'Ax' to grind, for now
Winger returns to familiar role
WILMINGTON - He doesn't skate on the No. 1 line anymore. He likely will not be among coach Claude Julien's top three shootout gunners. He is off the power play.
"I'll leave that to Phil [Kessel]," P.J. Axelsson said yesterday with a laugh.
In the last two games, the Bruins have welcomed back top-line wingers Kessel and Milan Lucic, a power-play point man in Patrice Bergeron, and a top-four defenseman in Andrew Ference.
While the Bruins await their returnees to reclaim their games - the players have cited timing, touch, and pace as elements they're partly lacking - they have already created a trickle-down effect on the lineup.
Shane Hnidy, a healthy scratch for the 4-3 overtime loss to New Jersey Thursday, will most likely sit again this afternoon against the Rangers. Bergeron was the No. 3 center against the Devils, dropping Stephane Yelle to the fourth line. And Lucic has replaced Axelsson on the top line and the No. 1 power-play unit.
Because of his versatility, Axelsson (4-16 -20, plus-1 rating, two power-play goals) has served Julien well amid the club's injuries. But until injuries strike again, Axelsson is back in his traditional role of penalty killer and matchup winger.
"We were trying to stretch our bench as much as we could," Julien said. "Guys had to do different things because of it with the number of injuries that we had. Right now, he's being slotted back to where he's at his best and where he's able to help us as much as he can. Certainly, now we've got other guys who have stepped in who are usually power-play guys.
"His focus is basically on his job. It doesn't mean that we can't use him there. But at least he's not having to get stretched out to the point of fatigue setting in."
Prior to Tuesday's 3-2 overtime win over the Capitals, when Lucic, Bergeron, and Ference were reintroduced, Axelsson averaged 16:56 of ice time. For the last two games, Axelsson has skated on the third line with Bergeron and Chuck Kobasew.
Axelsson, 33, logged 14 minutes against Washington, and was on the ice for 14:14 against New Jersey. Tuesday, Axelsson was on the ice for defenseman Mike Green's first-period goal, which came one second after the Bruins had killed off a high-sticking penalty to Marc Savard.
Axelsson, who has been a Bruin for all 768 of his games in the NHL, will be an unrestricted free agent after this season. Axelsson said there have been no talks regarding an extension.
"It's one of those situations where at one point, we said, 'OK, let's take that approach, do it right the first time, and let's get it over with,' " Julien said. "It really is what it is, because he's feeling much better. Once he comes back, he's definitely going to be 100 percent."
Fernandez was initially knocked out for two games with back soreness. He served as Tim Thomas's backup for four games, but was not available the last two matches (Tuukka Rask was the backup).
Fernandez will remain out of uniform today.
"It's frustrating, but you try and keep your head up," he said. "Just have to take time, get better, and come back when I can."
"The biggest thing there is that since the beginning of the year, I think Andrew Ference has been the guy who adapts the best at playing the right side," Julien said. "I know Stuey can do the same thing as well. He's done that. But Andrew is a very versatile player that adapts very easily to situations."
Julien also explained that because of New Jersey's four-line depth, he put Ference with Stuart to even out the defense and provide three reliable pairings.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.