WILMINGTON, Mass. -- When asked what he and his teammates will miss most about Johnny Boychuk while the blue-liner is sidelined with a broken left forearm over the next month, goaltender Tuukka Rask bluntly answered: “Everything." That's how much Boychuk means to this team only one year after he was riding the pine as the seventh defenseman trying to crack the lineup.
After missing 25 of the first 28 games last season, Boychuk finally got on the ice and eventually, due to key injuries to fellow rear guards Andrew Ference and then Dennis Seidenberg, got a chance to prove himself. That’s exactly what he did, earning a spot on the top defensive pairing with captain and then reigning Norris Trophy winner Zdeno Chara.
Boychuk impressed the team brass and coaching staff enough that he was awarded a new two-year contract last June, and this season he picked up where he left off, with three assists in his first six games before the injury.
“It’s a loss, there’s no doubt,” head coach Claude Julien acknowledged after practice Monday. “He’s been playing pretty good hockey for us and pretty consistent since last year. So you lose a guy who I feel is a consistent player in your lineup every night.”
One of the key reasons the Bruins have gotten off to a solid start at 4-2-0 is that they are deeper up front. But now they will find out just how deep they are on their blue line with Boychuk out. Heading into the season and even now, as Julien pointed out Monday, their main deficiency may be the lack of a legit puck-moving defenseman. But Boychuk wasn’t that guy, and with or without him in the lineup, Julien said he is confident this group of defensemen can collectively move the puck.
“People have really felt that our team, if there was somewhere it was questioned, it was on the back end,” Julien pointed out. “I think we’ve got a solid D core and I think the issue that everyone is talking about -- and they have a right to -- is the fact that you’re looking for who is that defenseman that’s going to carry the puck up the ice like so many teams have. They have that luxury of players. But we have a group of players ... that together are very solid. We don’t give up that many goals, and so far our D has contributed offensively as well. They may not carry the puck from end-to-end, but they’re starting to do a decent job of supporting the attack, which is a way of creating some offense.”
While defenseman Adam McQuaid won’t be that puck-mover the Bruins still covet, he will bring a sound, physical game when called upon and Julien hinted Monday that he may get the nod after watching from above as a healthy scratch in the first six games. When asked if there would be a defenseman called up from Providence in the AHL, Julien said that, at least until Thursday and maybe beyond, he planned on using the six defensemen he has.
He went on to credit Adam McQuaid and expressed his faith in him.
"We've got some quality players that have been on the sideline for a while," said Julien. "Now they get an opportunity to play. Adam McQuaid -- every time he's played for us, as far as I'm concerned -- he's never cost us. It's always been simple but solid play and we have confidence that he can step in and do the job.
McQuaid, who did play in nine playoff games last spring, said he is thrilled at the prospect of getting back into game action.
"I'm really excited," McQuaid said. "It's not the way you want to get in, but I've been trying to stay sharp in practice. Injuries are a part of the game and chances were that at some point in time someone wasn't going to be able to play, so I was just trying to stay prepared and be ready when I got the chance. I've been itching to get in. I haven't got to play a regular-season game yet this year, so I'm looking forward to it. Hopefully I can step in. There's big shoes to fill [playing] for Johnny, but hopefully I can step in and fill his shoes somewhat."