With Phil Kessel's team-high 31 goals back in Boston, where the third-year winger will remain throughout the weekend, top pivot Marc Savard is expected to ride tonight with P.J. Axelsson on left wing and rookie Blake Wheeler (18 goals) on RW.
However, Axelsson, the ever-dependable defensive forward, opted not to work out in this morning's optional skate. Defenseman Mark Stuart also took the morning off blades. Coach Claude Julien was very matter-of-fact about their absences, noting that the workout was optional and that both players simply opted not to lace 'em up.
If Axelsson were unable to play, Julien could opt to use rookie Matt Hunwick at Savard's left wing. The talented rookie paired with Shane Hnidy in the morning's defensive couplets.
The way the lines are likely to look:
Mark Recchi-Patrice Bergeron-Chuck Kobasew
Milan Lucic-David Krejci-Michael Ryder
Byron Bitz-Stephane Yelle-Shawn Thornton
Zdeno Chara-Aaron Ward
Andrew Ference-Dennis Wideman
Mark Stuart-Matt Hunwick
Tim Thomas is expected to make his seventh straight start in the Boston net.
Ryder, with a half-dozen goals in his 13 games since returning from surgery to repair a fracture frontal sinus, has yet to decide if he'll wear a protective visor next season. For the remainder of this season, right through the playoffs, he is under orders from the team's medical staff to wear an elongated visor, protecting the repair he underwent at the start of February.
''I wouldn't say it's good or bad, but it's different,'' said Ryder, asked how he feels about the visor after a month of using it. ''If I do wear it next year--and I'm not sure how I feel about that--it won't be a long one; it will have to be smaller.''
If the playoffs were to start based on this morning's standings, Ryder would be facing his former club, the Canadiens, in the first-round best-of-seven series.
''It seems every year it's the same thing,'' he said, ''but only this time I'm on the other side of it.''
Based on history--how he spent much of last year in then-coach Guy Carbonneau's doghouse in Montreal--would Ryder prefer to face Les Glorieux in the opening round?
''If it happens, it happens,'' said Ryder, who will celebrate his 29th birthday on Tuesday. ''It would be kinda neat to play against my old team.''
The Bruins, without a road win since Feb. 17 in Carolina, enter tonight's game with an 0-5 mark in their last five games away from Causeway Street.
''It's mostly about the way we've played,'' said Julien, asked if the road has been particularly tough on his team of late. ''We didn't play well enough to win, whether the games were at home or on the road.''
Sunday's 4-1 victory over the Devils brought Boston's record to 7-9-3 over the last 19 games.
A few points of interest (and some frustration):
-- Dennis Widemen enters tonight's game mired in a seven-game pointless streak. Considered the club's top puck-lugging blueliner, he has not scored a goal since Feb. 4 and has gone a lackluster 0-7--7 in the last 21 games.
-- Chuck Kobasew, who collected a career-high 39 points last season, has gone an impressive 4-3--7 in his last nine games, a pace that works out to 63 points over an 82-game schedule. He enters tonight with 18 goals and 37 points.
-- Milan Lucic scored Sunday against the Devils, the big winger's first goal since Feb. 10. He is only 1-4--5 over his last 16 games.
-- Shawn Thornton, who flashed a bit of scoring touch with two goals over four games at the end of January, has pitched in with only one assist over the last 22 games.
-- Patrice Bergeron, with an assist in each of the last two games, has gone 3-11--14 over his last 20 games, looking far more like the pivot who averaged just under 72 points in the first two years after the lockout.
-- Blake Wheeler is a mere 1-1--2 over his last 10 games.
-- David Krejci, outstanding through January, is a chilly 2-7--9 over the last 21 games.
-- Matt Hunwick, who has dressed for only six of the club's last 12 games, has averaged a point per game (3 goals, 3 assists) in those six starts.
-- Phil Kessel, home in Boston with what is believed to be a sore left shoulder, was held without a point in seven of his most recent 13 games. But he went 6-3--9 in the half-dozen games that he got his name on the scoresheet.