BOSTON -- Don’t be alarmed if you’re Christmas shopping at a local mall in the next few days and see a 28-year-old man waiting in line to visit with Santa Claus.
If there’s one thing on David Krejci’s wish list this holiday season, it’s a point-producing right winger. The days of having a consistent linemate on the right side, similar to the likes of Nathan Horton or Jarome Iginla, is a thing of the past, and Bruins coach Claude Julien is trying everything to find a winger that gels with Krejci and Milan Lucic.
It hasn’t been easy for Julien or Krejci this season because of the limited games the top-line center has played due to an ongoing, lower-body injury. After missing 11 consecutive games (20 overall) Krejci has played three straight, and too many times for his liking when he looks to his right there’s a different teammate on his wing.
On Sunday, Julien decided it once again was time to try Loui Eriksson on the top line, but it didn’t take long for the coach to abandon that idea.
With the obvious lack of chemistry, and in desperate need of scoring, Julien felt it was best to reunite Eriksson with Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly -- and that worked. With Boston trailing by a goal, Kelly quickly scored to tie the game at 2-2 when he redirected a Zdeno Chara shot past Buffalo Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth at 15:36 of the second period.
“Playing with Kells and Carl, we’ve been playing good together,” Eriksson said. “Our first shift we scored a goal right away, so it was kind of nice.”
Julien kept that line intact for the remainder of regulation, but ironically, it was Eriksson’s goal in overtime that gave the Bruins a 4-3 victory, as Lucic registered the assist and Krejci also was on the ice for the winning tally.
We’ve learned in the past that Krejci is at his best when he’s comfortable with his linemates. It’s no coincidence that Lucic has been on Krejci’s left side for so long, but the inconsistency on the right side this season hasn’t helped Boston’s top line.
“It’s hard because David’s just starting to find his stride,” Julien said. “Loui was a really good player tonight, that’s all I’m going to say. Wherever he was he was good, so it’s something we’re trying. We’re trying to find some solutions to our lines.”
Whether Julien finds a good fit in house or the organization finally trades for a right-handed shooting right winger, Krejci is perplexed why stability has been lacking on his line.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he said. “It’s just one of those things that you’ve got to come to the rink every day and work hard. I just wake up, stay positive and basically you never know who you’re going to play with. But it is what it is.”
After Eriksson was moved back to Soderberg’s line on Sunday, rookie Craig Cunningham moved up to play with Krejci. At different times this season, rookie Seth Griffith has been given an opportunity. If the Bruins don’t trade for a natural right winger, Julien should give Matt Fraser a longer look on Krejci’s line. Given the opportunity, Fraser could be a good fit and fill that role as a power forward.
Julien has been fortunate in recent years to have so much consistency with his line combinations. The coach has been rattled this season with too many injuries and question marks, which is causing too many lineup changes. Overall, Soderberg’s line with Kelly and Eriksson has worked well, and it did again on Sunday.
“When you look at it right now, there’s no reason to take them apart,” Lucic said. “They’ve been our best line, especially the last three games.”
Eriksson has three goals and two assists for five points in the last five games, including a pair of overtime winners. With his goal against the Sabres, Kelly has four points in the past four games. Soderberg recorded an assist Sunday and now has five points in the past five games.
“It’s good at least one line is clicking and it’s up to the rest of us to find our game,” Lucic said. “The importance of being a good team is having every line going and going after teams in waves and line after line. It’s up to the rest of us to step up our game and play like the Soderberg line has been playing.”
Once the Bruins lost Iginla to free agency last July -- the future Hall of Famer signed a three-year deal worth $16 million with the Colorado Avalanche -- Julien, general manager Peter Chiarelli and even Krejci talked about how Eriksson would fill the void on the top line. It hasn’t worked as everyone thought it would, and it’s obvious Eriksson is comfortable with Soderberg and vice versa.
“They are good players and they’re going to find it,” Eriksson said of Krejci and Lucic. “They just need to keep going and they will find it. I don’t know who is going to play on that line, but they’ve been playing together for a couple of years and they know how to play with each other, so hopefully someone can come in there and help them out and our team can be better in that way.”
Lucic said he sees improvement with him and Krejci. Both explained it’s only a matter of bearing down and executing better when making plays in the offense zone, and both stressed the need to create better quality scoring chances.
“This is only [Krejci’s] 14th game of the season and it’s going to take some time,” Lucic said. “For the most part, we did a much better job playing with the puck in the O-zone other than a couple of turnovers that ended up costing us. We want to feel good about getting a win, and getting more O-zone time is just a matter of creating more and bearing down when we get opportunities.”
When Krejci and Lucic are playing with that consistency and produce, the Bruins have success. When they’re struggling, the team does too. Before Dougie Hamilton’s tying goal at 18:29 of the third period, and Eriksson’s heroics in overtime, the Bruins came agonizingly close to losing at home against the lowly and undermanned Sabres.
The standings are not pretty for the Bruins, who currently sit in third place in the wild card. A loss against the Sabres would have depleted Boston’s morale even more.
“It’s huge if you don’t get the two points and how much further you fall back behind, but getting the two points gets you right back into it,” Lucic said.
The Bruins host the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night at TD Garden before the NHL shuts down for its annual three-day Christmas break.
“We've got one more game before Christmas break, so hopefully we can get another two points and have a nice holiday,” Krejci said.
Maybe Chiarelli will gift wrap a right wing for Krejci after the holiday season is over.