The NHL All-Star break, highlighted by Zdeno Chara’s third and fourth revisions to the hardest shot record and Tim Thomas’ fourth straight midseason exhibition victory, proved a delectable diversion for Bruins’ buffs.
But on Monday, the delayed return to regular-season reality brought a particularly unsavory Nathan Horton scenario back to the limelight. A little more than a week removed from absorbing his second concussive hit in less than eight months, the top-six winger is still refraining from strenuous activity.
The latest reports have Horton waiting until the tail-end of this week before he resumes light workouts on the stationary bike, let alone looks into a return to practice.
To say nothing of his short-term and long-term health and effectiveness, Horton’s coaching staff and teammates will confront another test of their qualitative, but not so quantitative depth in his absence.
For an indefinite period, most likely the forthcoming three-game homestand at a bare minimum, Rich Peverley will plug the void opposite David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Jordan Caron, in turn, can be expected back up from Providence to rotate with Zach Hamill on the third line.
That arrangement was already tried for at least two-thirds of the Bruins’ most recent outing against Washington. Peverley spent the first two periods with Horton’s usual linemates, then swapped positions with Hamill for the closing 20 minutes, ultimately accumulating eight attempted shots, putting four on net and one in the net.
Going forward, it would not hurt to let Peverley practice and play with Krejci and Lucic for the full breadth of Horton's absence.
Based on Boston’s recent trends, head coach Claude Julien will not be sacrificing much on top of what was lost beyond his control when Philadelphia’s Tom Sestito biffed Horton last Sunday. If this were November or December, separating Peverley from the likes of Chris Kelly, in particular, would be nothing short of a head-scratching gamble.
But for the better part of the last month, Kelly has been one of the most arid and stale constituents of the Bruins’ depth chart. Peverley, on the other hand, rode a four-game point streak into the recent respite and has had only four scoreless outings, each coming in sets of two, over his last 15.
Translation: Unlike his fellow February 2011 import, Peverley continues to be a third-liner charging up top-six caliber numbers. And between even strength and special teams, he already sees a little more ice time per night than Horton, Lucic or Tyler Seguin.
And not unlike Caron’s imminent recall from the AHL, Peverley ought to embrace a hard-earned promotion, regardless of the unfavorable circumstances that created it. Then again, this is, in part, what depth is stressed for.
Besides his production and playing time, Peverley is fit to fill in some of the smaller details that go missing with Horton. Just as his fellow winger, Benoit Pouliot, filled in for fellow left-hand shot Brad Marchand during the latter’s recent five-game suspension, Peverley can lend a right-hand twig to Krejci’s wings.
Peverley is also capable of fulfilling traditional pivot duties, namely face-offs and playmaking. He will even, at times, take more draws than Kelly on a given night and currently owns the best record among Bruins who have taken 10 or more draws at 167-99, or a .628 winning percentage.
Granted, his goal-assist ratio of 8-25 is far less level than that of Horton, more closely resembling Krejci’s, but based on Peverley’s career transcript, that's likely just an anomaly. And with enough time spent exclusively with Krejci and Lucic, he can flexibly make himself the same sort of half-passer, half-finisher as Horton and Lucic.
Last week, Horton’s status was ambiguous. Now that he has been ruled out of commission for multiple games, Julien should refrain from the same in-game experimentation he exercised in Washington, when Peverley spontaneously resumed his normal post and Hamill spent the closing frame on Krejci’s line.
Barring an early bird deadline deal by general manager Peter Chiarelli or another unforeseen wave of adversary, this will indefinitely be Julien’s offensive allotment.
With the exception of juggling Caron and Hamill on the third line the same way he does Thomas and Tuukka Rask in the crease, Julien should leave his temporary depth formula to develop. The two unripe youngsters have more merit to earn, but Peverley has the seasoning, versatility and consistency required of a full-time, top-six skater.