Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said following Monday’s optional pregame skate at TD Garden that defenseman Torey Krug — out nearly two weeks due to a broken finger — will be a game-time decision for the matchup against New Jersey.
Even if Krug isn’t able to go, though, Julien remains confident that the defensemen who have filled in admirably in the absence of Krug, Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller will continue to get the job done.
“I think they just have to play their game and, to be honest with you, we’ve handled all our D’s that are playing right now the same way,” Julien said. “We haven’t asked our veterans to do more and we haven’t asked our young defensemen to do more or do less. We just encourage them to play their game. When we have meetings, sometimes about the defensemen, it’s everybody involved, and everybody’s having those same responsibilities as the other, whether it’s about moving the puck and how well we want it to move.
“It’s not about the veterans doing it more or better; it’s about everybody doing it well. So we’ve really taken that group as one and dealt with it that way, and I think it’s great for everybody. You’re not asking the veterans to carry the load even though they know that they’re relied on a little bit more, but we're also not treating the young players as if they’re not good enough to be here.
“They should be good enough to do the same thing as the veterans. So I think treating them equally is probably the best approach we can take with them.”
Tuesday marks the two-week anniversary of Krug’s injury. It was announced on Sunday that David Warsofsky, who has played in three games since Krug went down, will miss 2-4 weeks with a groin strain. Chara (torn posterior cruciate ligament) has been out since Oct. 23, and Miller (dislocated shoulder) has been out since Oct. 18.
As good as it was to see Krug begin skating with the group last Friday, it was just as good to see Miller participate in the optional pregame skate on Monday morning, even if there is no update on when he could return to the lineup.
“He’s skating with us because he can,” Julien said. “But he’s not involved in any physical contact yet.”
As difficult as it might be to come to the rink every day and not know whether they will be suiting up when the puck drops that night, defensemen like Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman have impressed both the coaching staff and their teammates with their ability to handle the pressure and perform during games.
Perhaps it’s because they have been held just as accountable as the veterans. Perhaps it’s because they have taken this adventure one game at a time. Whatever they are doing, though, it’s working.
“I think these guys have done great job, considering the minimal amount of games they’ve played [prior],” said Adam McQuaid, one of Boston's few veterans left standing. “[They] haven’t looked like they’ve missed a beat. I don’t know; I think that remarks like what Claude was saying — we’re all just talking and communicating. The young guys are comfortable talking to the older guys, and vice versa, and we’re trying to build that relationship there where everyone’s comfortable with one another. So I think that’s important.”
After Sunday’s practice at TD Garden, Julien said it is up to each individual player to take advantage of the opportunity to get into a game when it arrives; Daniel Paille seconded that notion on Monday. That was the standard to which he held himself accountable when he was trying to become a regular in Buffalo’s lineup from 2005-07.
“I wanted to make the best of every opportunity I could, and whether it was five minutes or 10 minutes or whatever, you want to do everything you could to make sure you stayed in the lineup,” he said. “That’s a big opportunity for these guys to do that, and I think for the most part, they’ve played very solid."
Now, he takes it upon himself to serve as a resource for those young players if they need it.
“Especially coming into the lineup, I don’t think anybody knows how difficult that is to do, but I think when the guys do that, they do a good job," he said. "We have to help them out because they’re not in the game as much as some of the other guys, so we have to make sure that if there’s something they’re not sure of, we’ve got to help them out.”
In the situation the Bruins face right now — when they are not only missing some key players on the back end, but are also missing David Krejci, who is still day-to-day with an undisclosed injury and will be out on Monday against New Jersey — it is important for every player to continue to produce and give Julien the option of rolling all four lines, night in and night out.
“We’re missing some [players due to] injuries; we end up playing a little bit more with four lines,” Paille said. “With David out — and to that point, with Zee [out] — when players like that [are out], that are important, everyone seems to buy in a little bit more defensively and realize that we have a lot more to do.”
And hopefully, when those key players return to the lineup, the B’s will continue to play the same way they have over the course of the four-game winning streak they are currently riding.
“We should be able to do that when they’re in the lineup and when they come back,” Paille said. “We’re prepping ourselves for when they’re back in the lineup.”
Preparing for a Tough Matchup
The Bruins and the Devils seem to be at opposite ends of the hockey spectrum at the moment, but even so, Boston is readying itself to face a tough opponent at the Garden on Monday night.
The Devils (6-6-2) are currently riding a three-game losing streak, but they always seem to bring their best when facing Boston. They took two of three from the Bruins last year, and Boston expects to see the same resilient opponent this season.
“Especially…on the road, they do a really good job, for the most part, in our building, playing a tight game,” Paille said. “It makes it a little bit harder for us to score, but we definitely want to build on our winning streak here as well as our homestand. We didn’t start off too well at home, but these last four or five games have been more important in realizing that we need those points before we start making road trips.”
The B’s are about to embark on a stretch of three games in four nights, and given that the next two are on the road — at Toronto on Wednesday and at Montreal on Thursday — the importance of getting two points at home against this New Jersey team becomes all the more pronounced.
