We’re not sure if you heard, but Tyler Seguin kind of had a big game last night. He scored two goals, and he now has six points over just his first two career playoff games. From this we can draw two definitive conclusions: Seguin will be in the lineup for the foreseeable future, and the Bruins no doubt, absolutely, positively won the Phil Kessel trade.
Settle down, angry Leafs fan, we’re only kidding. We’re not actually that overzealous and short-sighted, and we wouldn’t try to judge a trade that isn’t even complete yet.
But the first half of those two earth-shattering predictions is true. It was just 24 hours ago that there was a debate about Seguin’s playing status if Patrice Bergeron was given the green light for Game 2. Despite Claude Julien’s lame attempts at speaking in playoff injury tongue, early on Tuesday it became clear that Bergeron wasn’t quite ready, so we pressed pause on that verbal sparring session.
Now we’re pressing the play button on that same debate, but with a different angle. Seguin will play, so if we operate under the assumption that a healthy Bergeron returns for Game 3, who’s watching from the press box for the Bruins Thursday night?
Seguin’s outburst in two games becomes even more impressive given his ice time. The 19-year-old has notched his six points while playing in a combined 24:40. In Game 1, he saw the ice for less than 10 minutes (9:38), a number that increased in Game 2 because of his brilliance, but Seguin still didn’t receive a significant bump up (13:31).
The only two forwards who received less than or equivalent ice time to Seguin during the first two games against Tampa Bay are Shawn Thornton and Daniel Paille, who are also the two leading candidates to watch Game 3 from a perch high above the ice. In Game 1, all three players received nearly identical ice time. But last night Julien finally realized that keeping his hottest offensive player bolted to the bench isn’t conducive to success, and a clear difference emerged.
Thornton received the lowest ice time of any Bruins player with 4:46, while Paille remained five minutes behind Seguin (8:06) in part because of the powerplay time gifted to the rookie. Paille and Thornton both play left wing, so while Julien may be tipping his hand by fastening those two to the bench while he’s loosening Seguin’s screws, the third option that’s not getting as much consideration but requires less juggling is Gregory Campbell.
Similar to Thornton, Campbell is valued for being a daddy’s boy hitting and being a nagging annoyance. But Campbell’s superior two-way game is why he’s not receiving much consideration for a press box seat, because as dazzling as Seguin’s been, he remains a defensive liability. Campbell is also leaned on for his faceoff ability, an area in which he’s won 51.7 percent of his draws in the playoffs.
But his faceoff prowess and other valuable intangibles such as beating the snot out of players who’ve only ever fought their sister didn’t earn Campbell much more time than Paille or Thornton last night (9:53). Also, his main asset of winning draws could prove to be a bit more expendable with the return of Bergeron, whose 64.2 percentage leads all players in the original 16-team field that qualified for the playoffs, and is first amongst the final four.
If I was a betting man–and I am–my money is on Thornton simply because even if we disregard the recent ice time numbers and what these players are doing with that limited time, Thornton’s style of play is the easiest to cast aside.
With 14 fighting majors this year, Thornton’s primary function is to be a pest, and play with his gloves off. Paille and Campbell can execute the former half of that equation just fine, and the latter isn’t needed much in April and May.