With the club's March swoon seemingly behind the Bruins after wins over New Jersey, Montreal, Philadelphia and Chicago in the past week, the questions have taken on a slightly more positive tone this week. There are still plenty of concerns heading into the postseason, but a few wins, especially when one of them is a 7-0 dismantling of the hated Habs, can do a lot to alleviate some of those fears.
As always, I've done my best to answer as many of your questions as possible in this week's edition of the Bruins mailbag. I'd like to thank all the readers who sent in questions and apologize in advance if I wasn't able to get to yours. Please keep submitting your questions and I'll get to as many of them as I can as we close out the regular season and head into the playoffs.
Who do you think they Bruins will use as healthy scratches during the playoffs, both for forwards and defenseman? I feel like [Daniel] Paille should be the clear choice for forwards, as both [Tyler] Seguin and [Michael] Ryder offer more on the offense. I'm not as sure for defense, as [Steven] Kampfer moves the puck better than most of our D-men but is not as physical and has played poorly of late. And I'm assuming [Shane] Hnidy was signed as insurance in case of an injury.
Those final lineup spots will make for some tough decisions for Claude Julien in the postseason. Starting from the back end out, the defense is pretty clear cut. Barring injuries, the current top six will remain intact with Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Tomas Kaberle, Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Adam McQuaid playing. Kampfer could see action if they face a particularly fast team where his puck-moving skills would be needed, but I think Julien is more inclined to stick with the veterans, especially with how Kampfer's play leveled off after a strong start. Hnidy is strictly injury insurance, but as I'll go into more detail below, it's a policy the Bruins might very need to cash in before the playoffs are over.
Up front it's a much harder choice. Yes, Ryder and Seguin offer a lot more offensively than Paille, but that isn't always Julien's top priority. Paille is the most reliable of that trio and best fits the limited role of a fourth liner who is defensively responsible and effective on the penalty kill. Ryder and Seguin have both struggled playing in that fourth-line role and really need to be on a scoring line to be effective. Seguin looked like he might be primarily a spectator in the playoffs, as he wasn't showing much progress through the middle of the season, but he's played better of late and has contributed to the second power-play unit. The line of Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly and Seguin has shown some chemistry, and Julien has indicated he likes how they play together.
Ryder has had success in the playoffs in the past but is really struggling right now (one goal in 19 games, zero in his last 11). He's been the healthy scratch of late and that may continue into the playoffs. He will likely get a few more chances before the season is over, and if he can snap out of this slump, he can get back in the mix, perhaps with Brad Marchand dropping back to the fourth line.
Personally, I'd like to see how the team looks with Marchand staying with Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi, Ryder playing with Peverley and Seguin, and Kelly on the fourth line with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton. I think that's keeping the best 12 forwards in the lineup and in roles that best suit their strengths, but Julien hasn't shown any sign that he wants to drop Kelly off the third line, so I'm not sure we'll ever see that alignment.
[Brad] Marchand played his best hockey on the fourth line as did [Shawn] Thornton. Is there any sense in sending him back? [It's] not like the fourth line doesn't get the ice time in this system.
–Scott from Marlboro
While Marchand, Campbell and Thornton made for a very effective energy line while they were together in the first half of the season, I can't agree that was when Marchand played his best hockey. He really raised his game once he joined Bergeron and Recchi on the second line in January. That unit carried the Bruins' offense for a while before the Krejci line came back to life. Marchand has hit a bit of a slump over the last couple weeks and was really pressing to score his 20th goal. Now that he's gotten that with the game-winner Sunday in Philadelphia, I'd rather see him stay on that second line and see if he can put together another hot streak.
Love the way Claude has rested Timmy [Thomas]. Isn't it time to do the same with [Zdeno] Chara, [Mark] Recchi, [Patrice] Bergeron, [David] Krejci and even Looch [Milan Lucic]?
–Casey Brandreth, Rockwood, Ontario
The Bruins are in a much better position this year to give some guys a little rest before the playoffs, as they have clinched a postseason berth with seven games to go. Last year, they went right down to the second-to-last game before securing a spot and could only rest guys in the finale in Washington. Julien has already stated he'll work some of the other guys like Hnidy and Kampfer into the lineup to make sure they're ready for the playoffs if needed, while getting a few of the regulars some rest. I don't think you'll see wholesale changes with all those guys sitting out though. A game or two for anyone banged up, like Adam McQuaid who has taken a pounding blocking shots, or some of the older guys like Recchi and Chara maybe, but don't expect much time off for the younger guys like Lucic and Krejci unless they're nursing some minor injuries that require some rest.
Was just wondering if you know when we might see Shane Hnidy in the lineup?
–Wes LeJan, St. Brieux
Julien said on Tuesday that Hnidy wouldn't play that night but would see some action soon. Having missed the entire season after suffering a shoulder injury while on a tryout in Phoenix's camp, Hnidy has stated he needs to play a few games to be ready to play if needed in the playoffs. Julien has acknowledged that as well, and it's definitely possible that the Bruins could need Hnidy this postseason. Last year, Dennis Seidenberg and Mark Stuart were injured for the playoffs, and the previous year, Andrew Ference and Matt Hunwick both went down. The Bruins will likely need at least eight defensemen to get through any kind of extended postseason run. The upcoming matchups should provide some opportunities to get Hnidy into action. Expect him to be in the lineup for at least a couple of the games against non-playoff teams like Toronto, Atlanta, the Islanders, Ottawa and New Jersey that remain on the schedule.
What was the purpose of trading [Blake] Wheeler?
