Patrice Bergeron is out at least 4 weeks. Here’s how that will affect the Bruins
DETROIT — The Bruins announced Tuesday that they expect to be without Patrice Bergeron for at least four weeks because of a rib and sternoclavicular injury sustained in Friday’s overtime loss to the Dallas Stars.
No player’s injury has a greater impact on the club, which leans on the No. 1 center in every facet of the game. Perhaps an even-handed analysis of the loss will help Bruins fans deal with that sinking feeling.
How will the Bruins (11-6-3) miss Bergeron? Let us count the ways.
1. Even strength: offense
What they miss: One of the most intelligent and complete players of his generation, Bergeron is the pivot man of arguably the NHL’s top line. His chemistry with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak drives the Bruins’ attack and is every opponent’s greatest worry.
Bergeron is a strong skater, slick passer, and sharp shooter, but his greatest offensive asset is his mind. On every shift, he affects the play by knowing where to be, where his teammates are going, and where defenders are not. It helps his wingers attack harder, knowing Bergeron has their backs.
The line wears down opponents and lifts the rest of the Bruins’ forward units. Bergeron, who leads the team in scoring at 9-17—26, is the centerpiece.
What now: In Saturday’s 2-1 win at Arizona, coach Bruce Cassidy used David Krejci as the No. 1 center, reuniting him with Pastrnak and giving Anders Bjork (at his natural left wing spot) a chance to play with the skilled pair. To excel, he must start to see the game with a floodlight, not a flashlight.
Krejci is a smart and capable defender, though not as physical and willing as Bergeron. This line should produce plenty of offense (see: the Czechs’ World Championships win over Russia last May, where Krejci-Pastrnak were dominant). It’s a great opportunity for Bjork (1-2—3 in 18 games), who could come alive with those two.
Marchand now has the responsibility of driving a line with Joakim Nordstrom and Jake DeBrusk.
The Bruins can no longer afford to wait for third-line center Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to find his footing, and need left wing Danton Heinen to emerge as a leader for that No. 3 trio, along with checking winger Noel Acciari.
On Tuesday, the Bruins recalled center Colby Cave, who leads Providence in scoring (6-12—18 in 15 games). He was an extra in Tuesday’s practice in Detroit.
2. Even strength: defense
What they miss: There’s a reason the Bergeron line has the puck all the time: If they lose it, they usually get it back quickly. Bergeron (four Selke Trophies) is one of the NHL’s best-ever defensive centers. In his own zone, he stays tight to the play and supports his teammates, never overreaches, never cheats. He becomes an angry dog in puck battles. He uses his stick to thwart plays all over the ice.
Few players as offensively gifted as Bergeron are used in a shutdown role, but the list is long of elite scorers Bergeron has helped neutralize.
What now: Krejci will draw tougher matchups and Nordstrom is a quality defensive forward, though not a center by trade. The player to watch here, though, is Sean Kuraly. The fourth-line center is fast enough to keep up with some of the league’s better skaters, and his heavy game can be disruptive.
Cassidy has matched Kuraly against stars, including Edmonton superstar Connor McDavid, with decent results. Forsbacka Karlsson, a rookie who gets pushed around too easily, had better keep eating his Wheaties.
3. Power play
What they miss: Before a recent matchup with the Bruins, one Atlantic Division head coach was asked the key to stopping Bergeron’s PP one-timer from the slot. “You pray your goalie makes a save,” he said, not wanting to put too much on the record before the game. “That’s all you can do.”
Only six centers have been on the ice for more power-play scoring chances than Bergeron’s 74, according to Natural Stat Trick. He is fifth among forwards in power-play assists (eight).
What now: David Backes, like Bergeron a right shot, takes over in the bumper, or slot, position, in the middle of Marchand (right half-wall) and Pastrnak (left circle). The glass half-full view: It could get Backes going (0-1—1 through 15 games).
4. Penalty kill
What they miss: His intelligence, positioning, stick skills, and grit have long made Bergeron one of the best penalty-killing forwards in the game. Bergeron’s ability at the dot shows up large everywhere, especially here. He is sixth in the league among centermen with 200 draws at 55.7 percent; since the NHL began tracking that stat in 2007, his average is 58.3.
What now: No Bruins forward spent more PK time on ice than Bergeron (1:59 per game). Marchand’s partner for the game-saving kill to the end the Arizona game was Acciari.
Nordstrom, Wagner, and Kuraly will see more than their share of time. Forsbacka Karlsson is a new addition to the unit.
5. Dressing room
What they miss: Few players are more respected around the league than Bergeron. His beyond-reproach résumé includes a Stanley Cup, two Olympic golds, a World Championship, and a World Junior Championship.
He has been a Bruin for 15 years, since he made the team as an 18-year-old. This is a team loaded with 25-and-under players (12 of them) and several mid-aged newcomers. When Bergeron speaks, everyone listens.
“When the doors are closed, he’s vocal,” said Backes, a former St. Louis captain. “He’s the heartbeat. He knows all the right things to say.”
What now: With alternate captain Bergeron joining captain Zdeno Chara (out 4-6 weeks with a left knee injury) on the shelf Saturday in Arizona, the “A’s” went to Krejci, Marchand, and Backes. It is incumbent on Marchand to keep his head on straight in his buddy’s absence.
The Bruins welcome the return of defenseman Kevan Miller, a steadying force. This is a chance for emerging leaders such as Torey Krug, Matt Grzelcyk, DeBrusk, and Pastrnak to keep setting an example.
6. What’s more
Bergeron will be evaluated after four weeks. A longtime emergency room doctor who has worked with Canadian Olympic teams and is familiar with such injuries in car crash victims, noted that surgery is often the remedy if bones in that area — essentially where the sternum, ribs, and shoulder meet — have not stabilized after a month of healing.
Bergeron has remarkable will — he played through torn rib cartilage, a broken rib, a separated right shoulder, and a punctured lung in the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals — but he’s not Wolverine.
The Bruins are 10-6-3 with Bergeron, 1-0 without him, and they next face the Red Wings Wednesday. There will be rougher nights ahead: the always-dangerous Penguins Friday; at Montreal and Toronto Saturday and Monday; and 14 games in December, including eight in the Atlantic Division and a rematch with the powerful Predators.
Treading water through this stretch with Bergy and Big Z missing would be a victory.
RED WINGS THUMBNAILS
■ When, where: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m., at Little Caesars Arena
■ TV, radio: NESN, WBZ-FM (98.5)
■ Goals: Dylan Larkin 8, Andreas Athanasiou 7, Anthony Mantha 6
■ Assists: Gustav Nyquist 13, Larkin 11, Frans Nielsen 10
■ Goaltending: Jimmy Howard (6-6-2, 2.64 GAA), Jonathan Bernier (3-3, 3.59 GAA)
■ Head to head: This is the second of four meetings between the Bruins and Red Wings this season. The Bruins won the first meeting 8-2 on Oct. 13.
Miscellany: The Red Wings are 6-2 in November and have won five of their last six . . . The Red Wings rank 25th in the NHL in goals per game (2.75) . . . Detroit is 5-3-1 at home this season.