BOSTON — For two-plus seasons, Bruins defenseman Mark Stuart was healthy and didn’t miss a scheduled game.
Now he’s healthy again, but Stuart’s struggling to crack Boston’s lineup.
After an 18-game absence with a broken hand, Stuart returned to the Bruins Jan. 17 and appeared in three games before sitting out as a healthy scratch the last two outings. For a player that once skated in 214 straight games, Stuart might’ve expected to not lose his job because of injury. However, he says that’s not the case.
“I expected coming back that there was that chance [I’d play less] because I was out for so long and guys played well,” said Stuart after today’s morning skate at TD Garden in preparation for an evening game with Florida. “That’s the way it goes. You’ve got to stay healthy in this league because somebody’s going to take your job.”
Head coach Claude Julien said today that he and his staff will make a decision about who’s scratched tonight at game time. Stuart, who says his hand is 100 percent fine, came off the ice at the same time as most of his teammates today. Adam McQuaid — a healthy scratch for 12 of the season’s first 22 games — was on the ice a little longer after the formal practice ended.
Everyone knew that once Stuart was healthy Julien would have a hard choice to make because rookie Steve Kampfer made it practically impossible to pull him out of the lineup with his solid play. Julien’s decision was postponed a bit because Andrew Ference was out when Stuart first returned, and then McQuaid needed a night off because he was banged up.
Julien said he’s trying to strike a balance that keeps everyone sharp.
“That’s the thing with our situation. You had [Stuart] out for quite a while and the six guys did a pretty good job. They did a really good job, actually,” said the coach. “And you’ve got to make sure you don’t penalize those guy just because [Stuart] comes back. But at the same time, [Stuart’s] a good player for us and we’ve got to hopefully keep him going as well. So we’re going to try and balance that out.”
Life as a healthy scratch is a whole new world for Stuart. He stayed out a little extra after practice Sunday in Los Angeles, and then took the pregame skate Monday night even though he knew he wasn’t going to play.
“It’s a little different. But I’m trying to practice hard, stay ready in case I get the call,” he said.
He might get that call tonight. Or his new streak, of healthy scratches, might continue.