That deal was largely a salary cap move. The Bruins needed to clear space to bring in Kaberle and felt they would replace any offense lost in Wheeler and upgrade their speed by getting Peverley back in the deal that sent Wheeler and Mark Stuart to Atlanta. So far, the results haven't exactly been what the Bruins were hoping for. Kaberle, Peverley and Kelly have combined for 3-10-13 totals in Boston, while Wheeler has scored 5-8-13 totals himself with the Thrashers. But numbers don't always tell the full tale.
Kaberle has given the Bruins the puck-moving element their defense lacked and Peverley and Kelly are better fits for Julien's system than Wheeler was. Peverley is also signed through next year at a reasonable $1.325 million cap hit, while Wheeler will be a restricted free agent and looking for a raise on his $2.2 million arbitration award from last summer. How Kaberle, Peverley and, to a lesser extent, Kelly perform in the playoffs, along with whether the Bruins can re-sign Kaberle, will determine how well those trades work out, but they did need to make some moves. The team as it was constituted prior to the trade deadline wasn't going to go deep into the playoffs.
With this being the first playoff experience for [Nathan] Horton and [Gregory] Campbell, how much of an impact do you feel they will have in the playoffs? And with Ryder showing that he can play well come playoff time, is Julien using this time off to rest him or do you think he will for sure be in the press box at least once this postseason?
To answer the second part first, Ryder is not being rested. His poor play of late has made him the odd man out up front the last couple games. That said, he will get another chance to play before the season is over and if he can pick up his play, he'll be back in the lineup come playoff time. He has played well in the postseason before and the Bruins have to hope a few scratches will serve as a wake-up call to get him back to that level.
It will be interesting to see how Horton and Campbell fare in their postseason debuts. Both seem to have games suited for the more intense style of play typically seen in the playoffs, especially the hard-nosed Campbell. But until a player has actually experienced that intensity, it's hard to say exactly how he will react. The Bruins need Horton in particular to have a big postseason, as that first line with Lucic, Krejci and Horton has carried the offense of late, and Boston can't afford to see any of their production tail off. Campbell has been a pleasant surprise with his offense, but his real value is in providing energy, solid defensive play and penalty killing. Those areas are as important as ever in the playoffs, so he will be a key role player as well.
It seems that Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] isn't playing up to his usual level — is he just tired or are there other issues contributing?
–Rhonda R. McClure
After a spectacular run in the middle of the season (16-19-35 totals in 32 games from Dec. 16-Feb. 26), Bergeron has fallen into a bit of a funk of late. That entire line has struggled a bit, with Marchand and Recchi also slumping. Bergeron and the Bruins haven't revealed any injury issues, so hopefully it's just a cold spell he'll work his way through quickly. He has just 1-3-4 totals in his last 13 games, but those three assists all came last week in wins over New Jersey and Montreal, so he might already be coming out of it. The Bruins certainly need him to, but he does so many other things that he still is a valuable contributor even when he isn't piling up points.
Hey Doug, the Bruins' PP has really come alive the last few games. I know on Saturday they didn't capitalize, sadly, but I've noticed we're getting a lot more chances and going a lot farther to the net. Why do you think we've had such surprisingly pleasant success, and do you think it'll continue into playoffs?
There are a few factors contributing to the improved power play, which has produced four goals in the last four games after just one in the previous 12 games (and that came on a two-man advantage against the Islanders). Julien tweaked the personnel, especially on the second unit, putting Seguin and Marchand up front with Recchi, with Dennis Seidenberg and Bergeron at the points. Seguin and Marchand added some needed speed up front to create some more chances down low. The first unit of Lucic, Krejci, Horton, Chara and Kaberle also started focusing more on creating chances down low rather than forcing everything to the points.
For the first dozen or so games that Kaberle was with the team, the Bruins seemed too enamored with his passing ability and spent too much time standing around waiting for him to make something happen. Kaberle himself was also guilty of always looking to make the perfect pass and passing up too many shots, which allowed the penalty killers to cheat off him and get in the passing lanes. He's been a little better at taking the shot when it's there, and the Krejci line has started to carry some of its even-strength chemistry over to the man advantage to make the power play much more effective.
There's still plenty of room for improvement, but there's enough talent to make the power play an effective weapon.
With New York and Buffalo sneaking up the standings to join Montreal, it's almost like picking your poison. On that note which goalie do you fear the most in a possible first round match up for Boston: [Ryan] Miller, [Henrik] Lundqvist or [Carey] Price?
All three are more than capable of stealing a game or even a series from anyone they face. Price worries me less than just the overall emotion and attention a Montreal series will bring, and the better team often doesn't prevail in such a circus-like atmosphere. Miller certainly has to be respected. but the Bruins can take some confidence out of beating him in the opening round last year when he was arguably at his peak following the Olympics and his Vezina campaign.
Lundqvist would be the biggest hurdle to clear. Not only is he a supremely talented netminder in his own right, but the Rangers also play such a stifling defensive style in front of him that it's very difficult to generate a lot of quality chances. Saturday's game was a perfect example, with New York defenders blocking 29 shots (18 in the third period alone). And that was far from an aberration. The Bruins and Rangers always play close, low-scoring games (14 of the last 16 meetings have been decided by one goal, with the other two being 3-1 games). Anything can happen in those kinds of tight matchups, making the Rangers the toughest potential first-round opponent in my opinion. I might also be a bit biased, because the Rangers' style under John Tortorella is pretty brutal to watch, and I don't have a strong desire to sit through seven more games of that.