Replacement's not easy to find

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / November 17, 2008
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ETOBICOKE, Ontario - They are the recession-proof portfolios, the power forwards with full sets of teeth, the jeans that fit just right.

Puck-moving defensemen, like the aforementioned commodities, are simply hard to find, especially after one of your best goes down with a fractured tibia.

During the Bruins' 3-2 shootout loss to the Rangers Saturday night, Boston had its first crack at life without Andrew Ference. Ference is gone for up to two months, courtesy of Montreal defenseman Andrei Markov's anvil of a one-timer flush to his right leg. The Bruins discovered that life without Ference, their most consistent defenseman through 16 games this season (0-7 -7, plus-9, 22:25 of ice time per game), won't be easy.

"He plays an all-around game," said Mark Stuart. "He's good in the D zone and gets his shots through as well. He's big on special teams, too. He's on the second power play and on the penalty kill as well."

Ference, with his smooth skating, crisp first passes, and ability to throw some heavy hits (think of Dallas agitator Steve Ott, laid out by the defenseman's open-ice hit Nov. 1), will be a significant loss for a club that relies on defense-first play and now counts only Dennis Wideman as an experienced puck-mover.

"The game's changed a lot," said coach Claude Julien. "The forecheck is taking a lot of your options away. Teams are taking the boards away. Their first forechecker is on you hard. You have less time and less options. The quicker you move the puck, the less time teams have to get themselves in that situation where they take away your options. Moving it quick becomes a real valuable asset in this game."

General manager Peter Chiarelli has said he's not looking to acquire a defenseman. But if Chiarelli changes his mind, he'll find a market that continues to feature high demand and low supply. Anaheim most likely will be in the mix for a mobile defenseman to replace Francois Beauchemin, who is most likely gone for the season after tearing his left anterior cruciate ligament Friday.

This year, only one defenseman that fits the puck-moving category has been moved: Matt Carle, who was shipped from Tampa Bay to Philadelphia for forward Steve Downie, defenseman Steve Eminger, and a 2009 fourth-round pick.

No player movement, however, will take place before tonight's match against Toronto. After yesterday's practice at Lakeshore Lions Arena, Julien said there will be no AHL recalls. If there had been a promotion, Matt Lashoff would have been a candidate.

"We have no issues there," Julien said. "We've had [Shane Hnidy] out and [Matt] Hunwick's come in and done a good job."

Ference, 29, had skated mostly with Wideman on the second pairing. Saturday night, Stuart slotted into Ference's position alongside Wideman and skated a total of 17:12, the most ice time he'd had all season. Stuart was on the ice for both of New York's goals.

"He's got offensive ability, so he's up in the play a lot," Stuart said of adjusting to Wideman as a partner. "So you've got to be watching. You can't be jumping up there with him and having two D go. You tend to stay back a little more with him.

"With Hnides, each of us would pick our spots. If one of us was going to go, the other would stay back. We both weren't jumping in all the time. Wides moves the puck really well and he's a good skater. So in the D zone, it's a little different because he tends to handle the puck a little bit more."

Stuart isn't the only defenseman expected to take on some of Ference's responsibilities. Against New York, Hunwick played a season-high 15:43, while Hnidy skated for of 15:12, his second-biggest workload of the season.

"We're not looking for anybody to be Andrew Ference," Julien said. "We're just looking for our players to be extremely good so they can compensate for the loss of an Andrew Ference. Guys like Stuey, Hnides, and even Hunwick get a chance to play a little more."

Marc Savard was given the day off to visit his three children in nearby Peterborough . . . Wideman and Patrice Bergeron were at the rink, but didn't skate. They will be ready to play tonight . . . Despite playing Saturday and looking at a crammed schedule this week - tonight at Toronto, Wednesday vs. Buffalo, Friday vs. Florida, Saturday at Montreal - Julien opted for practice yesterday although he kept things light. "Nothing today was tough," he said. "Just to get the blood flowing."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at

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