With Game 4 between the Bruins and Canucks hours away and the dust now beginning to settle after Nathan Horton’s scary injury, we can now stop debating whether or not Aaron Rome left his feet, and turn our attention to actual hockey and actual hockey decisions.
An obvious major decision heading into tonight for head coach Claude Julien is how Horton will be replaced in the lineup. Of course, we use that word “replaced” rather loosely, because there isn’t a headset-wearing Sidney Crosby up in the press box, and the only idea more idiotic than that is placing a call to Phil Kessel.
Physically replacing Horton in the lineup was an easy decision, with Tyler Seguin slotted back in. Where this becomes more difficult is determining exactly where Seguin should play. If it’s not him sliding into Horton’s hole on the top line alongside Milan Lucic and David Krejci, then who’s the most ideal candidate?
Kids grow up fast these days, and it’s hard to believe that three weeks have passed since Seguin popped both his playoff cherry, and his playoff scoring cherry on the same night. Yes, it’s definitely true that no one forgets their first, but the problem with being a playoff offensive dynamo in your first two games is that unrealistic expectations can be created. Only the truly delusional held those expectations, but regardless Seguin has still gone pointless in his last seven games, a stretch of futility that convinced Julien to bench the rookie and go with the grit provided by Shawn Thornton in Game 3.
Seguin certainly has the offensive skill for the top line, and that’s his final destination in the not-so-distant future. But during his two games against the Canucks he’s been kept hidden and guarded by Julien. Seguin saw the ice for a combined 15:07, with 2:47 coming on the powerplay.
Julien has to ask himself how much he trusts his young, blossoming forward to perform defensively against the Sedins. Perhaps more importantly, he’ll also have to defend himself against the biting of Alex Burrows. So when Julien stands in front of a mirror tonight and loudly says “Claude, what should I do?”, the answer shouldn’t be Seguin, although he’ll probably keep talking to the mirror and eventually convince himself.
The other two primary options for the top line appear to be either Rich Peverley or Michael Ryder. Peverley has been a modest source of secondary offence for Boston since coming over at the trade deadline, scoring 10 points over 44 games. While that total may not be especially impressive, Peverley’s primary contribution lies in his two-way ability. He’s better suited to remain in the proverbial grinder role, throwing some ‘bows and building off the physical ground Boston regained in Game 3.
Replacing Horton’s offence on the top line is difficult, but the Bruins can damn well try. With Horton gone, Ryder is now tied for third on the Bruins’ active roster in scoring with six goals and 14 points. Earlier in the playoffs Ryder had a streak in which he posted seven points over five games, and although he followed that up with a cold stretch (goose eggs for the next five games), he had three points in Monday’s romp.
With a +7 rating this spring and a large frame to battle in the slot, Ryder shouldn’t be a defensive liability against the finesse of Vancouver’s top line. The proud Newfoundlander should get the call, but the allure of Seguin’s speed, hands, and overall puck wizardry will likely be too strong.
If Julien needs to toss a figurative coin while he’s talking to his mirror, Ryder should win because Seguin’s playoff beard is disgraceful, and because he looks like Simon Baker from The Mentalist.