This offseason, general manager Peter Chiarelli held off from signing a third-line center because of the first-year emergence of David Krejci, who scored 74 points as an AHL rookie last season.
But Krejci got off to a slow offensive start this year, registering an 0-3 -3 line in 12 games.
And combined with Boston's sputtering penalty kill (five power-play goals in the last two games), it was no surprise that Krejci was assigned to Providence yesterday and replaced in Boston by ex-Islander Petteri Nokelainen. Krejci had gone scoreless in his last eight games and logged only 6:56 of ice time in the 3-2 loss to Ottawa on Saturday.
"Our plan wasn't to play him 6-7 minutes a game," said coach Claude Julien. "I think he got himself in that situation. He just wasn't as good as he had been before. He was the first to acknowledge it as well. I think that's a good sign. If a player thinks he's playing well and we don't think so, then we've got some issues here. I think we're both on the same page. He's willing to go down and work on his game and bring it back to where we both feel it should be."
Nokelainen, acquired from New York Sept. 11 for center Ben Walter and a conditional draft pick, has three goals and five assists in eight games for Providence this season. However, Nokelainen most likely will be employed as a crash-and-bang checker with the Bruins. The 6-foot-1, 191-pound center/right wing is a gritty forward and penalty-killer with more of an energy profile than Krejci, an offensive-minded playmaker at the AHL level.
"Nokelainen's played some power play, killed some penalties," said Julien. "Obviously there's some grit to his game. He's a hard-nosed kind of player."
Nokelainen, wearing No. 56, skated 13 shifts for 8:17 of ice time (1:49 on the penalty kill) against Ottawa, centering Jeremy Reich and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line during even-strength situations. Nokelainen won two of five faceoffs. It was his first NHL game since April 2, 2006. That year, Nokelainen appeared in 15 games for the Islanders, scoring a goal and an assist.
"[Saturday] night, on my way home, Coach [Scott Gordon] pulled me in the front and said, 'You're going up tomorrow to play against Ottawa,' " Nokelainen said before last night's 2-1 shootout loss. "Of course you get excited and it's what I've been waiting for, for almost two years now when I stopped playing in the NHL."
After Saturday's 3-2 loss at Scotiabank Place, Julien assumed Andrew Ference would be available for last night's rematch.
But Ference missed his first game of the season with an upper core injury sustained in Saturday's loss.
"I don't even think that was a possibility," Julien said of Ference's unavailability based on his condition after Saturday's game. "But what happens is a lot of times guys are still warm after games. Then the next day, they feel it a little more. We've got four games this week. Putting him in today was not the wise decision. Putting him in today would probably risk losing him the rest of the week."
Bobby Allen, a healthy scratch for every game except the season opener, took Ference's spot. Allen played with Mark Stuart on the third pairing, skating 15 shifts over 10:51. Dennis Wideman replaced Ference as Andrew Alberts's partner and logged a season-high 25:12 of ice time, recording three blocked shots, one takeaway, and two shots.
Rookie Milan Lucic was a healthy scratch for the first time this season. Reich, playing in his first game this year, replaced Lucic on the fourth line. Reich skated seven shifts for 5:29 of ice time . . . Ex-Bruin Shean Donovan, swapped to Ottawa for Peter Schaefer, played his first game at TD Banknorth Garden since the July 17 trade. Donovan said spending last year with the Bruins was harder on his wife. "It was easy for me. I've got the guys," said Donovan. "It wasn't easy on her. We lived in Lexington and we didn't know the area. Nobody lives around there." . . . The Bruins have today off and will return to practice tomorrow at Ristuccia Arena.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.