October 9, 2011

Pouliot makes most of ice time in Bruins debut

by Andrew Merritt

Winger Benoit Pouliot made his Bruins debut on Saturday, skating on the third line alongside Chris Kelly and Tyler Seguin. (Getty)

BOSTON -- If there’s one perfect way to start your career as a Boston Bruin, it’s by throwing a hit that gets the hometown crowd cheering.

Benoit Pouliot’s first measurable contribution to his new team came 1:47 into Saturday night’s win over Tampa Bay, when he watched the Lightning’s Brett Clark poke a Bruins dump-in from behind the net, and stapled the defenseman to the boards.

“I think it helped the line, the team overall,” he said after the Bruins’ convincing 4-1 win. “I just tried to get some momentum right off the bat, and it went well. We dominated them in the first, and they had nothing going on after that. Not saying that’s why we won the game, but it helps a little bit, obviously.”

Helping the team is something Pouliot didn’t have a chance to do in the Bruins’ opener, as he was wearing a suit and tie instead of the black and gold for Thursday night’s game. Scratched in favor of Jordan Caron, Pouliot had the opportunity to watch and, most importantly, learn.

“I looked from upstairs, and it was just about knowing about the breakouts and stuff, more system-wise,” he said. “I asked a lot of questions before the game, still got a lot to ask.”

It was an inauspicious way for Pouliot to start his tenure in Boston, having come to the Bruins in July after a year and a half with rival Montreal. A rangy forward with good size (6-3, 199) and a little bit of scoring touch, Pouliot is one of the few new pieces of the Bruins’ roster.

With Caron apparently on the edge of becoming a regular for the B’s, Pouliot’s spot isn’t exactly written in permanent marker on the lineup sheet. He had some success in the preseason, but it became clear that he still had something to prove as the Bruins opened their Stanley Cup title defense.

Sitting the opener out seems to have given the 25-year-old Alfred, Ont., native a little sturdier grasp of how things work on Causeway Street, at least if Saturday night is any indication. The sample size was somewhat small, as Pouliot finished with 7:30 of ice time over 13 shifts, but coach Claude Julien was happy with the returns.

 “Everybody seemed to like him tonight for the amount of ice he got,” Julien said. “I thought his energy, he competed hard, he made some good things happen, and I like the direction he took tonight. He’s certainly continuing to show us that as he gets more comfortable, he seems to be bringing a little bit more.”

What he didn’t make was any big mistakes, and it was obvious early on that he jelled with linemates Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly. With 43 seconds left in the first, he watched Kelly and Seguin battle for a puck below the Tampa Bay goal line, and sensed an opportunity, cutting to the net as Seguin pried the puck loose.

Pouliot’s positioning and sense of timing were just about perfect. The shot wasn’t, and Tampa Bay goalkeeper Mathieu Garon swallowed it up.

“Yeah, I should have had that, but I think Segs brought it in front a couple times, and Kells too, it’s just a matter of bearing down and capitalizing on those chances.”

Pouliot had the day to prepare, having been told Saturday morning of his insertion in the lineup. He looked ready from shift No. 1, and seemed to progress as the game went along.

“Being in the game, you learn way faster than not playing. You make mistakes, and that’s fine, you just don’t want to do it twice in a game. You learn from it. Today was a learning experience for the team, and I just gotta keep that going.”

The on-ice portion is a work in progress, but Julien said that for Pouliot and fellow newcomer Joe Corvo, the off-ice assimilation has been very smooth.

“I think the transition in the dressing room has been great. The transition on the ice is something that takes a little bit more time, and you’ve got to give them that opportunity to both of those guys,” Julien said. “They’re well-accepted and well-liked, and talking to them, they really like our dressing room as well.”

Incidentally, as the final horn sounded and the Standells started blaring over the TD Garden speakers, the puck just happened to find itself attached to Pouliot’s stick.

A milestone moment between friends

Tim Thomas has watched Martin St. Louis score plenty of goals, when you include the four years they played together at the University of Vermont and the five years they’ve both been in the NHL.

Saturday night, Thomas watched St. Louis score his 300th NHL goal. In fact, he got a real good look at it as it sailed over his right shoulder.

St. Louis took a clever poke from Vinny Lecavalier all the way from the red line to Thomas’ lap, untouched, and fired a wrist shot over Thomas’ glove hand with 3:20 gone in the second period for Tampa Bay’s only goal.

Thomas may not have wanted to give up the goal, but he was ultimately OK with being a part of St. Louis’ milestone.

“I’m glad. I’m actually happy now because I wasn’t happy when he scored,” he said. “But I’m sure he’ll remember that one.”

Unsapped energy

The opener brought some sweet surprises before the puck dropped Thursday night, but the 2-1 loss left a sour aftertaste for the Bruins and their fans.

Though the team introductions are now a little snazzier, with the players taking the ice through an illuminated curtain of fog, Saturday’s game had less of the glitz and hoopla, and it seems no coincidence that the Bruins were sharper throughout than they’d been Thursday.

“I think we were pretty prepared the other night, we just maybe didn’t have the energy to keep up … maybe we didn’t have the emotional energy to keep it up for the whole night because so much emotional energy was used up in the pregame,” Thomas said. “I’m not making excuses, I do think the other night we were prepared, we just didn’t have the energy to carry out everything we wanted to do. So maybe that was the difference tonight.”