WILMINGTON — During intermissions, the Bruins’ workhorses use every bit of the 18-minute pauses to unwind and reload for the upcoming period.
So far, no such luxury has been available for Shawn Thornton.
While most of his teammates catch their breath, Thornton often rides a stationary bike between periods.
“With my skate guards on sometimes. Seriously. Whatever it takes,” Thornton said after Thursday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “It’s easier when you’re playing 10 minutes a night as opposed to five minutes a night. But we’re finding ways to get points and win most games. That’s most important.”
Through nine games, Thornton (1-0—1) is averaging 5:12 of ice time, the lowest of the 18 regular skaters. It is the least Thornton has averaged since 2007-08, his first season in Boston. That year, Thornton logged 7:23 per game. Thornton’s highest workload was in 2008-09, when the right wing averaged 10:02 of ice time.
There are several factors behind Thornton’s diminished workload. Injuries, including Thornton’s concussion, have disrupted the fourth line. Thornton missed games against Toronto and Montreal. Fourth-line left wing Daniel Paille was unavailable for the same two games after being high-sticked.
The Bruins have been involved in close games, which has prompted coach Claude Julien to roll three lines late. Six of the Bruins’ 11 games have been decided by one goal, including three in shootouts.
Thornton also must sit during special-teams play. Paille and Gregory Campbell are two of the six regular penalty-killing forwards. Usually after each successful kill, Julien responds with his first line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton. Until Paille and Campbell recover from penalty killing, the fourth line doesn’t often see five-on-five time until several even-strength shifts have taken place.
Thornton is aware that his ice time doesn’t necessarily indicate the coaching staff’s displeasure with his play. But that doesn’t make his situation easier to accept.
“I only had one shift in the last third period,” Thornton said of his playing time in Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers. “But we’re down a couple goals. You’ve got to put the guys out there — even though I’m tied with a few guys in goals — that you pay the money to score goals. And I get that. That hasn’t changed over the years.”
Dougie Hamilton is the best skater on the Boston blue line. He has agility and straight-line speed. In the defensive zone, however, movement isn’t necessarily encouraged.
Lately, Julien has been reminding the 19-year-old to practice patience in the defensive zone. For the defensemen, Julien’s system is one of containment. Forwards pressure the puck. Defensemen are responsible for specific patches of ice below the circles, in the corners, and in front of the net.
For young defensemen used to roaming, sitting back is easier said than done.
“One of the mottos I use all the time with our system is that they’ll come to you,” Julien said. “You don’t have to run all over the place. That’s where he’s got himself in trouble. He’s a smart individual. He’ll catch on pretty quickly.”
Along for the ride
Jay Pandolfo traveled with the team to Buffalo on Thursday for the second time in less than a week. However, Pandolfo is on the payroll for this visit. Last weekend, he was still on a professional tryout agreement. Pandolfo signed his one-year, $600,000 contract on Tuesday. The left wing is expected to be the healthy scratch Friday against the Sabres, although Julien will not hesitate to play him. “He’s a veteran of many seasons,” Julien said. “He’s in great shape. He knows his role. That’s why he’s still around. He could definitely step in there and know exactly what to do.” . . . Last season, Chris Kelly scored three goals in the first 11 games. This season, he remains without a goal after 11 games. Kelly has been the most active forward on the penalty kill (team-leading 2:42 of shorthanded ice time per game), but his offense has yet to come. “He’ll certainly be the first guy to tell you that he’s not at the top of his game yet,” Julien said. “At the same time, he’s a veteran. He knows what he has to do.” . . . Tyler Seguin practiced on the second line with Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, and will likely remain there for the second straight game. Seguin is stuck on two goals, including one empty-netter. “We know we can get more out of him,” Julien said. “It’s a matter of us pushing him, him pushing himself. He’s not a poor player. But I think there’s more that’s expected of him. There’s more he can be able to give us.”Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.