Had the Buffalo Sabres sat back at 2-2 in the third period and crossed their fingers for a shootout tonight, you couldn’t have blamed them.
Of course, Buffalo took advantage of a power play and then hung on for the 3-2 home over the Bruins, but without Boston’s shootout specialist Tyler Seguin in the lineup the Sabres, already 3-0 in shootouts this year, would’ve been heavily favored in the post-overtime spectacle.
Starting the night without their best shootout weapon, however, was far from the biggest problem with the Bruins’ decision to scratch the 2010 No. 2 overall pick.
It might easier to stomach the rookie sitting in the press box if the Bruins actually had a legitimate replacement waiting to fill in for the speedster. Daniel Paille was a serviceable fourth-liner and penalty-killer last season. This year, he’s obviously not handling the long stretches of healthy scratches as well as Boston might have hoped. Paille has often looked a step slow skating or an inch off with his passes when given a game sweater. Sure he made a couple nifty passes and was solid defensively last Saturday against Philadelphia. But that shouldn’t have been enough to convince head coach Claude Julien to sit Seguin again.
Seguin struggled plenty when he was skating at center for most of the season’s first two months. Somehow, none of his giveaways or blown coverages in the defensive zone directly cost the Bruins a game. Marc Savard’s return to the lineup brought an opportunity to revert to Plan A and shift Seguin back out to the wing full-time.
Admittedly, the Seguin-Savard-Michael Ryder line has been a work in progress. But look at what you have. A rookie making the shift out to wing in the NHL for the first time, a player coming off a six-month absence with post-concussion syndrome, and an inconsistent veteran winger who’s extremely reliant on his linemates to clear him some room and set him up.
So how many games do you give them to jell? Well, their run was stopped at four games by Seguin’s flu-like symptoms Saturday. That line combination stayed in mothballs again tonight with Seguin on the sidelines as a healthy scratch in Buffalo. It’d be fine if the Bruins could afford to sit Seguin because they’re overflowing with offensive talent. We know that they’re not. And now they’ve scored three goals in their last two games.
Remember, despite his struggles and an average ice time of just 12:34 (only Shawn Thornton plays less among regular Bruins forwards), Seguin has recorded five goals and added five assists. Maybe that limited ice time has kept Seguin from becoming a liability down the stretch of some games, but at the same time there’s so much untapped potential in him that the Bruins need – especially when facing last year’s Vezina Trophy-winner.
Boston generated some offense, including 34 shots on net, tonight. But Ryder scored his goal on the power play and at even strength that line looked lost again. Neither Savard nor Paille managed to get a shot on net. Paille finished with just 10:43 of ice time, which includes 1:04 of shorthanded time. If the only player you have to replace Seguin with is a guy you can’t even give as little ice time as the rookie would usually log, that’s a sign you have to keep on with your intentions to have Seguin learn on the job and under fire.
If Seguin gets back in against Montreal Thursday or a game or two down the road, it might behoove Julien to find another line for him in order to not have a trio that’s handicapped by all the reasons mentioned above. Savard might benefit from getting back with his old running mate Milan Lucic, and Ryder might want more than just the couple shifts he took tonight with his old pivot David Krejci. Seguin could probably also benefit from the bulk of Lucic on an opposite wing or the vision of Krejci in the middle.
If Julien keeps Seguin with Ryder and Savard though, it might still work out. Four games was not a long enough trial for that trio. And 29 games into the schedule is too soon to be so frustrated with Seguin that you replace him with subpar Daniel Paille.
Down the road, this time off might benefit Seguin. But in the here and now, which should be what matters most, it doesn’t work in the Bruins’ favor — in a shootout or before.