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Ice-cold Schaefer not bitter

Unproductive Bruin deals with injury, illness, demotion

Email|Print| Text size + By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 31, 2008

As a veteran, 30-year-old Peter Schaefer has earned the status necessary to forgo the optional practices and morning skates occasionally called by Bruins coach Claude Julien.

But as a bottom-six forward battling for regular shifts and an opportunity for more ice time, Schaefer might not be able to afford any more days off, despite a battered body.

Schaefer, acquired by general manager Peter Chiarelli from Ottawa counterpart Bryan Murray July 17, 2007, was projected to be Marc Savard's wingman on the No. 1 line - a two-way player with a winning pedigree, soft hands, good vision, and a reputation for being one of the NHL's toughest grinders.

But in three of the last four games, including Tuesday's 3-1 win over Nashville, Schaefer skated mostly on the fourth line. Last Thursday, in Boston's 4-1 win over the Islanders, Schaefer was a healthy scratch for the first time since he became an NHL full-timer.

"I think we're entitled to get a little bit more out of Peter," said Julien. "I think anybody who's seen him play before when he's at his best [will say] he's an elite player, a really good player. I think this is what we need from him - to step it up and make that difference."

Last weekend, Schaefer spent the All-Star break at his downtown home, which his parents used as base camp while also visiting his younger brother, Nolan, the former Providence College standout goaltender who saw action in Monday's AHL All-Star Game in Binghamton, N.Y.

It was a time for Peter Schaefer to reflect upon a season that's been as disappointing for him as for his employers.

While the Senators, pressed against the cap when they traded Schaefer - they had yet to extend the contracts of impending free agents Jason Spezza, Dany Heatley, Mike Fisher, and Ray Emery - viewed the deal as a salary dump, Chiarelli gave up plugger Shean Donovan for what he viewed as a top-six forward.

But Schaefer, who has two years remaining on a deal that averages $2.1 million per season, has scored only seven goals in 47 games.

"If you go through all the guys in the league, some have nice seasons. Others have bad slumps and bad years," said Schaefer. "You just try and get through it. You're not going to have great years every year. I still have half a year to go at it, get healthy, and take the positive out of it."

Schaefer, a former third-round pick of Vancouver in 1995 (the same year Savard was selected in the fourth round and Boston took P.J. Axelsson in the seventh round), busted out in 2005-06, putting up a 20-30 -50 line in 82 games for the Senators. The following summer, former Ottawa GM John Muckler re-signed Schaefer to a four-year deal, a contract the Senators soon would be looking to shed.

Last season, Schaefer scored 12 goals and had 34 assists in 77 games, but he fell into disfavor with Murray - the current GM stood behind the Ottawa bench before taking over for Muckler - and skated mostly on the third line.

After plucking him from Ottawa, the Bruins projected Schaefer to be a 20-goal man who could be the grinder to complement the pass-first Savard and trigger-happy Glen Murray. In the season opener against Dallas, Schaefer, while skating on the top power-play unit, set up Patrice Bergeron for a goal with a sweet behind-the-back pass.

Ten games into his stay on the No. 1 line, however, Schaefer had netted only one goal. On Nov. 1, Schaefer was dropped to the third line. Then on Dec. 8, to open a spot for Milan Lucic on the line, Julien shifted Schaefer, a career left wing, to the right side.

Ten days later, Schaefer stepped in front of a shot by Ottawa's Christoph Schubert. Schaefer blocked the shot that resulted in a breakaway - goalie Martin Gerber stuffed the winger's attempt - but Schubert's blast had cracked a bone in Schaefer's left foot. It was the first broken bone he ever suffered.

Busted feet have sidelined Axelsson, Shawn Thornton, and Aaron Ward this season. But Schaefer didn't miss a game because of the injury, taking numbing shots before three or four games to stay in the lineup. He still cannot tie the laces tightly on his left skate.

Schaefer, however, couldn't avoid a virus that caused flu-like symptoms and dropped him like a bad egg for two matches: a 3-2 shootout loss to Toronto Jan. 17 and a 4-3 shootout victory over the Rangers Jan. 19.

"Five days at home," said Schaefer. "Didn't even leave the house. Couch and back to bed. I wasn't tired, but I didn't want to open my eyes because there was so much pressure built up. I had three or four meals in five days."

Upon his return, Schaefer skated on the fourth line for two games, then was a healthy scratch last Thursday. It was the first time he'd been scratched for anything other than an injury since becoming a full-time NHL player.

"I've got no issues with being out of the lineup," said Schaefer. "Guys were playing well. And it gave me that much more of an opportunity to get healthy, kick the bug, and hopefully get on a roll. I'm not going to go out and do the role that [Shawn Thornton] and [Jeremy Reich] do. They do a great job."

Unable to shake the virus, Schaefer was prescribed penicillin. But Schaefer, who had never contracted such an illness before, learned he was allergic to penicillin when he suffered digestive problems after taking his prescription.

"I'd never gotten sick like that before," said Schaefer. "After pretty much five or six days of doing nothing and not eating much food, I tried to come back and contribute, even if it was just a little bit."

Looking to rebound

He's been a No. 1 left wing. A member of the top power-play unit. A regular penalty-killer.

But now, Schaefer finds himself lower on the depth chart than rookies Vladimir Sobotka, David Krejci, and Pascal Pelletier, fighting to reclaim the minutes Julien has doled out elsewhere.

Axelsson faced a similar situation at the start of the season, when Julien skated the winger on the third and fourth lines. By late October, after doing the little things - killing penalties, playing stout defense, contributing offensively - Axelsson was rewarded by Julien, who promoted him to the first line.

"He's put himself in a position where he's got to work his way up the ladder again," said Julien of Schaefer. "Axelsson had the same issue at the beginning of the year. He responded well. We're hoping Peter's going to do the same thing. His play will dictate how much he plays. His play will definitely dictate whether he makes a difference on this hockey club or not."

In Tuesday's third period, with the score tied, 1-1, Julien bumped the left wing up to the third line to skate with Krejci and Pelletier, figuring that Schaefer's experience could help the threesome produce some offense. Earlier in the game, while skating with Thornton and Petteri Nokelainen on the fourth line, Schaefer showed flashes of his old game by grinding along the wall and entering the dirty areas.

"Even when he was on that other line with Nokelainen and Thornton, I thought that line was good," said Julien after the victory. "I think he certainly took some steps in the right direction tonight."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com.

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