PHILADELPHIA – The decision to insert either center Trent Whitfield or winger Brad Marchand into the Bruins’ lineup in place of the injured David Krejci for Friday’s Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series with Philadelphia should come down to just one number: 57.9
That’s the percentage of faceoffs Whitfield won in his 16 games in a Boston sweater this season. He prevailed 103 of 178 draws. With momentum in this series seemingly shifting on every faceoff, and mostly rolling in the Bruins’ favor, the Bruins are going to need to make sure they have as many men ready to claim an important faceoff as they can.
Head coach Claude Julien left the door open to the chance Marchand could get the nod by noting that with four centers other than Krejci in the lineup for Game 3, the Bruins were able to overcome Krejci’s early-game loss to a dislocated wrist.
“I thought [having five centers dressed] really paid off [Wednesday], the faceoffs and the demands on those guys. Whether we decide to put another centerman in or we decide to put a winger in to fill in the spot, we have to look at and make that decision based on that,” the coach said on today’s off day before Game 4.
There are other numbers to factor in that aren’t as important as Whitfield’s faceoff percentage but should be part of Julien’s decision. Whitfield’s age is 32 and his career total of NHL playoff games played in is 14. The 21-year-old Marchand has yet to skate in a postseason contest at the game’s highest level after skating in 20 regular-season games as an NHL rookie this year. Marchand has some experience at center from his junior days, but has been mostly a wing as a pro and wouldn’t be as adept at faceoffs as Whitfield.
And then there’s the temperament issue. The Flyers have yet to show their “Broad Street Bullies” side through three games in this series. One loss from elimination, they’re going to pull out all the stops – and that could mean some physical play that crosses the line of proper judgment.
By all accounts, Whitfield is a solid citizen with a good head on his shoulders and a high level of discipline. He was the captain down with the Providence (AHL) farm club for a reason. You don’t have to worry about his being goaded into any funny business. At the other end of the spectrum is Marchand, who off the ice is a mild-mannered kid, but on the ice is a trash-talking menace that sometimes doesn’t know when to leave well enough alone.
Beyond the talk, Marchand’s actions sometimes get him and his teams in trouble. Back in October against these Flyers, Marchand engaged in an exchange of words after a questionable leg-on-let hit on Philly captain Mike Richards. Marchand, a former third-round pick, might become a legit top-nine forward in the years ahead, and a pest that other teams envy and aggravate over at the same time. Right now, however, he’s a green-behind-the-ears risk to the Bruins’ attempt to get in and out of Philadelphia with a sweep and a berth in the Eastern Conference finals secured.
Whitfield is a pro’s pro that deserves the opportunity to contribute to Boston’s cause just based on his persona and experience alone. That he’s quick on the draw, however, makes him hands down the overwhelming right choice to skate in Game 4.