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Bruins get a boost with return of Loui Eriksson

01.12.14 at 2:58 am ET
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Loui Eriksson

Loui Eriksson

Claude Julien‘s lineup is getting closer and closer to back to normal.

The loss of Dennis Seidenberg will be felt for the rest of the season, but the Bruins saw some familiar faces Saturday night as Loui Eriksson returned from a concussion and Shawn Thornton came off his 15-game suspension. Eriksson made an immediate impact, firing a shot from the high slot that bounced off Scott Hannan’s skate to Carl Soderberg in the third period of a scoreless game against the Sharks. Soderberg put it in for the game’s only goal, with Eriksson receiving the primary helper.

It’s obviously been a trying season for the Bruins, who have had seven different players miss at least seven of the team’s 45 games thus far due to injury in addition to Thornton’s suspension. Yet their roster is slowly taking shape again, as Chris Kelly (broken right fibula) is now the last available piece the team is waiting on. He’s expected back sometime this month, but it’s been a tougher recovery for Kelly than he expected.

[Johnny Boychuk also missed Saturday's game, but it was due to a personal matter, so he can be expected to be back in the lineup in short order.]

It’s Kelly’s line that figures to provide the most intrigue once he is ready. With Reilly Smith remaining stable as a table on Patrice Bergeron‘s line, the Bruins elected to play Eriksson on the third line Saturday after Eriksson had played exclusively on Bergeron’s line when healthy this season.

Saturday’s third line consisted of Ryan Spooner between Eriksson and Soderberg. The Soderberg-Kelly-Smith line was very good for the Bruins when it played together, so the B’s can take the coming games to determine just what kind of look they want to get from their third line as they await Kelly’s return. Perhaps surprisingly, the amount of good options leaves them with far better third line prospects than they had a season ago.

The silver lining in this injury-plagued season for the Bruins is that Eriksson is the only top-six player to miss time with an injury this season. Milan Lucic missed Tuesday’s game in Anaheim due to food poisoning, but the top line of David Krejci between Lucic and Jarome Iginla has played together for every other game. Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith have yet to miss a game.

With Thornton back, the Bruins sent Justin Florek to Providence after three strong performances in his first taste of the NHL. Florek factored into Bruins goals in all three games he played, providing a screen for a Torey Krug goal against the Jets last Saturday, assisting Daniel Paille‘s second-period goal on Tuesday and scoring his first career NHL goal Thursday against the Kings. The big 23-year-old likely won’t have a job in Boston without injuries, but he definitely used the tail end of Thornton’s suspension (as well as a Jordan Caron back injury) to show that he can be an NHL fourth-liner.

As for why the Bruins elected to send Florek down rather than Caron, there’s no use in losing a player when you don’t have to. That’s the risk the B’s would have taken had they attempted to assign Caron to Providence, as he would have needed to clear waivers first. Considering the player that stays will be a healthy scratch anyway, it wouldn’t make much sense to lose Caron just so Florek could not play up in Boston.

Despite him surviving the cut this time, keep an eye on Caron going forward, as Spooner might have cemented a spot on the NHL roster by the time Kelly returns, and depending on how many defensemen the B’s have up, the Bruins might be forced to expose Caron to waivers once Kelly’s ready or perhaps sooner. The B’s invested a first-round pick in Caron in 2010, and though he his a strong defensive player who is a valuable penalty killer, his lack of an offensive game could eventually make him expendable.

From offense to defense to backup goaltender, there have been plenty of moving parts with this Bruins roster this season. Through it all they stand second in the Eastern Conference with 60 points, so despite it not always being pretty, they’ve been able to manage.

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