What that reunion amounts to could go a long way toward ensuring that there are no other slumps for the rest of this season.
With a goal-assist variety pack in Saturday’s 4-1 pasting of the Winnipeg Jets, Paille has now collected four points in as many outings since Dec. 28. The evening prior, he had just returned from a three-week absence due to an injury he sustained Dec. 8 in Toronto.
On the other hand, he also tied a season-worst mark by letting a scoreless skid extend to nine games, matching a previous drought that spanned Oct. 23 through Nov. 9.
His second lengthy hex of 2013-14 had already reached the eight-game mark when he suffered the apparent concussion against the Maple Leafs. Upon his return, a pointless performance, despite a teamwide 5-0 feast at the expense of the Ottawa Senators, nudged it to nine games.
But it only took 24 more hours not only to get back into game rhythm, but also to get back in the goal column. Paille has since taken the past week to kick ample ice chips over any notion of ill effects post-injury.
Indeed, through his actions and words, he is implicitly opting to put a favorable spin on his preceding absence. So, too, is head coach Claude Julien.
Per DJ Bean of WEEI.com, Paille said following his two-pointer against Winnipeg, “It’s been a while since I’ve felt this way. I’m still slightly sore, but I don’t sense any delay or anything like that, so it’s a good thing I guess. For me right now the main focus is to skate and compete like I have been.”
In the same column, Bean quoted Julien as saying, “That’s what rest does to you...it makes a guy come back more energized and obviously he’s been a good player for us since he’s come back.”
Fairly soon, time will tell as to whether unplanned rest will serve as a disguised blessing for another one of Boston’s fourth-line fixtures. That, of course, will begin once fellow fourth-line winger Shawn Thornton is eligible to return as his 15-game suspension expires.
Thornton’s ban, handed down on Dec. 14 but retroactive to Dec. 8 for a Dec. 7 attack on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ Brooks Orpik, has two games to go. He will have served the sentence in its entirety by the time the clock runs out on the Bruins’ visit to Los Angeles this Thursday.
That means that Thornton, Paille and pivot Gregory Campbell could resume collaboration on game action as early as this Saturday in San Jose. Assuming all three are, in fact, in the lineup that night, it will be their first set of shifts together in exactly five weeks.
During that Thornton-free interim, Paille has prolonged his second slump, endured and recovered from his injury and now fostered his first considerable production stretch of the season.
The trick going forward will soon be to get the best out of an older, less flashy partner. Thornton is virtually tied with Jarome Iginla as Boston’s oldest forward, both having turned 36 in July. Campbell, too, has reached his 30s, and neither has much to offer beyond a fourth-line caliber.
Every little bit will help to preserve and build on a hard-earned bevy of confidence, though.
To put his resurgence in a different context, Paille has doubled his 2013-14 goal total and almost doubled his point total in his last four appearances.
Over his first 31 games played on the year, he had a mere three goals and two assists to speak of. At his 35-game mark, he suddenly boasts a 6-3-9 line.
Naturally, no one should expect Paille to retain a point-per-game pace for the balance of the season. But keeping his acetylene stick warm enough to at least stave off a third protracted bout of frostbite could be a critical key to propping up Boston’s offense.
Just as the Bruins will bank on the versatile Paille lending them depth, he will likely depend on the chemistry of the Merlot Line for the bulk of his future productivity.
That assumes there will be no other prolonged absences to break up the traditional troika of Campbell, Paille and Thornton. That, of course, could come in the form of an injury or suspension to one of them or a promotion for Paille by virtue of multiple hits to the top nine.
In addition, just because rest is working to one’s benefit now does not mean it cannot turn to rust the next time. With this year’s schedule featuring an Olympic respite for the less-than-celestial players, beginning in just a little more than a month, a “next time” is guaranteed for the likes of Paille and company.
It will simply be on each of them to accept the erratic flow of average, nonexistent and overwhelming stretches throughout the second half of the regular season. An erratic schedule will be no excuse for erratic performances, especially with minute-munching colleagues figuring to wear down and/or return to Earth at some point.
Paille ought to accept a little extra pressure on that front since momentum is explicitly on his side at this time. That means sustaining and spreading that momentum for the next month’s relatively normal flux, then diligently maintaining that edge while the season is on hold in February.
If he and his Merlot mates can do that, symbiotically benefiting from a shared craving to catch up, then Paille should be in a position to reach a Boston career high. At his current pace, he is eligible to eclipse the 10 goals and 19 points he charged up in 74 outings in 2009-10, his first season with the club.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.
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