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Julien Sticks With Switches on Right Wing

by Caryn Switaj / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON, Mass. - Within the first few minutes of Thursday night's eventual 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Long Island, Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien made swift line changes with his right wingers.

Loui Eriksson joined Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Reilly Smith skated up with Milan Lucic and David Krejci. David Pastrnak slotted alongside Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg.

The Bruins' fourth line stayed intact.

Isles bench boss Jack Capuano was trying to match his top line with John Tavares to Krejci's line, hoping to take advantage of the young Pastrnak and his 12 games of NHL experience heading into the matchup. Tavares is tough for vets to contain, let alone 18-year-olds.

"[Thursday] night, they were trying to exploit a young player, an 18-year-old, by putting their top line against him so I have to be willing to make those kind of changes, sometimes quicker than others," Julien said following the team's Friday practice at Ristuccia Arena. "And at the same time, we got good results from all the guys that moved around."

"I thought Reilly, as you know, had a good game and I thought that Loui played well on Bergy's line, and Dave, as the game went on, seemed to find his legs and his groove there with Carl's line, so wasn't a bad change in my mind."

Smith scored the game's first goal off a strong net drive and a nice feed from Lucic. Both Smith and Lucic recorded three point nights, with a goal and two assists apiece. Smith had not scored since Dec. 29. He now has 10 goals and 16 assists through 49 games this season.

Julien had felt the winger's game coming around. The spark in his play was a welcomed byproduct of the line switches, which stayed put for Friday's practice at least, before the Bruins host the LA Kings at TD Garden on Saturday night.

"I wish I had that [premonition] on all the players," Julien joked.

"Spur of the moment type of thing…but it seemed to work out," said Smith. "But whether it's Krech, Bergy, Looch or March they're all great players and they make plays all over the ice."

Despite Smith's dip in play, the Bruins were streaking before the All-Star Break, winning six of eight heading into the six-day layoff and at one point picking up at least a point in nine straight games.

"It's a team game and if your team wins, you try to contribute as much as you can but at the end of the day we got points and we did a great job during that stretch," said Smith.

In addition to Smith's uptick in play with Lucic and Krejci en route to Thursday night's win, Eriksson slid in well alongside Marchand and Bergeron. He led all forwards with 21:11 in ice time (defensemen range, with Dennis Seidenberg clocking in at 21:52) and recorded a team-high five shots on goal.

"I think he's proven to us that he's very capable of playing in all situations and he's been a good power play guy for us, he's also been great on the penalty kill and reliable in those last minutes," said Julien. "So he's a smart, smart player and I think again, he had a tough start with this team last year with those concussions."

"What we're seeing today, [we] probably would have seen that last year, had he avoided those situations, so he's been a good player for us and the kind of player we like here and as I mentioned, real reliable."

The ripple effect reached Pastrnak, too, with the winger playing 10:33 in the win while forming a line with Kelly and Soderberg.

"I think it's only logical here that you try and play your best players against their best players. You try and keep young players like that away," said Julien of moving Pastrnak off Krejci's line at the start of the game. "Maybe teams that are rebuilding and don't have a choice, they want develop players and they're willing to live with the growing pains, and maybe [they would] be a little bit more tolerant, but we're not in that position right now."

"He's still going to play and he's still going to help us out and, as I said, I thought he was pretty good actually on that line as the game went on, late in the game you saw him pick up his feet and get some opportunities so he'll be good in the situation that we put him in."

"It's hard sometimes to put Krejci's line against top lines when he's got a young player and he has missed some time, so you try and manage it the best way you can."

"As much as I've seen last night, I didn't mind those switches and guys seemed to blend in well with those lines."

Prior to this season, the Bruins' stability in lines had been like clockwork. The lines rarely changed, even mid-game.

"You've seen me Coach with more stability in the past - it doesn't mean that's all I do, you know," said Julien. "I've got to coach to situations and this year is different than the years before etc. etc. So I have no issues with that."

"At this point, you're just trying to go out there, do your best as an individual and count on the guy next to you that he's going to do the same thing," said Krejci, in regards to the changes, and the Bruins' focus on a four-line effort. "That's the approach we're doing, and it's been working so far."

Picking Up Where They Left Off

The Bruins could have easily come out rusty on Thursday night. Prior to Wednesday's practice, they had been off the ice for six days (thanks to the snow storm in Boston) without any skates as a team.

The proved their coach wrong.

"I think the thing that impressed me probably the most was when we came back here for our first practice, being off six days, I really expected our guys to be rusty and you know, botching passes, a little bit sloppy and stuff like that, but it wasn't the case," Julien said. "We moved the puck around well, we seemed sharp, we had good jump, it was a good pace, so that was encouraging."

"And [Thursday] morning another good morning skate, worked on our power play and just seemed to go right into the game, so it was nice to see because they had already played a game, they had their opportunity to get the rest out and probably be better prepared than we were, but our guys I thought reacted well."

The emphasis has been on continuing their confident play prior to the break. Anyone paying attention to the team in the past month has seen a healthy, positive group of players finding their groove.

"We did a great job going into the break. We really stayed focused on four games left, three games left - they're huge points, especially before you have that break," said Smith. "It was great seeing us come out last night and not take a step behind."

"I think we've been sharp ever since we came back and you know, today included, so it's a good stepping stone and it's a lot of positivity in the room right now."

Before Friday night's games, the Bruins had jumped to the first Wild Card playoff spot in the East with 59 points, just one point above the New York Rangers, who have three games in hand. The Florida Panthers are next with 52 points through 46 games. The Detroit Red Wings and Montreal Canadiens each have 65 points, while Tampa Bay sits atop the Atlantic Division (and the Eastern Conference) with 66 points.

The Bruins don't necessarily have to standings-watch right now, though, especially having won seven of their past nine games. At this point, they need to keep focusing on their strong team game, and the points will come.

"That's what we have to do," said Krejci. "We all know, even if we look at the standings, where we're at, but we have to put some wins together and get on a roll and we're not too far away from the top teams, we're just a few points behind."

"So we need to play the same way every night, work hard, outwork the other team and we'll come out on top most nights."

Practice Lineup 1/30

White Jerseys: Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Reilly Smith

Gold: Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Loui Eriksson

Gray: Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - David Pastrnak

Burgundy: Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Craig Cunningham - Jordan Caron

Defense: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Dennis Seidenberg, Adam McQuaid, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski

Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Malcolm Subban*

*Subban joined the team on his first official NHL recall Friday, with Niklas Svedberg being sent to Providence on a conditoining loan to get in games before the Bruins enter their tough stretch of February and March. For more on the day's transactions, check out a Bruins Blog post and the official team press release both on BostonBruins.com and the Bruins Mobile App.

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