WILMINGTON, Mass. -- Hang up the phone, Peter.
Reilly Smith could be your guy.
Finding a mainstay right winger for the Boston Bruins’ top line has been a priority for general manager Peter Chiarelli and coach Claude Julien.
Management continues to look at trade possibilities before the March 2 deadline, while the coaching staff has been trying to figure out which in-house line combination works best.
Julien might have found a solution.
Only two shifts into last Thursday’s 5-2 win over the New York Islanders, Julien didn’t like the matchups the opponent was getting, so he tweaked his line combinations, replacing David Pastrnak with Smith on the top line. The trio of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Smith had instant chemistry and finished the game with a combined eight points.
Julien also had Loui Eriksson on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, while Pastrnak played the right side with Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg. The fourth line remained the same with Daniel Paille, Gregory Campbell and Craig Cunningham.
Julien kept those lines intact for Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Los Angeles Kings at TD Garden. The Bruins will face the New York Rangers Wednesday night at Madison Square Garden, but Lucic’s status remains questionable after he missed Tuesday’s practice with the flu. However, Julien said he believes Lucic will be in the lineup.
If the coach has a complete and healthy lineup, Smith will remain on the top line.
“As long as it works, why would you change it? We know there are other options if need be,” Julien said. “You work with your lineup, and as far as that line is concerned it’s shown a little bit more. I haven’t seen any reason right now to change other [lines] either.”
Julien likes Pastrnak on the third line and believes that trio is finding chemistry too. The grouping of Kelly, Soderberg and Eriksson had been Boston’s most consistent line for the majority of the season, and the two Swedish players clicked. Eriksson also has played well the last two games with Bergeron and Marchand.
“It’s been good,” Eriksson said. “I think we’ve been playing pretty good and we’re getting chances. We’re playing good defensively too. They’re two good players to play with and when they’re at the top of their game, they’re the best in the league at what they do.”
Like the entire team, Smith has dealt with inconsistencies this season. If he can continue to play well with his new linemates, it could help make Chiarelli’s job a lot easier in the coming weeks.
“It’s a great opportunity to be able to play with guys like that of that caliber, so when that opportunity’s there you’d love to grab it,” Smith said. “Saying that, whatever happens, happens. If [Chiarelli] can make the team better, then that’s absolutely what we want him to do.”
Julien normally doesn’t criticize players publicly. But a few times earlier this season he made his displeasure known with many players, including Smith. Lately, the coach has been pleased with Smith’s drive and determination. Maybe the team’s recent six-day break helped, or perhaps the line change is the reason for Smith’s surge. Either way, his continued contributions are extremely important to the Bruins’ success.
“We all know what he can do offensively. He’s a pretty gifted player,” Krejci said. “Although we played with Dave [Pastrnak] before, and he’s pretty good offensively as well, but sometimes when you have a little bit more experience on your line, you can tell it’s a little bit easier.”
By easier, Krejci meant from a positioning standpoint, especially on breakouts. Smith knows where to be and how to create time and space for his linemates.
“We’re just trying to find a balance right now and we’ve been winning lately,” Krejci said. “You’ve got to feel good about your game as an individual, so it’s going to be up to him but it’s been fun playing with Smitty.”
Playing with two of the best centers in the league, Smith understands he has different responsibilities when playing with Krejci as opposed to Bergeron.
“Bergy’s more of a straight forward player. Kreech is good at east/west and he’s able to create more plays laterally,” Smith said. “You’ve got to get used to the nifty pockets where you can find him, but Krejci’s great at being able to make plays and slow the game down.”
Add Lucic’s talents to the mix, and that top-line pair has proven to be successful as linemates the past few seasons.
“Both of them together, they’re great playing together. They have so much chemistry together and you notice it,” Smith said. “I just try to find open space for them. Lucic is great at driving the net and making plays. [Krejci] is so good at pulling up and creating nifty moves, so honestly I just try to create space and be an outlet.”
Julien wants consistency in his lineup. This season has been a challenge for him due to the rash of injuries, but with the team getting healthy, he has better options. If Smith can continue to play the way he has the last two games, it could solve one of the team’s issues.
“It’s been working with Smitty, but we’ve got to keep building chemistry. It doesn’t happen overnight,” Krejci said. “You’ve got to create that and communicate a lot on and off the ice and we’ve done that. Hopefully we’re heading in the right direction.”
First, it was Nathan Horton on Krejci’s right side who was a perfect fit. Then it was Jarome Iginla last season. This time around it’s been a work in progress, but Smith’s presence could be an intriguing option for the Bruins.