While it was recovering Bruins center Marc Savard who recently began to ride the bike, in Newark, N.J., tonight a handful of other Bruins forwards began their own important race — to stay in the lineup once the club’s best playmaker is healthy enough to play.
There’s no doubt that with penalty-killer extraordinaire Daniel Paille and veteran enforcer Brian McGrattan waiting on the sidelines to get in a game, there’s extra competition and motivation for those wingers who are taking the ice every night. But the real test will come once Savard is ready to play and someone definitely has to hit the press box or head to Providence (AHL).
In scoring their first goals of the season, Jordan Caron (first NHL score), Shawn Thornton and Michael Ryder all began to make their case to keep their lineup spot, while Brad Marchand let his physical play do the talking.
Ever since he sleepwalked through an 18-goal regular season last winter, Ryder has been the favorite to be jettisoned when the roster crunch comes. However, with a little help from the speedy, creative Tyler Seguin (I won’t even acknowledge any alleged chance he’s not on this team for the season), Ryder looked like his ’08-09 self busting down the slot to fire home a wrister after a spinning feed from the rookie.
Caron, who if his minutes are cut with Boston would definitely benefit from more plenty of playing time at Providence, continued to make the case that he can reside in an NHL top six right now. Not only did his net-front presence lead to his banging home a rebound of a Johnny Boychuk shot (with Caron screening in the first place), he was also a fixture in front of Martin Brodeur all night, even when matched against some of the Devils’ best defenders. It’s almost as though this kid doesn’t know any better about standing in front and paying the price at the game’s highest level.
If it wasn’t enough that a couple top-nine forwards found the back of the net the way they’re supposed to, the Bruins’ fourth line also chipped in. Goal-less since last Oct. 3, Thornton went to the net and was the recipient of a perfect feed from behind the goal by Gregory Campbell that let Boston’s grinders keep pace with the rest of the forward corps. Marchand earned the second assist on that goal and also was his usual feisty self, even throwing an excellent open-ice hip check to set the tone early (although he was mistakenly charged with a kneeing penalty).
You figure in the hot start by the Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Nathan Horton line, which combined for Boston’s fourth goal of the evening, and you have a hard time finding a place for Savard.
If anyone fell to the bottom of the pack in this race, it was Blake Wheeler. Despite a plus-1 rating, the third-year winger had a tough night with no shots on net and two poor stick penalties that Boston had to kill off without him available.
If the next month and a half or so of hockey goes like Boston’s win in New Jersey did, general manager Peter Chiarelli and head coach Claude Julien are going to have to make one of the most difficult decisions of their reign with the Bruins when Savard’s ready. That’s the type of decision, however, GMs and coaches throughout the league would love to have to make and the Chiarelli/Julien team will savor.