Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien has shown a greater willingness to shake up his line combinations this season, and perhaps no player has benefited from it more than Brett Connolly.
Connolly began the season on Boston’s third line and was a complete non-factor, managing just one point (an assist) over the Bruins’ first four games. Julien held him out of the lineup entirely in the fifth, making the 23-year-old winger a healthy scratch for a road win over the Arizona Coyotes.
Since then, Connolly has looked like a different player.
Before the Bruins’ sixth game of the season, winger Matt Beleskey suffered an upper body injury, forcing Julien to do some reshuffling. Loui Eriksson bumped down to fill Beleskey’s spot on the second line, and Connolly, who had yet to score a goal in a Bruins uniform, joined the first.
Skating with established veterans in center Patrice Bergeron and left wing Brad Marchand, Connolly almost immediately made an impact, scoring Boston’s first goal in an eventual overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
He did the same two nights later in a win over the New York Islanders, then stretched his goal-scoring streak to three games by lighting the lamp during Tuesday’s 6-0 demolition of the Coyotes. Bergeron and Marchand assisted on all three.
“Those are two guys that are very consistent,” Connolly said Tuesday. “They work hard every shift, and you’ve got to match that every shift. They?re two guys that have been in the league a long time and won. Two guys I obviously look up to, and I want to give them my best game every time I?m on the ice. It?s helped me, for sure, playing with those guys.”
The line change has allowed Connolly, the sixth overall pick in the 2010 NHL Draft, to focus more on finding openings, knowing his new linemates have the skill and vision to find him. So far, it’s worked; Connolly has scored on three of his last five shots.
?He?s really fast. He?s a really good player,” Marchand said. “He?s got all the assets to be a really, really good player in this league. The good thing about him is he?s really quick to get into positions to have a scoring opportunity, and when he?s there, he doesn?t miss very often. I think he?s fit in really well.”
Some additional bits of Bruins news:
— Dennis Seidenberg practiced with the team Thursday for the first time this season, though he reportedly did not take contact.
The veteran defenseman has yet to make his season debut for the Bruins after undergoing back surgery during training camp.
?It was great to see him, and he looked great,” forward Chris Kelly told reporters, via BostonBruins.com. “He looked like he hadn?t missed any time at all.”
— Kevan Miller and Joonas Kemppainen will travel with the team to Florida, Julien told reporters. Both players suffered injuries during Tuesday’s win and reportedly did not practice Thursday.
Both will be game-time decisions for Friday’s matchup with the Panthers, per Julien.
Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images