BOSTON — It seems like just yesterday Benoit Pouliot was often wondering whether he'd find himself in head coach Claude Julien's lineup on any given night. Now, he's being relied on to fill the void left by winger Brad Marchand on Boston's second line.
If what we've seen of late is any indication, the Bruins should manage just fine.
With Marchand receiving a five-game suspension on Monday as a result of his hit on Canucks defenseman Sami Salo during Saturday's Stanley Cup rematch with Vancouver, Julien was forced to shuffle his lines a bit. As a result, Pouliot, who was a healthy scratch three times earlier this season, moved up to Marchand's spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin.
The reasoning was simple. Pouliot entered Tuesday's showdown with the Jets having recorded seven points in his last nine games. That includes four goals — including a string of three straight games with a goal from Dec. 17 to Dec. 23 — and a three-assist effort against Calgary on Thursday night.
Marchand might be small in stature, but his absence is no small hole for the B's to fill. Given Pouliot's ever-improving play, though, Brendan Shanahan's heavy-handed verdict on Marchand is a bit easier to swallow.
"Well, he's a good skater. He doesn't always look elegant, I guess, but he can skate, and he's pretty shifty. Maybe because of the way he skates, he's hard to predict, he really is. But he does a good job, like I keep saying about, on the forecheck," Julien said of Pouliot following the Bruins' 5-3 cooling of the Jets on Tuesday. "He comes at you, and you don't know what angle he's going to be coming at you, and he's got a good stick."
Pouliot used said stick to notch Boston's fifth and final goal of the game in what turned out to be a lopsided third period. Prior to that power-play tally, which came while cleaning up some garbage in front of the net, Pouliot hadn't really been much a factor in the contest. But by displaying the same resiliency that he did when he was far from a cog in the Boston lineup, Pouliot was able to get on the score sheet, and more importantly, help secure the win.
With Marchand out for four more games, the Bruins will need a bit more of that from the 25-year-old Pouliot. And while his style doesn't exactly mirror that of a notable agitator like Marchand, he does bring a whole new dynamic to Boston's second line.
"His speed is good, and obviously he scores a goal tonight because he's in front of the net, and he's not afraid to go to those areas," Julien said of Pouliot. "He's got good size, he's got good speed, and, again, he doesn't seem to have any fear. The one thing I know is that he feels very comfortable with this group of guys, that he knows everybody's got everybody's back, so wherever he has to go. I think he's developed that confidence as we've moved on here this year."
Rookie Tyler Seguin also spoke glowingly of Pouliot's speed, which could make for an interesting string of games as the two team up on a line centered by Bergeron, who leads the Bruins with 25 assists.
"I think Pouliot's got tremendous speed. I think he's one of the fastest guys on our team, if not they fastest, so I think that let's him play really with any line, Seguin said. "He's got good vision out there. I mean he finds guy pretty easily, and he's a pretty easy guy to play with. Obviously, you can't replace a guy like Marchy [Marchand], but he's definitely there when we need him to."
Marchand will have his spot back when the B's hook up with the Devils next Thursday. And he's integral part of the Bruins' success.
Until then, though, Pouliot should be able to keep the seat warm just fine, which he proved once again on Tuesday night.