Boston Bruins assistant coach Geoff Ward sat in for Claude Julien on Monday and fielded questions from the media after B’s practice at TD Garden. Ward was asked about winger Loui Eriksson’s strong showing at the 2014 Winter Olympics and if that performance could jump-start Eriksson upon his return to the Bruins.
“This game’s an awful lot about confidence,” Ward said. “You could see that the confidence in his game was getting better with every game at the Olympics. So the fact that he’s come off of a real good tournament I think is going to do well for him back here, and hopefully he can springboard that into a last real solid 25 games and then playoffs.”
Eriksson, who scored a goal and added two assists for Sweden in the Olympics, certainly looked like a player with a lot of confidence in the first of those remaining games Wednesday in Buffalo. Despite playing just three days after taking part in the gold medal game in Sochi, Eriksson was one of the best Bruins on the ice in Boston’s eventual 5-4 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres.
Eriksson and teammates Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg were perhaps the Bruins’ best line the entire night. Eriksson tied for a team-high five shots on goal and was especially effective in the first two periods. He was strong on the forecheck, which paid off in the first period, when that third line had an incredible shift. The line pinned the Sabres deep in their own zone for what seemed like five minutes before Kelly eventually potted Boston’s first goal of the game. Eriksson didn’t get a point on the play, but he played a big role in helping to keep the puck in the zone.
The Swedish winger probably should have found the score sheet in the second period when he put himself in position to score. Eriksson slipped in behind the Buffalo defense, and Milan Lucic shoveled a pass through the slot. Unfortunately for Eriksson and the Bruins, Buffalo goalie Jhonas Enroth went post to post and made a sprawling pad save — his best stop of the night — to deny Eriksson what would have been his seventh goal of the season.
Eriksson did make one big mistake, though. He made an errant pass in the Buffalo end in overtime that went skidding out of the zone, which is where Matt D’Agostini beat Zdeno Chara to the puck, leading to D’Agostini’s game-winner. It was an unfortunate way to end what was a real strong night for Eriksson.
Yet there’s certainly reason to believe Eriksson will keep the positives coming. He definitely seems to be playing with that ever-important confidence, and staying healthy will be key. It’s worth noting, too, that Eriksson’s 8.5 shooting percentage is a solid 4 percentage points below his career average of 13.9 percent. That doesn’t necessarily mean it will even out, but it does seem to indicate he’ll start finding the back of the net more often.
The Eriksson line certainly seems to have found some chemistry with the return of Kelly along with Soderberg’s presence. If a healthy and confident Eriksson can continue to build on his recent strong performance, he and his line will be dangerous weapons for the Bruins.
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