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Bite lacking in the dog days

Midseason dip not due to injury

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / January 19, 2012
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TAMPA - Tonight at the Prudential Center, when the Bruins conclude their four-game road trip against the Devils, Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley will be back in uniform. At just the right time.

The Bruins are in second place in the Eastern Conference. They have played the fewest games of any team in the East. They are 6-4-0 in their last 10.

But this is not the same team that was rolling opponents just a month ago. After Tuesday’s 5-3 setback against Tampa Bay, goaltender Tim Thomas was asked whether his opponent looked like a club that had lost seven straight games.

“They didn’t look like that against us,’’ Thomas answered. “We looked like that.’’

Tonight, the Bruins will welcome back two of their more important all-around forwards. Marchand is eligible to return after completing his five-game suspension for clipping Vancouver’s Sami Salo. Peverley has missed the last two games because of a personal matter.

Prior to his suspension, Marchand (16-16-32) was the team’s third-leading scorer behind linemates Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron. Marchand is averaging 16:58 of ice time per game.

Peverley, the No. 3 right wing, has 7 goals and 22 assists. He is logging 16:46 of ice time per game, including 2:59 on the power play and 1:54 on the penalty kill. Most recently, Peverley had been manning the right point on the No. 1 power-play unit alongside Zdeno Chara.

“Look at what they do,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “Pev is a power-play and penalty-kill guy. Marchand can do both as well. They’re guys that play a lot of minutes.’’

Without Marchand and Peverley, the lineup underwent alterations. Benoit Pouliot was promoted to the second line. He had been clicking on the third line with Peverley and Chris Kelly.

The most drastic difference has been on the third line. For the last two games, Kelly has been centering Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill. Both of the youngsters played less than 10 minutes against the Lightning. With two inexperienced players flanking Kelly, the No. 3 line had little impact.

But the Bruins should have been able to absorb their personnel losses with better efficiency. For almost a full year, the Bruins have been blessed with nearly perfect health. Their last major injury was on Jan. 22, 2011, when Marc Savard played in what was likely the final game of his career before being felled with a concussion.

Meanwhile, all of their primary competitors have suffered crippling injuries. Marc Staal, the Rangers’ No. 1 defenseman, missed almost the entire first half of the season because of a concussion. Philadelphia will be without captain Chris Pronger (concussion) for the rest of the season. The Flyers are currently without James van Riemsdyk (concussion), and saw top gun Claude Giroux miss time because of a head injury.

On Tuesday, the Lightning managed to topple the Bruins despite missing Mattias Ohlund, Victor Hedman, Marc-Andre Bergeron, and Adam Hall, all regulars from their lineup last year.

“Everybody has those situations around the league,’’ Julien said. “If anything, you’d like your team to be able to play through those kinds of things. Normally, we would. But we’re not playing the way we should.

“If everybody was competing the way they could, those things wouldn’t even be an issue. Right now, they might seem like an issue. But it’s more about what we have on the ice more than what we don’t have on the ice.’’

What Julien has is a roster full of players in midseason doldrums. The Bruins are very comfortable in the conference. Four games remain before the All-Star break. After that pause, less than a month will remain before the Feb. 27 trade deadline. After that, there is the final sprint to the end of the regular season and then the playoffs.

For the Bruins, these are the dog days. Which might explain why they’re playing as such.

In their last four games, the Bruins have played three opponents (Montreal, Carolina, Tampa Bay) that will, in all likelihood, be on the golf courses by April. The Bruins didn’t play well against any of the three, beating Montreal by one goal at home and losing to the Hurricanes and Lightning on the road.

“We know we can be better defensively,’’ said Daniel Paille. “We’re giving up 3-4 goals a game now for the last few. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.

“We have to get back to that mentality. We had a good stretch. We’ve got to go back to a couple months ago when we felt pretty confident in ourselves and play like we did back then.’’

Chara a Star captain

Chara, a former Senator, will be one of the two All-Star captains for the game this month in Ottawa, the NHL announced yesterday. Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson will wear the other “C.’’ Chara and Alfredsson will be responsible for drafting players for their rosters Jan. 27. This is the second time such a format will be used. Last year, Eric Staal and Nicklas Lidstrom served as captains . . . The Bruins didn’t practice yesterday. After staying over in Tampa following Tuesday’s loss, they traveled to New Jersey yesterday.

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

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