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Bruins depth charged

Options are plentiful to overcome injuries

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / October 2, 2011

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The number that stands out above the rest from 2010-11 is not 1.98 (Tim Thomas’s postseason goals-against average) or 27:39 (Zdeno Chara’s average ice time per game in the playoffs) or four (postseason overtime wins).

It is 105, the number of man-games lost to injury, 34 of which belonged to Marc Savard, following his career-threatening concussion on Jan. 22.

Like every team that wins the Stanley Cup, the Bruins had every puck bounce their way. They beat Montreal in overtime in Game 7 - a scenario, if turned upside down, could have resulted in franchise-shaking alterations. They overcame a dormant power play. And Roberto Luongo turned into a pumpkin.

Above all else, last year’s Bruins enjoyed uncanny good health.

“I don’t know what our man-games lost to injury was,’’ general manager Peter Chiarelli said. “But that was one of the reasons. You have to have that number relatively low.’’

This was a club that had been rattled by crippling injuries at crucial junctures. Two years ago, Dennis Seidenberg missed the entire postseason because of a lacerated tendon in his arm. With Savard not up to speed because of the Matt Cooke-delivered concussion, the Bruins lost their No. 1 center when David Krejci suffered a dislocated wrist in Game 3 of the second round against the Flyers. When Tuukka Rask tired, the Bruins couldn’t turn to Thomas, partly because of his torn hip labrum. Milan Lucic was fighting a sprained ankle he had aggravated late in the regular season.

Three years ago, the medical staff practically ran out of ice bags in the postseason. Mark Recchi was slowed by a kidney stone. After the Bruins stumbled against Carolina in the second round, Phil Kessel required shoulder surgery. Krejci needed repairs on his hip. Andrew Ference underwent groin surgery.

Last season, aside from Savard’s concussion and Aaron Rome flattening Nathan Horton in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins were blessed with sturdy bones and rock-hard muscles. The concussion Patrice Bergeron suffered in the second round against the Flyers, the third of his career, knocked him out for only two games. Adam McQuaid had to be driven to Philadelphia’s Jefferson Hospital after he sailed into the Wells Fargo Center boards following a missed check on Mike Richards. Like Bergeron, the shutdown defenseman missed only two games.

That good fortune cannot be expected to continue this year. If breaks and pulls and sprains strike, the 2011-12 Bruins have been built with options and flexibility in mind.

“I like our depth on our team,’’ Chiarelli said. “Look at it from the perspective of centers on our team. I think we’re deep at center. We have centermen that can play the wing and vice versa.’’

The most important principle of the team’s identity is - and will be - goaltending and defense. But one of Chiarelli’s supporting philosophies has been to build through the middle.

Of the 12 forwards who will dress in Thursday’s season opener against Philadelphia, six are natural centers: Krejci, Bergeron, Chris Kelly, Gregory Campbell, Rich Peverley, and Tyler Seguin. The latter, who played most of his rookie season at right wing, has appeared more comfortable in the middle during training camp. As Seguin improves defensively, he could earn more trust from the coaching staff to play in the middle. In turn, Seguin could turn the space he gets at center into the launching pad he requires to flaunt his speed and shot.

With a half-dozen pivots just a shoulder tap away, Julien can customize his lineup for the matchups he prefers. If he wants three lines of offensive-minded centers, Julien can send out Krejci, Bergeron, and Seguin down the middle. If he prefers to use Bergeron as a matchup center, he can deploy the alternate captain between Brad Marchand and Peverley. For late-game scenarios in one-goal matches, Julien can tab Bergeron, Peverley, and Kelly - three faceoff men with defensive elements to their games.

The power line will be Lucic, Krejci, and Horton. But Seguin has seen some shifts on the right side during camp. Jordan Caron has skated alongside Krejci and Seguin and not looked out of place. Perhaps the only unit that is a lock to start together is the fourth line - Campbell between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton.

“The one thing we like about our team this year is that we’ve got a lot of guys we can move up and down the lineup,’’ Julien said. “Certainly through injuries, through merit - whatever. We’re certainly capable of doing that. I don’t want guys to feel comfortable. I think it’s important to start the season with everybody wanting to keep their spots, not lose them. And other guys to hopefully earn enough respect and trust that they can be moved up in certain situations.’’

A similar principle is in place on the back end. The most versatile plug-and-play asset is Seidenberg. If Julien prefers a balanced rotation, Seidenberg will skate on the second pairing, with Joe Corvo most likely being paired with Chara.

Whenever the Bruins require a shutdown pairing against some of the league’s top lines - think Anaheim’s Bobby Ryan, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry; Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis; Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom - Seidenberg will be Chara’s right-hand man.

If Julien wants his three right-shot defensemen (Corvo, McQuaid, Johnny Boychuk) to play their natural sides, Seidenberg will stay on the left.

“I don’t have a preference,’’ Chiarelli said of whether he likes Seidenberg on the left or right side. “You have the ability to pair him up with Z when you have to. He can play on both sides. There’s more flexibility there. You talk about our flexibility with our centermen. Well, there’s some flexibility there.’’

In goal, it would be unfair to expect Thomas to submit a repeat performance. The 37-year-old appeared in 82 games, combining the regular season and the playoffs. Thomas’s 2010-11 workload, his age, and his short summer all point to more work for Tuukka Rask.

Given his pedigree and projected future, the Bruins expect Rask to deliver in a bigger role. Nobody in the organization would be surprised if Rask gets hot and grabs the go-to job for stretches during the season. Julien has often emphasized that he has two No. 1 goalies.

The aim of the Bruins’ multiple looks is for another deep postseason run amid a phenomenon they know to be very real: the Stanley Cup hangover. Mental fatigue remains. That can create mistakes, which often lead to losses. Injuries will happen.

So if the Bruins stumble early, they will be prompt to act. Goaltending roles can flip. Lines will change. Depth players such as youngsters Caron, Jamie Arniel, Steven Kampfer, and Matt Bartkowski will step in if veterans can’t knock the rust from their skates.

The Bruins are coming off the summer of their lives. But it’s not summer anymore.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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