Torey Krug will likely be a top-pair defenseman for the Bruins on Thursday. (Harry How/Getty Images)
Claude Julien, his healthy defensemen and Tuukka Rask will have their work cut out for them Thursday night as they open the season without three of their top-four defensemen from last season.
With Dougie Hamilton in Calgary, Dennis Seidenberg rehabbing from back surgery and Zdeno Chara officially out for Thursday night’s meeting with the Jets due to an upper-body, the Bruins’ top defensive pairing is now Torey Krug with Adam McQuaid.
If that sounds alarming, it’s because that has never been a top pairing before. Though both guys have played on Chara’s right at times over the years, trying to shut down Winnipeg‘s top forwards by themselves will be a challenge.
“I don’t really know what to expect, but I’ll obviously be prepared for that,” McQuaid said of potentially playing top-pairing minutes. “Whether we’ll have a definitive 1-2-3 pairings, I’m not quite sure. I think we’re all pretty capable of playing. I think it’s a pretty solid three pairings. We’ll be prepared to play against anyone.”
Boston’s three pairings for Thursday are expected to be Krug-McQuaid, Joe Morrow-Kevan Miller and Matt Irwin-Zach Trotman. Colin Miller is expected to be a healthy scratch on defense.
This season figured to be difficult for the Bruins defensively even before Seidenberg and Chara got hurt. The loss of Hamilton made a team that struggled on the back end last season even worse, and though the B’s had ample bodies with the additions of Matt Irwin and Colin Miller, the blue line figured to be a work in progress, at best. Without Chara, the getting-to-know-you period for guys like Irwin and new full-timers in Trotman and Morrow will be harder than expected.
Where the Bruins benefit (if you can call it that) is that they have last change at home for the first three games of the season. It’s unknown how much longer Chara will be kept out, but Julien will at least have an easier time getting the matchups he want while the games are at TD Garden.
That means that Winnipeg‘s top line of Bryan Little between Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler can probably expect a healthy dose of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Loui Eriksson on Thursday night. Playing against the Bergeron line is never easy, but it’s easier when Chara isn’t out there, too.
A former Bruin who was sent to Atlanta in the 2011 Rich Peverley trade, Wheeler likely would have seen plenty of Chara given that their positions match up (Wheeler’s a right wing; Chara’s a left D). Wheeler was matched against Seidenberg and Kevan Miller when the teams met last Nov. 28, but he faced Chara and Hamilton in a Dec. 19 meeting that saw his line go without a point and struggle with possession.
“You want to see Zee back on the ice as soon as possible, but it’s never that much fun playing against him with that said,’ Wheeler said after Winnipeg‘s morning skate. “I mean that as a compliment. He’s one of the more intimidating tough guys to play against in the NHL. He’s a big hole to fill for sure.”
Julien answered a question about his defense Thursday by noting that the Bruins have “dealt with it before” and “dealt with it last year.” Of course, the Bruins had Hamilton then, while Boston’s other D’s assignments didn’t change too drastically. This will be more difficult, however long it lasts.