James Mirtle of The Globe and Mail compiled the man-games lost to injury of every NHL team on Friday, and the Bruins had the fewest in the league with just 41. That doesn’t count Marc Savard‘s absence all season, but even if the 55 games he’s missed so far are included, the Bruins would still have the third-fewest man-games lost in the league.
But the Bruins could soon be climbing up that chart. No team can avoid injuries forever in a game as physical as hockey, and Boston has now lost two key forwards for significant time in the last month. Nathan Horton will miss his 10th game Friday in Winnipeg and remains sidelined indefinitely with a concussion suffered Jan. 22 in Philadelphia, while the team announced Friday that Rich Peverley will be out 4-6 weeks with a third-degree MCL sprain in his right knee suffered Wednesday in Montreal.
“It’s unfortunate,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said Friday morning after the Peverley diagnosis was announced. “That’s a guy that logs a lot of minutes during the game, and with Horton out already, that’s two guys out that play a lot of minutes for us.
“So it’s going to be a challenge for us,” Julien added. “But again, that’s part of the game. Throughout a season you get injuries, and your team’s got to fight through those situations. We always believe that when we respect our game plan and our system, we’re usually successfully. So we’ve got to do that even better now than ever, and that should help us getting through having those two players missing from our lineup.”
Julien’s system can cover a lot of flaws, but the Bruins are already stretched mighty thin. They are just 4-5-0 without Horton, scoring just 18 goals in those nine games. They’ve been shut out three times in the last seven games after being blanked just twice in the first 48.
Peverley had been filling in for Horton on what is normally the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Benoit Pouliot, a reclamation project signed this summer who scored his first goal in 16 games on Wednesday, now moves into that spot.
The Bruins also had to split up their highly-effective fourth line, moving Daniel Paille into Pouliot’s old spot, while Josh Hennessy, who last played in the NHL in 2009 with Ottawa, enters the lineup to fill the void on the fourth line.
Suddenly, the depth of Boston’s balanced attack seems mighty thin, and the Bruins will be facing quite a challenge looking to turn around their recent slide so shorthanded up front.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli had already vowed to be active in the trade market heading into Feb. 27’s trade deadline, but now his quest to add help takes on a heightened urgency, and with two of the club’s scorers out, Chiarelli may need to look at acquiring more of an impact player rather than simply complementary parts for depth.
Peverley should be back before the playoffs, but there’s still a need to replace his productions throughout the stretch run of the season. Horton remains an even bigger question, one that Chiarelli admits is factoring into his decisions on the trade front.
“I expect him to be back,” Chiarelli said on Tuesday. “He’s progressing, and I would think he’d be back. In the back of my head, it’s that he may be something that we have to replace, but I would expect him to be back. But we look at players and say, ‘Hey, maybe this player could add to our depth, but maybe he’d have to play a certain spot, too,’ like Horton’s spot.”
Recognizing the need is one thing, finding a way to fill it is another thing altogether.
“I’m fairly active, it’s just that there’s not a lot going on,” Chiarelli said. “There’s a lot of teams still in [the playoff race]. … And there’s a lot of players that are locked up. Like, I have all the names on my board of potential UFAs, and it’s not a real big list.”
Acquiring players on expiring contracts has been Chiarelli’s preference as he does not want to tie up too much cap space with so many players on his current roster coming up for new deals this offseason and next. Chiarelli has tried to stay ahead of that problem, locking up Adam McQuaid, Peverley, Krejci and most recently Johnny Boychuk ahead of time. He’s also had talks with the rest of the impending free agents, but acknowledged earlier this week that he may have to expand his search and look at players who could contribute in Boston beyond this year.
“If I feel I’m maybe not getting close to signing somebody, I may look at a player that has future years left on his contract,” Chiarelli said.
Whether it’s a rental or a long-term addition, Chiarelli has to act. The dominoes have already begun to fall, with Tampa Bay sending forward Dominic Moore to San Jose on Thursday and Montreal trading Hal Gill, the defenseman who knocked Peverley out of action with a knee-on-knee hit, dealt Friday to Nashville.
The deadline is still 10 days away, but the time to act has already arrived. Chiarelli has been careful not to risk messing with the chemistry of his club after last spring’s Cup run, But right now anatomy has taken precedence, and the Bruins need to find a way to add some healthy bodies to help get the team back on track.
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