There are a lot of different ways Bruins head coach Claude Julien and his staff can go about limiting the negative of impact of having to play without Patrice Bergeron, if the veteran center has to miss any games with his mild concussion.
Replacing Bergeron with any current personnel is impossible. At 25, Bergeron has become an outstanding combination of a shutdown center and a point-producer. The last several weeks, he’s also shown off a higher gear than he’d every displayed for the Bruins during the team’s playoff run.
The Bruins’ lines have performed with such great chemistry through the last nine postseason games — seven wins — undoubtedly Julien will want to limit the changes he makes. But just plugging Chris Kelly into Bergeron’s spot and putting rookie Tyler Seguin on right or left wing with Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley in Kelly’s spot might not get the job done in the upcoming Eastern Conference finals series against Tampa Bay.
Kelly, who along with Gregory Campbell shared Bergeron’s center shifts in Friday’s Game 4 against Philadelphia, is certainly skilled and responsible enough to fill Bergeron’s skates. Such a maneuver might be the simplest way to fill out the lineup, but might also leave the Bruins’ third line deficient defensively.
Peverley has speed and is an excellent faceoff man. His defensive instincts and physicalilty, however, are only average. On any given night, you still can’t be sure what you’re going to get from Ryder in the defensive zone. And we know where Seguin is lacking in terms of his responsibility and willingness to get dirty along the boards and in the corners.
That’s where Campbell comes in. While he’s been cast as a fourth-line energy center most of the season, he has also shown a little more offensive bent than any Boston fourth-line center in recent years. If Julien wants to make sure he has three lines with enough defensive ability to be on the ice even against a difficult match-up from Tampa Bay, he could move Campbell between Peverley and Ryder, and stick Seguin between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton.
Except the games that have been one-sided on the scoreboard, that fourth line has barely received a handful of shifts anyway. That would allow Seguin to get his feet wet in his first foray into the Stanley Cup playoffs and limit the chances of him making a costly mistake.
Of course, breaking up Paille, Campbell and Thornton is risky because those three have played so well as an energy trio. And splitting Kelly, Peverley and Ryder could cost the Bruins as well. Should Seguin make a meteoric improvement in the playoffs from his performances at the end of the regular season, maybe he gets a few shifts between Marchand and Recchi in an effort to get that offensive boost general manager Peter Chiarelli said the rookie could provide.
In the interest of not shaking things up too much, I would expect Julien to start a Bergeron-less game against the Lightning with these lines:
But once it comes down to crunch time — the third period — I would expect to see something more like this:
David Krejci, during games at home with the last change, will definitely get the prime defensive assignment against whichever Tampa Bay line the Bruins consider the one they have to shut down. On the power play, they could plug Seguin into Bergeron’s spot up front in order to get him more involved or opt for the experience of Peverley with Recchi and Marchand on the man-advantage.
The Bruins might be able to win a game or two without Bergeron. It’s unlikely they’d be able to win a series. But you can’t put anything past this surprising group of Bruins who seemingly believe they’re capable of anything.
Making up for Bergeron’s absence, however, is going to be a complicated task that’ll require many players stepping up their game even more, and Julien and his staff getting creative with their in-game changes and adjustments.