Can Bruins RWs Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith Build On Their Recent Turnarounds?

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Can Bruins RWs Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith Build On Their Recent Turnarounds?
Scott Audette/Getty Images

The common threads between Boston Bruins wingers Loui Eriksson and Reilly Smith are snowballing, even as spring asserts itself in New England.

The two imports from Dallas last summer snapped identical 10-game goalscoring droughts Tuesday night. Both skids began and ended with each player tuning the mesh against the Minnesota Wild, first on March 17 and again on Tuesday.

In Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout falter at the Xcel Energy Center, Eriksson and Smith halted their hexes with a power-play conversion.

Smith drew a 1-1 knot unassisted at the three-minute mark of the opening frame with a 57-foot slapper from the straightaway point. Eriksson granted the Bruins a temporary 3-2 edge by deflecting Gregory Campbell’s tip with 3:42 to spare in the second.

For both, this comes on the heels of patient, poised door-knocking at the tail-end of a slump in a key column.

Per Amalie Benjamin of the Boston Globe, center Patrice Bergeron asserted that Smith’s strike was a delayed reward for his linemate. Benjamin quoted Bergeron as follows in her Wednesday morning notebook:

I think he’s been getting back to playing his game more than just the last game [against the Flyers], the last few games. It’s one of those things that . . . younger guys go through during a year, that they have I guess ups and downs and I think he’s handled it really well.

The highlight reel and the play-by-play transcripts point to Eriksson likewise replenishing his form leading up to his Tuesday tally. He filled Jarome Iginla’s vacancy on the top line last Saturday against Philadelphia and charged up a playmaker hat trick.

Besides the assists, several close shaves with his own shots entitled Eriksson to a layer of self-assurance that afternoon. For instance, he unleashed a pair of wristers from within 15 feet of the net. The second stab created a rebound for eventual scorer David Krejci at 15:56 of the first period.

Michael Dwyer

Working with Milan Lucic and Carl Soderberg, while Krejci received a night off Tuesday, he cultivated more of the same, albeit with fewer points.

In the seventh minute of the opening frame, he carried the puck across neutral ice and continued to the left of the Minnesota crease. He absorbed a diagonal return feed from Lucic and launched a bid from along the goal line.

The pass was not the most smoothly executed and/or received, and Wild forward Zach Parise blocked the shot. But the determination on Eriksson’s part was self-evident throughout the play.

Ditto when he logged a 12-foot backhand bid at the 8:41 mark of the second stanza, less than eight minutes before his goal. 

His position at the time of that strike, namely the netminder’s front porch, came as little surprise due to the preceding trend. That dose of gratification serves to embolden the notion that Eriksson’s recent habits are an ideal way to create quality looks.

As long as those looks translate to a production rate in accordance with his middle-line caliber, the Bruins cannot complain.

Whether it was acclimating to Boston’s system or recovering from repeat concussions, Eriksson had confronted a few roadblocks in 2013-14. The cumulative results have been 21 missed games and an underwhelming scoring log of 9-26-35 in 58 appearances.

But if he can permanently corral some confidence going into next week’s playoffs, he can leave that data to dump in the Zamboni snow.

For the Bruins as a whole, Eriksson’s off-and-on struggles have generally held minimal sway this season. One of the reasons for that was Smith’s surprise surge for the better part of the fall and winter. 

The second-year NHL regular, who turned 23 last week, had amassed 18 goals and 40 points by Jan. 28. That start doubtlessly spearheaded the fans’ collective decision to bestow him with the team’s 2013-14 Seventh Player Award.

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images

Smith’s production, particularly in the goal column, has waned over the last two calendar months. Since the end of January, he has charged up the two markers against Minnesota and sprinkled another eight assists on his game log.

Based on an experiential discrepancy, Smith’s long-term redress for the balance of this season is less certain than that of the 28-year-old Eriksson. Next week will mark his Stanley Cup playoff debut, whereas Eriksson played 22 games in past tournaments with the Dallas Stars.

That does not mean anybody should resign him to a crumble under growing pains this spring. Given where Smith was entering this week, a goal is a goal and therefore a potential foundation for a timely resurgence.

As Mike Cole of nesn.com interpreted Tuesday's skid-snapper: 

That goal came with a stroke of luck as Smith’s shot from the high slot deflected twice before getting past Wild goalie Ilya Bryzgalov. But maybe that’s exactly what Smith needs right now. ... Getting him going should be a big focus in the final games of the season.

A power-play conversion from the blue line and through a forest of bodies is a start. Following the likes of Eriksson to consistently create chances for oneself and one’s associates would be a continuation.

Throw that in with Bergeron’s take, as well as head coach Claude Julien’s, in the aforementioned Benjamin’s write-up. Smith can still coalesce with the likes of Bergeron and Brad Marchand to form a reliable unit, just as they were three-plus months ago.

Or depending on how the strike force takes shape upon transitioning to the playoffs, Smith and Eriksson may flip-flop back to their preseason positions. That is, Eriksson may remain a top-sixer while Smith serves as a depth forward.

Again, the difference in seasoning could come into play and break open that possibility, although chemistry should take priority as always.

Regardless of assignments, linemates and minutes, Eriksson and Smith both have an opportunity to capture and build on a timely psychological spark. How they maintain that will be crucial to delivering fresh specimens of competitive prowess to the reigning Eastern Conference champions.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com.

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