Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien held Brett Connolly out of Saturday night’s game as a healthy scratch, but afterward, he made one point very clear: He’s not close to giving up on the slumping winger, subpar statistics be darned.
“It doesn’t mean we’re totally unhappy with him,” Julien said after the Bruins had to battle to knock off the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets in a shootout. “There’s certain things we’d like to see from him, but his game isn’t a game that’s really struggling right now.”
The coach backed up those comments by reinserting Connolly into the lineup Monday night in Philadelphia, and Connolly rewarded him by delivering in the game’s most important moment.
Connolly tipped a Zdeno Chara shot past Flyers goalie Michal Neuvirth with 1:54 remaining in the third period to give the Bruins to a 3-2 win and allay fears of another late-game letdown at the Wells Fargo Center.
“Just trying to get to the net,” Connolly told NESN rinkside reporter Sarah Davis after the game. “I’ve been trying to do that for a while now, and one finally pays off. So, it’s good to see that one go in. Big game for us, and we were able to come away with two points.”
Connolly’s goal was his first of the non-empty-net variety since Nov. 27, meaning he’d gone without one in 23 consecutive games. And before that, he’d slogged through an 11-game goal-less stretch after tallying four in a five-game span way back in late October.
To summarize, that’s two goals in 35 games entering Monday — not a stat line any NHL forward would want his name attached to.
Yet despite these poor scoring totals, the Bruins sounded pleased with what Connolly was bringing to the table, especially considering that he frequently plays alongside top scorers Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand on Boston’s first line.
“It was a great goal,” Bergeron told reporters Monday night, as aired on “Bruins Overtime LIVE.” “He was close a few times in the last few games, and he was playing well, and it’s great to see him getting rewarded like that. And it was a big goal — a game-winner like that at the end of the game. You can’t ask for anything better from him.”
Finding a consistent right wing for Bergeron and Marchand has been an issue for the Bruins this season. Connolly has been their most common linemate, but close to a half-dozen other B’s forwards also have filled that role at one point or another through the team’s first 48 games.
A nice little hot streak, like the one that followed Connolly’s first healthy scratch this season, would go a long way toward solidifying his spot.
“(They’re) two good players,” Connolly told Davis. “Everybody knows how good they are. Two guys that are very passionate about being consistent, and two guys that are very hard on me to be good every night. It’s fun playing with them. Obviously, Bergy is so good on faceoffs, so good in his own end and all around a great player, so it’s good playing with them.
“I thought we were pretty good (Monday night), and we can build on that.”
Thumbnail photo via Eric Hartline/USA TODAY Sports Images