The Bruins will have to start the 2016-17 season without Patrice Bergeron.
Bergeron, the No. 1 center and the heart and soul of the team, suffered a lower-body injury Tuesday, did not practice Wednesday, and will not make the trip to Columbus for Thursday's season opener.
"Disappointing,'' said Brad Marchand, Bergeron's longtime linemate with the Bruins. The pair were also two-thirds of the top line for champion Team Canada at the recent World Cup of Hockey and came to the NHL season brimming with energy and confidence.
"Rough start but hopefully he'll be back soon. It just means other guys are going to have to step up and pull a little more weight. It's not how you would prefer to start but it will test guys' character and maybe give a couple of other guys more opportunity."
Bruins coach Claude Julien called Bergeron's injury minor, and said he is day to day.
"Hopefully we'll have him back [soon],'' Julien said. "Our goal is to look at the next game, which is Toronto, and if not, then we'll look at Winnipeg. I'm confident it's going to be really short term.
"You're missing one of your better players, so it's not an easy way to start but it's the reality,'' Julien said. "We've been talking about having depth, let's use that depth right now. If everybody does their job and we play the way we should, I believe we can get through this."
Bergeron led the Bruins last season with 68 points, including 32 goals. Marchand had a team-high 37 goals and added 61 points.
Zdeno Chara said the loss of Bergeron is a difficult test for a team with some new faces.
"He's our best player — any time you're missing a guy like that who plays in all the situations, all the important moments during a game, it's a challenge,'' Chara said. "But at the same time, we have to find a way to play without him."
David Backes, the former Blues forward who signed a five-year deal with the Bruins July 1, will take over between Marchand and David Pastrnak on the first line. Backes, who had been skating at right wing on David Krejci's line, has the versatility and the experience to play forward or wing. He played 10 years in St. Louis, where he was team captain.
"When you put him [on the top line], you can still feel comfortable about him being able to play against some pretty good lines,'' Julien said, "so you're not inserting a young player who lacks experience, or someone who's not ready for that. So he fills in perfectly."
Marchand and Pastrnak had one practice to get acquainted with their new centerman.
"He's a great player,'' Marchand said, "and it's nice to have the opportunity to play with him, practice with him at least [one day].
"He plays a hard game, plays well down low. He makes a lot of good plays in tight so it will be fun to play with him."
With Backes bumped to Bergeron's spot, Danton Heinen was playing with Ryan Spooner and Krejci, Austin Czarnik (cleared to play after going through the concussion protocol) was between Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes, and the fourth line was manned by Riley Nash, Dominic Moore, and Noel Acciari. Tim Schaller, recalled from Providence to join the team, practiced with the fourth line.
"We spoke to our depth in camp, and the tough decisions the coaches were forced with, with so many capable players,'' said Backes, "and now we've got to test that a little earlier than we had hoped. We would have liked to be full strength to start the year."
Bergeron's role reaches into all areas of the game — power play, penalty kill, faceoffs, offense, defense.
"We'll have to all pick up some of the load he carries, which is a huge load for this team,'' said Backes. "But spread that over a few guys and we'll be able to manage until he gets back.
"We're going to get a test right off the bat and we need to pass it."
Backes played in one exhibition game with Pastrnak, but never Marchand.
"Playing with Marshy is going to be a bit of a learning curve,'' Backes said. "I think he and Bergy played together for years and years and years and we've got one day of practice together. Hopefully we can use hockey sense and communicate and get some instant chemistry and produce and have a great game. It's going to be a process to get that in order."
The Bruins play their first three games on the road, a time usually spent doing some bonding off the ice. This year, they'll have to get acquainted on the ice as well.
. . .
There was more bad news for the Bruins. Defenseman Kevan Miller had surgery to repair a fracture in his left hand Tuesday and will be out six weeks. Defenseman Adam McQuaid has an upper-body injury and is day to day; he will not make the trip to Columbus.
But the absence of the two veteran blue liners means a chance for rookies Rob O'Gara and Brandon Carlo. Added to rookie forwards Heinen and Czarnik, that's a sizable splash of newcomers.
"Whenever there's young guys on the team there's a little more excitement,'' Marchand said. "They have a lot of energy, they're like little puppies. It's kind of what Pasta [Pastrnak] is like. He's always buzzing around and excited all the time. It's fun to have that young energy in the room."