It isn’t that the Ryan Spooner experiment isn’t working, or that the Matt Fraser experiment isn’t working; the Ryan Spooner and Matt Fraser experiment isn’t working.
The two young forwards enjoyed success playing together on Providence’s first line last season, but struggled to do much for Boston when called up for third-line duty in the middle of the season. The first three games of this season, in which Spooner centered Milan Lucic and Fraser, were all the Bruins needed to see before pulling the plug. Claude Julien flipped Spooner and second-line left wing Chris Kelly late in Saturday’s loss to the Capitals, and, by the looks of Sunday’s practice, has now taken Fraser out of the lineup.
Spooner skates. Fraser shoots. Yet when they play together, they do neither. Through three games, Fraser has just one shot on goal.
Whatever the cause of it may be (Spooner says it’s mental) their poor start to the season has played a part in Sunday’s lineup shakeup. With Seth Griffith skating with David Krejci and Lucic Sunday and Patrice Bergeron‘s line remaining unchanged, Spooner was demoted to the fourth line and Fraser was bounced from the lineup. Spooner centered Daniel Paille and Jordan Caron, the latter of whom is expected to replace Bobby Robins.
Both Spooner and Fraser are clearly lacking confidence right now, with Fraser serving as his harshest critic.
“At the end of the day, we’re all good players,” Fraser said. “You’ve got to make the coach put you on the ice. For me, it was probably an easy decision for him to say, ‘No. Fraz doesn’t deserve to go.’ It’s hard to look in the mirror and recognize that and say, ‘Yeah. I don’t deserve to be in the lineup.’ That alone is very frustrating.”
Though Fraser is down on himself at the moment, it’s hard to see him staying out of the lineup for long. He’s a left wing playing the right side, which obviously doesn’t help, but his shot and goal-scoring prowess can be lethal if utilized properly.
Fraser’s success has come on the left side. He played there in the AHL, and his struggles as Spooner’s linemate at the NHL left season came on the right side. When he was recalled during the second round of the playoffs to play with Carl Soderberg and Loui Eriksson, he was on the left and was good.
There isn’t a left wing spot for Fraser to play, however. Brad Marchand and Milan Lucic have cemented their spots on the first two lines, while Kelly holds down the spot that Fraser played last postseason. Paille is playing left wing on the fourth line. The Bruins need right wings, and Fraser insists he can do the job. The problem, he says, is his execution.
“At the end of the day, there’s all the Xs and Os you want, but if you’re not prepared to work hard enough to get to those spots, you’re not prepared to work in the offensive zone to get my shot off, it’s useless,” he said. “It doesn’t matter. I can make up all the excuses in the world about my play or anything like that, but at the end of the day it falls on my shoulders. There’s no one that can correct it but me.”
As for Spooner, he can count himself fortunate that he survived Sunday’s lineup shakeup. Fourth-line center Craig Cunningham was sent down, but the B’s could have kept him and demoted Spooner.
“I’m not really happy with myself and how I’ve been playing,” Spooner said Sunday.
Spooner’s problem last season was that he didn’t shoot or take pucks to the net. So this summer, he shot 200-300 pucks a day to gain confidence in his shot.
Just three games into the season, Spooner admits he’s fallen back into his old habits, and he plans to better apply his offseason work going forward.
“I still need to shoot more. I’ve had some chances where I should have gone to the net. It’s just how I am. I’ve always been a pass-first kind of guy,” Spooner said. “I think for me, it’s just a mental thing. I’ve got to put it in the back of my mind to shoot more. It’s the only way you can score.”