BOSTON — For the last week or so, Ryan Spooner has been a man on the move.
On Tuesday, the 23-year-old center wrapped up his 10-game stint as David Krejci’s replacement on the Bruins’ second line. Two days later, he was back in his usual spot: centering Boston’s third line between Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes.
Then, on Saturday night, Bruins coach Claude Julien decided to throw everyone for a loop by positioning Spooner at right wing on the team’s top line — a role he’d never before filled in his NHL career.
How did it work out? Overall, not too bad.
Spooner meshed well with top-line mainstays Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, and the trio combined to generate 11 of the Bruins’ 34 shots on net in a 3-2 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets. They also teamed up to open the scoring, with Spooner feeding Marchand in front for the winger’s team-leading 19th goal (and his fourth in as many games).
“He looked great,” Bergeron said of his new linemate. “He was moving his feet well. He was creating a lot, making some great plays with his smarts and his vision, and we were trying to keep playing the way that we usually play, me and Marchy, and he was feeling really well from it.”
The lineup change wasn’t a slam dunk, though. With Spooner playing up and Joonas Kemppainen filling his spot on the third line, Boston’s bottom six struggled to produce any semblance of offense. The third and fourth lines managed just four total shots on goal in the game, and the Bruins as a team struggled to put away a Blue Jackets squad that owns the worst record in the NHL.
Questioned about the change after the game, Julien said he simply was trying out something new.
“It was a new experience for (Spooner) to play on the right side,” Julien said, later noting that Spooner did make a cameo at third-line left wing earlier this season. “Just had to look at our situation and try to put some skill there with (Bergeron) and see how that would work.
“But at the end of the day, he?s still a centerman. And, as you know, so far this year we?ve been doing a lot of experimenting with certain things against certain teams. Certainly looking to hopefully get some stability here down the road, but right now we?re just looking at our options.”
Spooner’s position change also resulted in a night off for Brett Connolly, who’s been Marchand and Bergeron’s most frequent right wing this season. Connolly is mired in a brutal scoring slump — his only goal in his last 23 games was an empty-netter — but Julien said Saturday’s lineup shouldn’t be viewed as an indictment on the struggling winger.
“Spoons is not on the wing because Connolly?s not doing the job,” the coach said. “We just put some guys in the lineup. Besides the goal-scoring, Connolly hasn?t been that bad. Even Bergy and March appreciate him on that line because he?s big, he?s strong, he can make plays.
“He?s been a little bit snake-bitten right now as far as goal scoring. But there are guys in and out and we?re trying to find different things, so tonight was his night to sit out. But it doesn?t mean we?re totally unhappy with him. There?s certain things we?d like to see from him, but his game isn?t a game that?s really struggling right now.”
So, it certainly does not sound like Spooner has snatched Connolly’s spot from him. But if Julien chooses to give him some more ice time on the wing, he won’t complain.
“It’s his job,” said Spooner, who has 13 points in his last 12 games. “If he wants to keep me on the wing, then that’s fine with me. If he wants to move me back (to center), then that’s his call, too. I don’t really say much. I just do what he wants me to, and I just go out there and play.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images