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Depth perception is better

Bruins like what they see of roster, for now

Center Gregory Campbell (middle) provides depth up the middle, and his play has allowed the Bruins to go with a four-line rotation. Center Gregory Campbell (middle) provides depth up the middle, and his play has allowed the Bruins to go with a four-line rotation. (Michael Dwyer/Associated Press)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 15, 2010

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WILMINGTON — Early in Saturday night’s 2-1 overtime loss to the Flyers, the Bruins’ No. 3 line of Daniel Paille, Marc Savard, and Michael Ryder skated several shifts against Philadelphia’s No. 4 line of Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, and Jody Shelley, along with the third defensive pairing of Andrej Meszaros and Sean O’Donnell.

That was by design.

Two years ago, when the Bruins ran away with the Eastern Conference regular-season title, one of their difference-makers was the third line of Ryder, Blake Wheeler, and David Krejci. With other clubs worried about Boston’s top-six forwards, Krejci and friends regularly found themselves skating against energy lines and bottom-tier pairings. The aim now is that something similar can happen when Savard regains his timing.

“Michael’s off to a decent start this year, which helps,’’ said coach Claude Julien after yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “Savvy’s one of those guys who will find those players. I thought, as a line, they had a pretty good game last game. Hopefully they can keep growing as a line and keep getting better.’’

With Savard, and with Marco Sturm having been moved to Los Angeles and Matt Hunwick to Colorado, the Bruins finally have something close to the roster they once projected (defenseman Mark Stuart, out with a broken hand and a dislocated finger, the exception). They have three offensive-minded centers and a fourth line responsible enough to play against skilled threesomes. On defense, they have some interchangeable players whose flexibility makes the sum of the unit greater than its parts. In goal, Tuukka Rask can give Tim Thomas a breather when required.

So as of now, depth isn’t an issue.

“We have three pretty talented lines playing ahead of us,’’ said fourth-line center Gregory Campbell. “And that’s a good thing to be able to have that depth. Claude’s been rolling four lines and he’s been using his whole bench. I think that tends to wear teams down. When we’re playing a lot of back-to-backs and tough road games, grinding games, I think it’s important to be able to utilize everybody.’’

Campbell’s play has been a major reason Julien has featured a four-line rotation. In comparing the 26-year-old Campbell with the two centers who previously held his job, the ex-Panther has a mix of Steve Begin’s grittiness and Stephane Yelle’s smarts, with fresher legs.

With Campbell effectively centering Brad Marchand and Shawn Thornton, Julien’s played the grinders in every situation. Against the Flyers, the trio started the game against Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Ville Leino.

“That’s been a good feeling for us to feel that confidence from Claude and the coaching staff,’’ Campbell said. “For them to trust us, the responsibility is big. But I think it’s one that we can handle. It’s something you have to take pride in. For us to be able to go out there, it’s good for us to be able to create chances. But we have to be a responsible line, a line that can be good in our own end, work from there, and create the offensive chances. The defensive zone is where we have to be near perfect.’’

On defense, the Bruins have replaced Hunwick and Stuart with Adam McQuaid and Steven Kampfer. McQuaid was the No. 7 defenseman to start the season, and Kampfer was in Providence. McQuaid and Kampfer have effectively brought their respective shutdown and puck-moving games to the six-pack.

An overlooked asset, however, is how effectively the coaching staff — assistant Doug Houda is responsible for overseeing the defense during games — has mixed and matched pieces around strongman Zdeno Chara. Depending on matchups, all five defensemen have skated with Chara.

Since Stuart’s injury, Andrew Ference, once Chara’s regular partner, has moved down to the third pairing with McQuaid. But against the Flyers, Ference played a season-high 25:45 because of the flexibility he can provide. When healthy, Ference can move the puck. He can play a shutdown game. He can play on either the left or right side.

“Where we’ve moved him isn’t really about his play,’’ Julien said. “To me, he’s been as steady and as good a defenseman as we’ve had this year. We saw spurts of that in the past, then he’d end up on the sidelines. Right now, Andrew’s playing pretty solid hockey for us.

“With Kampfer coming in as a righthand shot and [Johnny] Boychuk, it’s an opportunity for us to move him around. He can play right or left and still get the minutes we feel he should be getting.’’

Tyler Seguin practiced on the third line. He missed his first NHL game Saturday because of flu-like symptoms. Seguin likely will be back in the lineup tonight against Buffalo, with ex-Sabre Paille likely the healthy scratch . . . McQuaid was still stiff because of Saturday’s face-first ride into the end boards, courtesy of Shelley’s hit from behind. McQuaid made it through practice without limitations and should be fine tonight. The Bruins don’t have any spare defensemen, but they didn’t call up any help from Providence. “He’s stiff, but not stiff enough to keep him out of the lineup or keep him out of practice,’’ Julien said. “He still feels the effect of that hit and it’s still there. But he’s a tough individual and he’s battling through it, to the point where I don’t really think it’s going to be a factor as far as affecting his game.’’ . . . The Sturm trade has been finalized. The deal was contingent on Sturm passing a physical for the Kings. He had the exam Monday, and the Kings got the results they wanted yesterday.

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

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