UNIONDALE, N.Y. — Part of what makes the Bruins good — what makes the Bruins, the Bruins — is their ability to roll four lines. It aids their production, their energy, their ability to not rely so much on minutes and points from their top lines.
But that hasn’t been the case this season. Though Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton scored in consecutive games in mid-October, that has been the extent of the fourth line’s production this season. The line has produced exactly 3 points in 13 games — 2 from Paille, 1 from Thornton, and none from Gregory Campbell.
So as the Bruins struggle as a team with energy and effort levels that don’t match their expectations — or the expectations of coach Claude Julien — Campbell has struggled with his inability to return to the level that he believes his team needs from him.
“I’m not satisfied,” Campbell said before the Bruins played what Julien called “probably the worst” game of the season against the Islanders on Saturday night. “I have high standards for myself. I want to contribute every night to this team.”
He added, “It is early, but at the same time I expect more of myself to help the team and to help my line. Lines are successful when you have all three guys going. I want to be a leader on that line, help those other two out.”
Of course, there’s a reason he hasn’t done that yet this season.
Campbell spent the summer recovering from the broken leg he famously sustained in the Eastern Conference finals against the Penguins. He had surgery, and had to get used to the plate and screws inserted into his leg to stabilize the area. That hasn’t been easy for him, and it’s showed in his skating.
“I’ve tried not to look back at the injury and use it as an excuse — I’m never going to use it as an excuse,” Campbell said.
“I’m going to focus on what I need to do to be better and try to get my body where I want it to be and up to the speed of the game here. So I’ll keep working until I reach that point.”
Campbell has continued to feel the injury, something he admitted in early September was a possibility. Because of that, he continues to use padding in his skate that he said Saturday is unlikely to come out any time soon.
“It’s hard for me to talk about because I do feel it, but it’s not something that’s really affecting me,” he said. “It’s just the getting back to where I was. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m going to feel it. It’s a broken bone and there’s a foreign object in my body.”
Julien expressed frustration Saturday at some players on his club whom he believes aren’t putting in enough effort, aren’t competing hard enough, aren’t playing with confidence. But Campbell isn’t among those, despite results that are not what he or the club want.
That’s partially because there’s a blueprint. Chris Kelly broke his leg in March, and struggled to get back to his customary play. In fact, he didn’t play up to his level until well into the playoffs, months after the injury.
“It’s the fact that he’s coming off a broken leg,” Julien said of Campbell. “I think when you look at Kelly last year, it took him a while to get going. [Campbell] suffered a pretty big break in his leg and didn’t skate all summer, so you know it’s going to be a bit of a challenge for him right now to find his rhythm and his speed again.
“So you’ve got to be patient, you’ve got to give him time and you let him work through it.”
The injury is most notable in Campbell’s skating, something that’s key to the work that his line puts in. His speed — never overwhelming, but integral to his game — is not where it was or should be. He was not able to do his usual off-ice conditioning in the summer, something that Campbell takes pride in.
“In a perfect world, I would have liked to be on the ice a lot earlier,” said Campbell, who didn’t hit the ice until late August. “A big part of our game, a big part of my game, is skating and really getting in there and disrupting the other team.”
While Campbell averaged 13:26, 12:47 , and 13:42 in his three previous seasons in Boston, that average is down to 11:41 this season. Campbell played just 9:44 against the Islanders on Saturday. Paille and Thornton played even fewer minutes.
“I don’t think anyone has higher expectations of ourselves than we do,” Campbell said of the Merlot line. “There’s been times over the last three years where we’ve chipped in in many different ways, so that’s the expectation of us and that’s what we have on ourselves.
“It’s probably going to take a little bit more work and a little bit more effort for us to score like some other lines do. But having said that, there’s things that we do consistently — hem teams in their zone and be relentless on the forecheck and be a really hard, solid line to play against.
“I know the coaching staff relies on us to sometimes change the momentum of a game. If we’re a little bit flat, it’s our job to go out there and provide some energy.
“Claude’s given us a lot of opportunity and I think the onus is on us to return that favor for our team, for the success of our team.”