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Horton isn't quite himself yet

In return from concussion, winger’s timing is still off

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / November 3, 2011

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Nathan Horton has two goals, three assists, and six very costly penalty minutes (of a total 26 PIMs) to his name this season.

For Bruins coach Claude Julien, those uncharacteristic numbers are not altogether surprising because of how Horton’s 2010-11 season ended - on the bad end of an Aaron Rome hit.

Following yesterday’s practice at TD Garden, Horton and Julien emphasized that the No. 1 right wing, who sustained a concussion after being leveled by Rome during Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final last spring, is symptom-free.

Physically, Horton is fine, having been cleared by the medical staff for full game participation.

But Horton’s game - his touch, timing, and rhythm - continues to misfire. Horton is thinking instead of reading and reacting. Because of that slight hesitation, he has whiffed on scoring chances.

“I’m still trying to get my game back,’’ Horton said. “I don’t feel 100 percent out there. I’m not myself. I’m just trying to get that back. Last game, I thought we played better. Hopefully we can get it back.’’

That Horton’s game has yet to return reminds Julien of the cases of Patrice Bergeron and Marc Savard. On Oct. 27, 2007, Bergeron suffered a career-threatening concussion when he was belted into the Garden boards by Philadelphia defenseman Randy Jones. The next time Bergeron dressed was the following season. That year, Bergeron barely resembled the No. 2 center he had been prior to his injury.

A similar fate befell Savard after his concussion on March 7, 2010, courtesy of Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Savard wasn’t himself when he returned in the second round of the playoffs. He wasn’t right the following season, either. Now, Savard’s career is almost certainly over.

Bergeron, though, “came back the next year with lots of energy,’’ recalled Julien. “Everything was good.

“He just worked his way through it and found his game. I think that’s what Horts is doing right now. To me, Horts is starting to find his game. I noticed [Tuesday] night, he was a much better player.’’

The Bruins could have better absorbed Horton’s slow start had they not stumbled out of the blocks. But with so many players off their games, the Bruins have needed far more out of their top-line right wing. Horton has answered by submitting nothing close to a consistent offensive presence.

Late in the second period of Tuesday’s 5-3 win over Ottawa, Horton could have busted a 2-2 tie. He took a cross-crease dish from Milan Lucic and saw an open net. Instead of burying the chance, Horton couldn’t tuck the go-ahead goal behind Craig Anderson.

Horton’s flammable temper has compounded the unreliability of his stick. Last Saturday, the Bruins trailed Montreal in the third period, 3-1. But they were pushing on the power play. Horton wiped out that man-advantage, however, when he retaliated against Hal Gill for several cross-checks. The Bruins lost the game, 4-2.

On Oct. 18, Horton helped turn a one-goal game into a 4-1 loss to Carolina. Rich Peverley had scored a third-period goal to make it a 2-1 game. Thirty-one seconds after Peverley’s goal, Horton rag-dolled Tim Gleason and was tagged with a roughing double minor.

Horton said he thought Gleason wanted to fight. The Hurricanes scored two power-play goals to seal the win.

For two games, Julien put Horton on a line with Bergeron and Brad Marchand. The theory was that Horton would have to skate and compete to keep pace with Bergeron and Marchand. Horton had a goal and an assist in a 6-2 win over Toronto Oct. 20. The next game, Horton went scoreless in a 4-2 loss to San Jose.

Given his 11 games so far, it may take Horton more reps to feel at home again.

“I’ve never had a concussion or anything like that,’’ Horton said. “I didn’t know what to expect coming in. Obviously it has [affected me].

“I’m just going to keep working through it. I know I’ve got to be better and I can be better. It’s just a matter of time. I want to be better. It’s got to come sooner or later.’’

Former Washington Capitals captain Chris Clark signed a professional tryout contract with Providence yesterday and went through his first practice with the AHL club at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center. Clark attended the Bruins’ main camp on a tryout basis and was released the day before the season opener. He could provide bottom-six depth for the big club once he regains his legs and timing. Clark skated mostly as a fourth-line right wing during the preseason. In the finale, Clark fought hard-nosed Islanders forward Micheal Haley and suffered a broken nose. Clark remains free to sign an NHL contract with any team. Providence next plays tomorrow against Manchester at the Dunkin’ Donuts Center . . . Peverley and Dennis Seidenberg didn’t practice yesterday. Julien gave them rest days . . . Adam McQuaid left practice early after suffering a cut on the chin.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.

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