“They’ve always been a team that’s been strong on their sticks and strong on the puck, and they have a lot of dangerous guys as well,” McQuaid said. “They have a good lineup, so it’s going to be a good test for us.”
Julien said his club must focus in particular on New Jersey’s strength and size and, in spite of that, find a way to keep playing to their own strengths.
“They’re pretty big and strong, and they play that way,” Julien said. “They really overload in all areas, whether it’s from D-zone to the offensive zone. They cycle well. They’re a big, strong team. They’re always hard on the puck, and they’re always strong on the puck, and that hasn’t changed over the years, so we’re in for a battle tonight — that much I can tell you.”
Fourth Line Ready to Step Up
Entering this season, much was made of the anticipated changes to Boston’s fourth line. Gone was longtime B’s enforcer Shawn Thornton, and the player to step in and fill his role — and whether he would be a big, physical presence, like Thornton, or a smaller, speedier, more offensively-minded player — remained to be determined.
For the most part, Simon Gagne has slotted in on Gregory Campbell’s right side. Occasionally, it has been Matt Fraser. Whoever it is, though, Campbell said he and his linemates are ready to make more of an impact, night in and night out.
“Obviously, Thorty is a different player than, say, Simon or Matt Fraser, but our line is expected to create energy,” Campbell said. “We’re expected to change momentum of games. If there’s a lull in the game or if we get scored on, we’re expected to go out there and provide energy, and I would like to create a few more scoring chances, potentially, but I think that will come.”
Of the utmost importance, though, is that the fourth line be defensively responsible and keep the puck out of their own net.
“[We want to] be a responsible line — a line that you can really throw out there against anybody, if we’re playing well,” Campbell said. “[Julien’s] done that in the past. So like I said, I think the personnel changes a little bit, but the role doesn’t change.”
The chemistry on the fourth line has been slower to form than Campbell and Paille would have preferred, but the line is still a work in progress. The players are still figuring things out, and that is to be expected, given that Campbell missed the first several games of the season with a core injury and a variety of players have spent time at right wing, including Gagne, Fraser and even Paille, when Chris Kelly has slotted in on the left.
“It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what we get out of it because it’s had different looks at different times, here,” Julien said. “It’s all part of having to deal with all these injuries and guys moving around. It hasn’t been a bad line; when it’s been together and it’s had some consecutive games, I think they’re slowly building more and more chemistry. Obviously — I’m talking with Gagne on the wing with [Campbell and Paille] — it’s an experienced line, which I like.
“In a way, when you’ve done your power plays and other teams are coming out with their top lines, it’s some experience you can put out there and give you a good shift against their top lines.”
As the chemistry continues to develop, Paille said he would like to see more offensive opportunities develop as well, even as the line maintains its “energy” role.
“I think to start with, it kind of got away from [the energy role], just because we wanted to be more of a productive line,” Paille said. “Then you realize we haven’t been producing. [You] kind of go back to just getting things going, and to be honest, I think we’re just over-thinking and trying too hard.
“We’re putting ourselves out of position, even offensively. I don’t find that we’re in the defensive zone — we’re in the offensive zone — but at the same time, I feel that we’re chasing the puck a lot. It doesn’t seem like we’re really controlling the puck, but at the same time, I don’t feel like we’re in our D-zone that much, for the most part. We’ve just got to find a way to make ourselves [make] the smart play instead of making it difficult for ourselves.”
As Gagne continues to rediscover his game after missing the entirety of the 2013-14 season, improvements are expected on the line, particularly in the offensive zone.
“It’s not just our line; obviously, we’d like to hold on to the puck, but it’s a fine line between holding onto the puck — it’s also important for us to get the puck to the net,” Campbell said. “A lot of things are created when you get the puck to the net. You see it night in, night out…. Obviously, we want to get that puck back and hold onto it, but we also want to generate chances from getting the puck to the net.”
With Krejci out versus the Devils, Gagne is expected to slot in on the fourth line. Even given the fact that Gagne was the healthy scratch for Boston' most recent game against Edmonton, the line is expecting to get its opportunities and reward Julien for his confidence.
“I think eventually, we need to show up offensively, and having someone like Simon, that should be easy, but unfortunately, it’s been a little bit more difficult than we want,” Paille said. “I think the main focus for us is not getting too frustrated and realizing that we can be a very good line, and I think with Simon having missed the last game, I know he’s going to want to be ready and [make] important plays.
“So I think for us, everyone talks about not wanting to get scored against — no one wants to get scored against — but if it happens, just kind of look at it as a motivating way to play better and contribute somehow.”
Projected Lineup vs. New Jersey
Milan Lucic — Chris Kelly — Seth Griffith
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Matt Fraser — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Simon Gagne
Dennis Seidenberg — Dougie Hamilton
Joe Morrow — Adam McQuaid
Torey Krug** — Zach Trotman
**Head Coach Claude Julien said Krug will be a game-time decision on Monday; if he is unable to play, Matt Bartkowski is expected to pair with Trotman.