On Thursday night at TD Garden, with Patrice Bergeron unavailable because of a concussion, Tyler Seguin moved to center. And it took him only one shift to understand Bergeron’s talent.
“First shift, I was like, ‘Bergy, I appreciate you a lot more right now,’ ” Seguin said afterward with a smile.
The Bruins beat the New Jersey Devils, 1-0, in their first game of the season without Bergeron. They felt Bergeron’s absence the entire night.
Seguin, centering Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr, lost nine of 12 faceoffs. As a result, the line had to chase pucks instead of controlling possession at the start of most shifts.
The Bruins allowed 40 shots. They didn’t get many quality chances without Bergeron, their leading scorer.
“A lot of things we used to take pride in have slipped away from our game,” said coach Claude Julien. “We’ve got to bring that back to our play. It’s changing at the right time when teams are coming up the ice, outnumbered situations, a lot of that stuff. Not putting pucks in deep when there’s nowhere to go. Still forcing plays. All bad habits that I’ve seen have crept into our game lately.”
But the Bruins were able to grind out a win. Tuukka Rask stuffed the Devils 40 times for his third shutout of the season.
Rask had backed up Anton Khudobin the last two games. Khudobin blanked the Sabres, 2-0, on Sunday, and stopped 45 shots in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the Senators.
“Dobby played great in Buffalo,” Rask said. “He was great against Ottawa. I wasn’t feeling sorry for myself sitting out. I was feeling good for him. He’s kind of in that groove, playing really good. It was good to watch him for a couple outings there. I felt good out there.”
The Bruins will need similar goaltending, blue-collar work, and a little bit of luck — like the puck that glanced off Jagr’s left skate and past Martin Brodeur in the second period — to survive their stretch without Bergeron. Given the nature of concussions, Bergeron’s return date is unknown.
No player can replace Bergeron. The alternate captain stands tall amid a group of all-around centers who touch every part of the game. Others in Bergeron’s class: Jonathan Toews, Claude Giroux, Pavel Datsyuk, Anze Kopitar, and Ryan Getzlaf. It is an exclusive club.
The Bruins gave Seguin first dibs to fill Bergeron’s skates on Thursday. He played center in junior hockey, and has faced elite forwards while playing alongside Marchand and Bergeron.
As expected, it will take time for Seguin (three shots, 19:08 of ice time) to feel comfortable at center.
“Tyler is obviously realizing how tough it is for Bergy to play that position,” Julien said. “In the D-zone, there’s a lot of territory to cover as a centerman. When pucks were going from one side to the other, he wasn’t always there. That’s a work in progress. That’s what we expected. That’s what he’s going to get used to. But overall, that line was fine.”
At center, Seguin had more skating room. He didn’t have as many starts and stops as he usually does at right wing. Seguin was a free-flowing skater, given the green light to employ his speed and vision to create offense.
But Seguin must be more efficient in the defensive zone.
“It’s going to be a little different for him,” Julien said before the game. “He’s not going to be on the wall. He’ll be low in support. He’s going to have to cover a little more territory. It’s something we all know Bergy does extremely well. He’s got some big shoes to fill. We don’t expect him to fill them. But we expect him to go out there and do a decent job like everybody else.”
Julien sent out Rich Peverley with Seguin and Jagr to take defensive-zone faceoffs.
Once the Bruins gained control of the puck, Peverley went off and Marchand rolled over the boards.
“Center is a very tough position,” said Marchand. “Bergy’s so good at it, so good defensively. You saw me and Segs out there struggling a little bit. We know how good Bergy is. We know we’re lucky to have him.”
Later in the game, Julien shortened his bench. Julien sent out a No. 3 line of Peverley between Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell.
In the final minutes, when New Jersey pulled Brodeur for an extra attacker, Paille, Peverley, and Campbell were the forwards trying to fend off the Devils.
Bergeron is usually one of Julien’s most trusted late-game forwards.
There are only 12 games remaining in the regular season. Marchand, Seguin, and Jagr should improve and find their rhythm with every shift.
But with every point so precious, the coaching staff might not have the patience to wait for them to discover their pace.
“It’s one thing being a centerman and going to the NHL,” Seguin said. “It’s another thing going to center to wing in the NHL, then going back to center. It’s going to take some adjustment.”