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Horton is determined not to sit still

He knows he must get things moving

Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer (left) appears to have the jump on the Thrashers’ Tim Stapleton in a chase for a loose puck. Bruins defenseman Steven Kampfer (left) appears to have the jump on the Thrashers’ Tim Stapleton in a chase for a loose puck. (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / December 31, 2010

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ATLANTA — On Tuesday, coach Claude Julien delivered the directive to Nathan Horton.

Last night, it was up to Horton to respond.

In the third period of a 4-3 overtime win over Tampa Bay, Horton and linemate Marc Savard were fixed to the bench — a thunderclap to the No. 1 right wing.

Last night, in his first appearance since the benching, Horton was determined to turn his game around.

“I know I can be better than I have been,’’ Horton said before the 3-2 shootout loss to the Thrashers. “I’m just going to keep trying.’’

On Wednesday, Julien addressed the situation with Horton. There may have been a time when players were left to figure things out on their own.

Julien likes to note that, in his playing days, on the occasions he was assigned to the minors, he rarely heard from a coach or general manager about the reason for the demotion.

Today’s NHL, however, requires clear communication between boss and employee. Especially with a player like Horton, who responds better to positive reinforcement than negativity.

“A lot of it is dependent on the individual,’’ Julien said. “Different individuals respond to different tactics. That’s something I’ve learned from Day 1 of coaching. Everybody has a different personality. Everybody responds differently.

“There might have been a day where, way back, when people said it was all about giving a kick in the rear, being hard on every player, and they responded. Unfortunately today, that’s not the way it goes.

“That’s not just in hockey. That’s in any sport.’’

To that end, the coaching staff showed video to Horton, Savard, and Milan Lucic, the cogs of the No. 1 line. The team’s hottest threesome of Blake Wheeler, David Krejci, and Michael Ryder has been controlling the puck, entering the zone with speed, and driving hard to the net to create scoring chances. Conversely, the top line has been chasing the puck far too often. The result is a banger, a playmaker, and a sniper playing defense.

“It’s probably about working better, No. 1,’’ Julien said. “Reading off each other a little bit better so they can play with the puck a lot more.

“I think right now, they’re spending too much time defending. That’s not how you’re going to produce. They can get in synch a little bit better there.

“At the same time, they’ve been together for three games. You have a choice of either working with them and trying to get that line going, because you know what the potential is. Or you blow it up. We’re not ready to blow it up quite this second.’’

Horton was optimistic about unearthing his touch. The last time the Bruins squared off against the Thrashers, he ripped off four shots and threw down with Evander Kane.

“I feel like I’m trying to work hard still,’’ said Horton. “Sometimes it just doesn’t go in. Obviously I need to be better.’’

Horton had one shot in 16:16 of ice time. Both Savard and Lucic landed four shots.

“It was better,’’ Julien said. “Unfortunately, they’re not on the scoresheet again tonight. They had some chances, the three of them. Hopefully it just gets better, because obviously we need those guys to produce for us.’’

Marchand moves up Gregory Campbell was scratched from the lineup because he was sick. The fourth-line center was replaced by Tyler Seguin, who was between Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton.

Brad Marchand, the fourth-line left wing, took Seguin’s spot alongside Patrice Bergeron and Mark Recchi. Marchand was coming off one of the strongest games of his NHL career. Against the Lightning, Marchand scored a third-period goal and drew three penalties.

Last night, Marchand had two shots in 15:31 of ice time.

Marchand has clicked with Campbell and Thornton. But he was a first-line wing in Providence and could develop into a top-nine NHL forward because of his speed, shot, and grit.

“That’s one of the guys we’d certainly like to see move up if need be,’’ Julien said. “It depends on the situations. We could be giving him that opportunity.’’

He was ready Lucic believed the Thrashers might come after him last night because last Thursday he sucker-punched Freddy Meyer, then made an obscene gesture to the Atlanta bench. Lucic was fined $3,500 for his actions but not suspended.

“You’ve got to expect something,’’ Lucic said before the game, “but you’ve definitely got to stick up for yourself if they do.’’

Tough guy Eric Boulton gave Lucic a whack early in the first, but it didn’t turn into a confrontation.

Julien has been wary of Lucic squaring off with tough guys because of the imbalance of losing his No. 1 left wing for five minutes.

Staying over Instead of traveling to Buffalo after last night’s game, the Bruins spent another night in Atlanta. They will practice in Duluth, Ga., this morning, fly to Buffalo, and stay in a suburban hotel. The tweak is because of the World Junior Championship taking place in Buffalo, which means a scarcity of hotel rooms . . . Atlanta placed Nik Antropov on injured reserve yesterday and recalled Tim Stapleton, who scored in the shootout, from Chicago (AHL) . . . Kane didn’t dress because of an undisclosed injury suffered Tuesday against Pittsburgh.

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

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