- Joe McDonald, ESPN Staff Writer
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BOSTON -- When training camp began for the Boston Bruins a lot of attention was focused on the team’s third line.
Bruins coach Claude Julien knew exactly how his top two lines and the fourth line would be constructed, but it was the third unit where there were questions. In the first two games, the trio of center Chris Kelly and wingers Jordan Caron and Reilly Smith has been impressive.
“You always hope things click quickly, but I’ve played with Jordan before, so I know what he’s all about. He works hard and plays the game north to south and you try to help guys to their assets and all three of us are working well together,” Kelly said.
On Saturday, that line helped the Bruins to a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden. Caron and Smith combined on a nifty goal at 7:58 of the second period to give Boston a 3-1 lead. Smith collected the puck in the slot and showed great poise before passing the puck to Caron, who beat Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard.
“It was a great pass,” Caron said. “He really took his time there. He could have shot it himself and he made a really smart play to slide it back door.”
Caron has played well the first two games of the season. It’s evident he’s playing with confidence. He’s going to the net more and creating quality scoring chances. During Thursday’s 3-1 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning in the season opener, Caron should have been awarded a goal but it was declined when the referee lost sight of the puck and blew the play dead.
It’s important for Caron to have early success if he wants to remain in the lineup. As the preseason was coming to an end, it seemed he would be the odd-man out as the healthy scratch to start the season with fellow forward Carl Soderberg getting the chance to play on the third line. But in the preseason finale, Soderberg suffered an ankle injury and remains sidelined.
Caron understands he has to take advantage of this opportunity now that he’s in the lineup.
“I want to keep that spot and keep playing and the ice time that goes with it,” he said. “Hopefully it’s going to keep going the same way.
“Especially early in the season like this. It’s going to be a long season but you have to make sure to focus every game and take the positive from every game you play. When it’s not going the way you want it to, you’ve just need to look forward and that’s what I’m trying to do right now.”
The Bruins expect their top two lines to produce, but this team plays better when it can roll four consistent lines. Julien’s ability to do that helps the Bruins wear down the opposition.
When Boston won the Stanley Cup in 2011, its third line of Kelly, Rich Peverley and Michael Ryder was a key component to the team’s success. Last season, however, the third unit was a revolving door of disappointment. It never found consistency as Julien tinkered with many different combinations. It also didn’t help when Kelly broke his leg and missed 14 games in March and April.
“Last year, yeah, you’re trying to find chemistry and trying to find results a lot of time, and for whatever reason they didn’t always happen. For the first two games this season we’ve all been working together and helping one another in all three zones,” Kelly said.