals and you’re not scoring,” said Ryder about possibly being sat out if things don’t turn around. “It’s definitely in your mind. I’ve just got to keep working hard right now and step it up even another notch. We’ve got five games left and we need wins now to get into the playoffs.”
Obviously, Julien’s moves were a message to a number of players that haven’t produced for the league’s worst offense. But Ryder, Wheeler and Sturm have been the most egregious offenders in the no-scoring department. Ryder (eight games), Wheeler (nine games) and Sturm (11 games) are all in the midst of scoring draughts. Ryder and Wheeler combined for zero shots on goal in the loss to Florida on Thursday.
Ryder is one of just three Bruins -- along with Wheeler and Recchi -- to skate in all 77 games this season. But obviously all three have played to varying levels of effectiveness. In those 77 games, he has scored just 16 goals after potting 27 in 74 games a year ago.
While a drop to the fourth line looks like a demotion to outside observers, Ryder’s at least taking the right attitude that he can still accomplish what needs to be done with his new linemates.
“I think Begin and Paille and Thornton and Whitfield, there are four lines we play with all the time and it’s just a matter -- I’m not on the power play now -- so it’s just a matter going out there on a regular shift and doing the things that I know I can do,” he said. “And I think Begin is good at battling and Paille has speed. So whoever plays together, I think we can definitely create things and still get shots on net.”
Playing with a couple hard-nosed kids in Marchand and Sobotka could help revive Wheeler as well. The hope would be that they’ll be able to rub off on the second-year forward and get him to play more of a straight-line game and eliminate the fancy approach that’s hindered him. Wheeler, who has totaled 17 goals so far, hasn’t scored in nine games.
“They’re both pretty talented players,” said Wheeler. “Marchy’s got one of the better shots on our team right now. And Vladi’s been playing really well too. So I’m excited to play with those guys. There’s give games left and it doesn’t really matter who you’re playing with. It’s just that what we’ve been doing is not good enough. We know that; we’ve been saying it all year. It’s got to start turning the other way and that’s all there is too it.”
Julien stressed that he didn’t want to single out any player for a failure to contribute. And the coach also noted that he and his staff are doing more than just juggling the lines in order to squeeze out as much as they can from their underperforming bunch of players.
“Don’t get me wrong, we have meetings with those players, which you guys don’t hear or see, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. We just don’t change lines and say ‘ok, they’ll get the message that way.’ There’s a lot of stuff that’s being done to get those guys going,” he said. “But at the same time, you’ve got to do something as well on the ice. We’re struggling to score goals and you’ve got certain guys that aren’t going as well and you hope that making changes will either spark them, wake them up or at least give some different lines some different opportunities. You try, and if it doesn’t work you go back to the drawing board and keep trying to find a solution.”
The next solution could be putting guys out of the lineup rather than on different lines. So Ryder and Wheeler and a handful of others are officially on notice.