February 15, 2011

B's blueliners in a battle for playing time

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins rookie defenseman Steve Kampfer was a healthy scratch for the first time on Sunday. (Getty)

BOSTON -- For Bruins coach Claude Julien, inconsistency yields change when it comes to his band of blueliners. The coach declared that it's now an open battle for a spot in the top six on the back-end, following the team's morning skate at TD Garden on Tuesday.

 "Right now it’s turned into a bit of a competition, if you may," said Julien. "I think lately our back-end hasn’t been as consistent as it had been in the past and so we’ve moved, obviously made a move last game and brought in 'Stuey' (Mark Stuart) back in the lineup so this is just I guess something you knew eventually would happen and we’re dealing with it."

 The B's bench boss was impressed by Stuart's performance in Detroit on Sunday. He was the only player with a positive plus-minus rating on the B's, an impressive feat given the fact that he spent the last three weeks as a healthy scratch.

 "He played well," said Julien. "I thought he really handled himself well. Obviously he was being a physical player and kept things simple, but I liked his game for someone who hadn’t played in a long time. I thought he handled it very well."

 Steve Kampfer was the immeasurably unfortunate healthy scratch for the team's last tilt, as the rookie reportedly had in the neighborhood of 40 family members and friends attending his first NHL game in his home state of Michigan.

 "I spoke to him before, spoke to him afterwards and his conversation with me was that he really felt he got a lot from sitting up there and watching the game," the coach said of Kampfer's reaction.

 "It never hurts every once and a while for a young player to sit up there and see what’s going on. The game is a lot easier from up there as you guys know. You’re pretty quick to critique our game. But at the same time, it is an easy game from up there. You can see things developing.

 "It was good for him. He said he watched and he certainly took notice. And hopefully that’ll be the kind of help that he needed."
 One d-man Julien admitted he wouldn't mind seeing a bit more from is Johnny Boychuk. Signed to a two-year deal in the offseason, Boychuk hasn't been nearly as offensively potent as the organization had expected.

 "I think his battle is still good and stuff like that," the coach said. "But I think, again, when it comes to puck decision he’s had his fair share of challenges there."

 Meanwhile up front, there will be no sense of competition with both Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill having been returned to Providence after brief, three-game stints with the big club.

 With the subtraction of the two prospects and the return of Dan Paille from suspension, the B's now have exactly 12 forwards, leaving no extras to push anyone for playing time.

 Julien expects Paille to slot right back in smoothly, as the veteran winger has been accustomed to be being kept out of action for durations like this in the past.

 "I mean he’s been out four games, but he’s been in that pace of the game we’ve had there in the last ten," Julien said. "He’s a veteran, he’s been around the league for a while so he knows what to expect."

 Paille will likely line up on the fourth line alongside Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton against the Maple Leafs.