With both arms down and by his side, Chuck Kobasew gave his gloves the prototypical fighter’s shake while face to facewith Buffalo Sabres forward Maxim Afinogenov. Neither player is known for throwing his fists, but after a collision at center ice in the first period of Saturday night’s game at the TD Banknorth Garden, Kobasew’s unrelenting will to drop those gloves forced Afinogenov to back down.
“We just kind of had a little bit of a battle there,” said a humbler Kobasew after the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Sabres. “We got mixed up trying to go to our benches. End of a shift, not much is happening there.”
It was the end of yet another shift in which Kobasew’s built-up energy level was noticeably higher than that of anyone else in the building. Then again, that’s what happens when an injury forces you to sit out for over a month after returning from a season-ending leg injury the year before. Kobasew was placed on injured reserve after fracturing his right ankle in the first game of the season against Colorado on Oct. 9. Saturday marked his return after missing the team’s previous 12 games.
Kobasew is one of the quieter players on the Bruins, but he made plenty of noise Saturday as the fourth-line right winger, alongside Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton.
“He looked good,” said Bruins coach Claude Julien after the game. “I think that’s what we said all along, that if he was going to come in, he had to be a difference maker. Everybody who watched him knew he was ready to go, and he played extremely well.”
With the game tied at 1 after one, Kobasew took matters into his own hands 2:47 into the second period, firing a slap shot from just inside the blue line on the right wall that beat Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller to the top right corner. Kobasew called the goal, which deflected off the skate of Sabres defenseman Teppo Numminen, lucky.
“Just being able to get the puck on net, it makes it a little bit better,” said Kobasew of his comfort level. “You can relax and just try to go out and play your game.”
Kobasew hadn’t scored a goal since March 16 of last season, after suffering a broken left tibia and missing the final six regular-season games and the entire first-round playoff series against Montreal last year.
Up-and-comer waits his turn
Kobasew picked up assists on both Blake Wheeler and David Krejci’s first goals of the season while manning the right wing on the third line in the season opener. Bruins coach Claude Julien found himself in a position to somehow fit last year’s second-leading goal scorer back into the offense, even if it meant sitting a progressing Petteri Nokelainen.
“It’s tough, there’s no ifs and buts about it,” said Julien. “You’re pulling out a guy that’s played well enough to stay in the lineup. But that’s the nature of the game. You have to dress 20 guys, and [Kobasew] was 100 percent, and he’s a proven veteran that can score goals for you.
“We’ve got a young player that probably deserves to be in the lineup,” the coach said of Nokelainen. “But all that’s going to do is build character, and when he comes back in, I’m sure he’s going to be ready to go.”
The 22-year-old Nokelainen entered the week as one of two Bruins players yet to record a point (defenseman Matt Hunwick was the other). He’s played in 10 games so far this season and will watch from above for the time being.
“You can’t allow yourself to get down when you’re in those situations, because when you’re called upon, if you’re not ready, you may not get that second chance,” said Julien. “It’s all part of the process. You can be here and miss a few games, or if you want to be in the minors instead, just let us know. When you look at [Nokelainen] from last year to this year, he’s already progressed quite a bit. So he’s on the right track, and we just have to stay with him, and he’s got to stick with us.
“I don’t think we should look at it as if this is our roster,” added Julien. “I have no issues in changing my roster if somebody’s not pulling his weight around. It doesn’t matter who you are. You could be first line. You could be first pair of defensemen. I don’t care. It really doesn’t matter. What matters has always been the team, and if you can’t help at that time, I’ll find somebody else to do it.”
Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at email@example.com
This week's OT cover
OT beat writersMaureen Mullen brings you Red Sox information and insights.
Tom Wilcox covers the Patriots.
Scott Souza is all over the Celtics.
Danny Picard is on the ice with the Bruins.
Mike McDonald takes a look at the humorous side of Boston sports