WILMINGTON, Mass. — When Johnny Boychuk suffered a fractured forearm on a slash from Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky on Saturday, the Bruins lost a huge piece of their defensive puzzle for the next four weeks.
Boychuk was averaging 24.8 shifts and 20:22 of ice-time a game this year, even after the injury limited him to just 11 shifts totaling 7:28 on Saturday. Only Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are averaging more time on the ice this season for the Bruins.
That leaves a major void on the blue line to fill, but also a major opportunity for the other defensemen to show they are capable of taking on more responsibility.
"That means other players are probably going to get a little bit more ice, but that's opportunities for everybody to take advantage of," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "This is an opportunity to show that no matter what happens we're still a team, we're still a good team that's going to stick together.
"It's an opportunity for someone else to step in and fill the gap," added Julien. "We've been through that many times in the past, and it's only one of probably many more to come."
The Bruins are certainly accustomed to playing without key players due to injury. Last year the defense was hit hard with Andrew Ference, Mark Stuart and Seidenberg all missing long stretches, while the club is already without Marc Savard and Marco Sturm up front to start this season.
"Things happen like this throughout the year and the team deals with it," said Boychuk. "I'm sure we're going to do great."
One danger in dealing with a loss like this can be players trying to do too much to compensate, but Julien is confident that his club has been in this kind of situation enough times to avoid that pitfall.
"The guys know that it's just a matter playing our game and that's why maybe a lot of times it doesn't affect us too much because we know what we have to do out there," said Julien. "It's not about doing more. It's about doing it right. Our guys have been pretty good about that."
In practice on Monday, Julien reshuffled his defensive pairings, moving Ference up alongside Chara in Boychuk's spot on the top pair. Stuart and Seidenberg remained together on the second pairing, while Adam McQuaid stepped into the lineup and skated with Matt Hunwick. But the personnel changes won't lead to a change in the game plan.
"We're going to continue to play our game," said Hunwick. "The way it looks right now is Andy will slide into that spot with Z, but we've been playing with a lot of different pairings and they're trying to find ways to get Z on the ice quite a bit. He's still going to be our big guy, but everyone else will just fill in. Obviously there will be a void on the power play, so someone will have to step in there."
Hunwick himself will be playing with his third partner already this year, as he opened the season alongside Seidenberg before teaming with Ference in recent games. Now he'll work with McQuaid, but it won't be too unfamiliar as the pair skated together several seasons ago in Providence.
"Early on — we've played what, five or six games? — and our D pairs have been pretty shuffled," said Hunwick. "So I don't think it will be a huge adjustment having new partners. I think our team should handle it pretty well."
Boychuk agrees. As much as he'd like to be out there, he's confident the rest of the defense can do just fine without him for a few weeks.
"We have a good group of guys back there," said Boychuk. "They can do the job even without me. Obviously they're going to. We have such good defensemen that we can definitely do the job."
A key to that will be Hunwick. He got off to a rocky start, as he was a minus-3 with several costly turnovers in the season opener in Prague. But he's had a goal and an assist while posting a plus-5 in the five games since, and believes he's turned the corner.
"I think last game was the best I felt out there," said Hunwick. "I felt much better last game and I'm starting to get things going in the right direction. I feel pretty good about where my game is at right now. Last game I felt great. I felt like I could have skated forever."
The Bruins do have options if they decide more help is needed, as promising youngsters like Matt Bartkowksi and Steve Kampfer could be summoned from Providence. But for now, Julien is content to go with the six healthy blueliners he has at his disposal.
"I think it's one of those situations where we'll take it day by day," said Julien, whose club next hosts Toronto on Thursday before playing three straight road games. "That's the way we intend on starting Thursday, and if there's any reasons we want to change something we'll look at Providence and maybe bringing a seventh guy with us and go that way because we do have some road games coming up again. But as we speak today, we're content with six."