Milan gone: Ryan Spooner knows he must carry third line

DJ Bean
December 12, 2015 - 11:17 am
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Early in the season, it was about how Ryan Spooner wasn'€™t getting points on the power play. Despite manning the half-wall well on the league'€™s best power play unit, just one of Spooner'€™s six points came on the man advantage. More recently, Spooner'€™s issue was finding points in even-strength play, as the skilled center endured a 15-game stretch without an even-strength point before registering three (two goals, one assist) in the last two games. In looking at differences between this season and Spooner'€™s highly productive stretch run last season, perhaps none is bigger than the fact that Spooner has seen a revolving door of linemates after playing with the same two players night in, night out late last season. Thirteen of Spooner'€™s 18 points in 22 games after his late-February callup last season came in even-strength play, which saw him skating on a cleverly used line with Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak. Claude Julien formed the line by replacing the injured center (David Krejci) of his team'€™s second line with Spooner and using it as a third line while Carl Soderberg'€™s line took on the tougher assignments. Between his comfort level with his linemates over time and his usage, Spooner found 5-on-5 success that he hasn'€™t been able to consistently obtain this season. This season, Spooner has had a number of different linemates, with Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Matt Beleksey, Brad Marchand, Joonas Kemppainen and Landon Ferraro. Some of those players are very good, but Spooner admitted that he feels it takes him eight to 10 games before he feels fully comfortable with a linemate, something he didn'€™t have to worry about by the middle of March last season. "It'€™s definitely a change," Spooner admitted. "You get used to playing with the same guys. Even last year, there were some games where we got hemmed in our own end a lot, but I feel like as a line we were, most of the games, at least creating chances. There'€™s been some games this year where we haven'€™t really created enough. That'€™s something that we need to work on and I feel like it'€™s getting a lot better, but it definitely helps to stay with the same guys and get used to what they like to do and where they like to go and stuff." Claude Julien doesn'€™t feel that Spooner'€™s changing linemates have hindered him in even-strength play, but he likes what he'€™s seen from the young forward of late. "To be honest with you, he'€™s had some good players," Julien said. "Even Connolly was on that line. Hayes was on that line. Beleskey played with him at one point, so he'€™s had good players. I think it'€™s always been about when Ryan is on his game and he'€™s skating and he gets involved, he can be a guy on that line that really drives that line more or less and can be the leader on that line because he'€™s got all kinds of skill and qualities in his game, so when you see him play like he did [Saturday], that'€™s the impact that he can have." Spooner agrees with Julien on leading the third line. Last season, his line was great because Milan Lucic was playing against scrubs. Lucic is long gone and Spooner is still coming into his own as a player. There'€™s no better way for the 23-year-old to do that than by providing the B'€™s with the third-line center they envisioned when they showed Soderberg the door in the offseason. "Last year, we were against third and fourth lines and Looch was used to playing against first and second lines, so he was great to play with," Spooner said. "He was great in front of the net. It definitely helped having him out there with us. This year, it'€™s definitely something that I need to take it upon myself to be I guess more of a leader on that line and skate and use my speed and just help out."

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