Zamuner positioned to succeed
ATLANTA -- He may not be considered a prolific scorer but no one would argue the importance of P.J. Axelsson to the Bruins. So when Axelsson went down with a shoulder injury Nov. 20 against Washington, coach Mike Sullivan had to pick a replacement.
The obvious candidate was versatile forward Rob Zamuner. Axelsson has missed four of the last five games, including last night's against the Thrashers, and Zamuner has filled in for him on the left side with center Brian Rolston and right wing Travis Green.
It's no small assignment. Depending on the game plan and how much special teams play there is, Zamuner and his linemates find themselves facing the cream of the crop.
"Obviously, with those two guys, a lot of times we're against the other team's top line so we just have to be aware of who's on the ice against us," said Zamuner. "With Brian's speed, you try to get him the puck. When he's skating, he creates a lot, so we just kind of try to pick up the garbage."
Sullivan doesn't tend to adhere strictly to matchups, so Zamuner said the preparation required to play against an opponent's top forwards isn't necessarily different from when the coach is rolling out four lines.
"We have a lot of depth, so Sully has that hand where he can use those different combinations," said Zamuner. "You just have to be aware of the danger zones. You don't want to do anything fancy, especially at the blue lines, because good lines can kill you on the transition, and that's what you don't want to allow those guys."
The most dangerous player on the Thrashers -- and one of the most dynamic in the league -- is left wing Ilya Kovalchuk, who scored the winner in overtime the last time the Bruins were in town, Nov. 19.
"He's got speed and he obviously has a sense of the game and he's got a great shot," said Zamuner. "He's got all the tools. When you're covering Joe [Thornton], he's a big, physical guy, and you know you're going to be in for a hard night. Against Kovalchuk, you have to be more aware and be ready to move your feet more, so it's a little different weapons they use to beat you."
Zamuner did more than help hold Kovalchuk to one assist and three shots on net. He potted his first goal of the season -- an empty-netter with 1:02 left in regulation, and he assisted on Green's first-period goal.
"I saw [Rolston] first and he drove to the net and opened up a lane and then I saw Travis," said Zamuner.
Sullivan said he was happy to see offense from so many different sources.
"These guys are the foot soldiers of our team and they do a lot of the little things that don't show up on the scoresheet but are so important to a team's success," he said. "When those guys can get rewarded in that regard, I think it's great. That's never an easy thing, to step up like that. I thought Zam had a real solid game tonight."
Zamuner and his teammates acknowledge this is a very important week because they face three straight Eastern Conference division leaders -- with Toronto up tonight at the FleetCenter and Philadelphia in town Saturday -- and they're determined to turn around their fortunes.
"When we were winning those games, our play started to slip at the end," he said. "What's been discouraging is giving up points. We've still been getting points, but we really should get 2 points. In the playoffs, if we're going to be successful, we have to win those type of games."
Sergei Samsonov continues to struggle offensively. The left wing has no goals in his last 10 games . . . For the first time this season, the Bruins didn't take a penalty the entire game. The Thrashers had six minutes in penalties.
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