Pouliot lends helping hand
Assist a glimpse of what he can offer
From the instant Bruins forward Benoit Pouliot corralled the puck in the second period Saturday night, he was thinking pass first, even though his first motions indicated otherwise.
With a slight fake, Pouliot tried to sell Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec on a shot. But the entire time, Pouliot saw Chris Kelly on the opposite side of the ice with his stick ready for a one-timer.
“The whole way I was thinking to go to Kells over there,’’ Pouliot said after what ended up a 4-2 win over Winnipeg. “He opened up well and got a great one-timer on it.’’
It was Pouliot’s first assist as a Bruin. The way Pouliot and his linemates are playing, the left wing is due for many more helpers.
Opposing coaches are training their sights on the Bruins’ top two lines. Saturday night, Mark Stuart and Dustin Byfuglien saw plenty of ice time against Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton. The day before, Red Wings Dan Cleary, Henrik Zetterberg, and Valtteri Filppula often were matched against Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and Tyler Seguin.
In theory, Boston’s No. 3 line of Pouliot, Kelly, and Rich Peverley should see more bottom-six forwards and third-pairing defensemen. Saturday night, before Kelly’s game-winning goal, that’s exactly how it unfolded.
When Kelly slapped a one-timer past Pavelec at 16:26 of the second, Mark Flood and Arturs Kulda were the defensemen trying to fend off the third line. Because of Peverley’s speed through center ice, Flood and Kulda had sagged back, which gave Pouliot the space to find Kelly for the winner. Between the two of them, Flood and Kulda have 29 games of NHL experience.
“That line is starting to give us some real good shifts,’’ said Bruins coach Claude Julien. “I like it because there’s times where you don’t always want a hard match. When they put their top lines on and we’ve come off a power play, you can feel comfortable about putting that line out there and them still doing the job.’’
Had Julien not been so patient, Pouliot might not have been in position to set up Kelly’s goal. As in previous stops in Minnesota and Montreal, Pouliot has displayed bursts of good play. He is a good skater. He’s willing to slam bodies along the boards. He has an above-average shot.
But Pouliot has offset those qualities with untimely penalties and an absence of hockey sense. Pouliot’s game imploded last Monday against Montreal. In the second period, he retaliated for a hard Alexei Emelin hit by taking a hooking penalty. Later in the second, Pouliot clipped P.K. Subban with a high stick, giving Montreal a four-minute power play. Pouliot was benched for most of the third period.
Julien could have turned to Jordan Caron to replace Pouliot. Caron may not have Pouliot’s wheels or finishing touch, but he is a responsible two-way forward who can kill penalties and play a heavy game.
Instead, Julien stuck with Pouliot. In turn, Pouliot rewarded his coach. The following game, against the Sabres, Pouliot gave the Bruins a 4-3 win by beating Jhonas Enroth high glove in the shootout.
“I’m just trying to stay in the lineup and work hard,’’ Pouliot said. “Pevs and Kells make my job a lot easier. I try to make their job easy, too. But they’re doing a great job for me. I can’t say anything bad. Things are going great right now. It’s a matter of just being consistent every night.’’
The power line of Lucic, Krejci, and Horton has lost its finishing touch. Krejci hasn’t potted a goal in the last nine games. Lucic has gone eight straight games without a goal. Horton hasn’t found the back of the net in the last four games.
Saturday night, the line had its chances. Their best opportunity was early in the second when they had a three-on-one rush against Zach Bogosian. Krejci dished to Horton. But Horton couldn’t get a good piece of the puck on the shot.
Horton and Lucic combined for five of the team’s 10 missed shots.
“We had some great opportunities,’’ Julien said. “We didn’t finish as well as we would have liked to. But at least we created those opportunities.’’
Rise and shine
The Bruins had yesterday off. They will practice this morning at Ristuccia Arena. Once the Celtics resume play at TD Garden, the Bruins will have more Ristuccia sessions. Wilmington practices are free and open to the public . . . The Celtics are scheduled to play their first home game Dec. 30 while the Bruins are on a swing to Phoenix and Dallas. During the NBA lockout, the Bruins were pleased with the Garden ice, which benefited from the absence of changeovers. The sheet may not be as good once basketball resumes . . . Andrew Ference broke a skate blade in the third period Saturday. It was the second time in four games Ference has had a skate malfunction. He needed in-game blade maintenance last Monday at the Bell Centre.