When Carl Soderberg signed a three-year contract with the Bruins last April, Boston fans lit up the airwaves and social media in their excitement to see how the Swedish superstar whom the Bruins had owned the rights to since 2007 would finally fare in Boston.
But Soderberg looked totally lost on the ice in the six games he played for the Bruins at the end of the 2013 season. Through the early parts of the 2013-14 season, Soderberg showed flashes of the elite play he was hyped to possess, but he was mostly a non-factor.
Until now, that is. Soderberg turned his game around in the past week, recording four points in four games, a total which included an assist in the Bruins’ 3-2 overtime win over Carolina Saturday afternoon.
The soft-spoken Swede did not have much to say after Saturday afternoon’s game about his recent abundance of offensive opportunities. He simply agreed that they existed with an “mm-hm” and a sheepish smile.
Soderberg played well throughout the game Saturday. On his first shift, he was part of a prolonged offensive zone attack that he extended with a nice play on his backhand at the top of the zone to keep the puck in. The Bruins developed two more scoring chances because of that play, including a particularly juicy one which saw Soderberg camped out on the doorstep of an empty side of the net before the pass sailed wide of his stick.
On Soderberg’s final shift of the game, he back-checked hard and pushed Patrick Dwyer off the puck in the Bruins’ end to neutralize the beginnings of a 2-on-1 opportunity in overtime. Soderberg dove to sweep the puck away from Dwyer when he regrouped, and Johnny Boychuk collected the loose puck and passed it off to Jarome Iginla to start the sequence that resulted in David Krejci’s game-winning goal.
Then there were all of Soderberg’s offensive opportunities. He put four shots on net on Saturday afternoon, and in the second period, Reilly Smith slipped a rebound off one of those shots past Carolina goaltender Cam Ward to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.
“They’re reading off of each other extremely well,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien of the Smith/Soderberg tandem. “They’re anticipating, so they’re always on top of the puck.
“They know exactly where they want to go and where they’re going to put the puck so they’re on top of it all the time, and the last few games they’ve had a lot of chances and a lot of offensive zone time.”
Some of the chemistry between Smith and Soderberg seems to be a result of increased communication between the two. Smith said he noticed Soderberg has been more comfortable recently thanks to the way Soderberg directs him on the ice.
“He’s becoming a little bit more vocal so I’m starting to hear it when I’m shooting instead of passing, he’s telling me about it,” Smith said. “I think he’s playing great so far.”
Together, Soderberg and Smith have transformed Boston’s third line from a negligible part of the team last season to a hard-working and productive unit for the team this season. Smith is the team’s third leading scorer with 15 points in 23 games and Soderberg is four spots behind him with 10 points in 17 games. Those totals are especially encouraging considering last season’s leading scorer on the third line, Rich Peverley, finished the regular season with just 18 points in 47 games.
“You look at Soderberg and Smith, what they’ve done for us this year in that third line role where last year we were struggling to find a third line, so that’s been great,” Julien said.
With Soderberg now starting to show some consistency with his production over this recent four-game span, it seems like the third line’s strong play could become a regular feature of this Bruins team. If nothing else, the third line’s chemistry and communication can be an example of how other lines on the team should play.
“We still have some lines right now that are kind of waiting to see what the puck carrier is going to do with it,” Julien said. “You hope that with time, we can get that same level as that third line is right now of anticipating well.”