MONTREAL — On Saturday at the Bell Centre, Tyler Seguin played center for the second straight game. Seguin didn’t even make it through the first period at his former position.
Halfway through the first, with his club down 1-0 to the Canadiens, Claude Julien had seen enough of Seguin between Brad Marchand and Jaromir Jagr.
Julien moved Seguin back to right wing. Julien promoted Rich Peverley to skate between Marchand and Seguin. Jagr dropped down to the No. 3 line with Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. Kaspars Daugavins centered Jay Pandolfo and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line.
“This was a big game,’’ Julien explained. “They’re a good team that’s really good in the offensive zone. I don’t think Tyler was ready for that. I had to put in a centerman of experience and put him back on the wing.’’
The Bruins, jumpy to start the game, looked more stable for the rest of the night. But the Bruins couldn’t recover and dropped a 2-1 match to the Canadiens before 21,273.
The Bruins could have taken first place in the Northeast Division, but now trail the Canadiens by three points.
Ex-Bruin Michael Ryder was credited with the winning goal at 0:57 of the second period. Ryder’s power-play tip of a P.K. Subban shot ticked off Dennis Seidenberg and slipped behind Tuukka Rask (27 saves).
Lars Eller gave the Bruins some late hope. In the final minute, Eller took an offensive-zone holding penalty on Zdeno Chara. But during the 6-on-4 power play, the one-up unit of Chara, Marchand, Jagr, David Krejci, Milan Lucic, and Nathan Horton failed to put a single shot on Carey Price. They controlled the puck in the offensive zone for the full 57 seconds. But they passed instead of firing pucks on goal. It was the only power play they had all night.
“That 6-on-4 power play at the end, not getting a shot, was something that was extremely frustrating for me,’’ Julien said. “You’re trying to tie the game up. We’ve got to be better in that situation.’’
The loss underscored yet again how much of a difference-maker Patrice Bergeron is for the Bruins. Bergeron had been centering Marchand and Seguin on the team’s most consistent line. The plan, pre-concussion, was for Jagr to start his Bruins career on the No. 3 line, perhaps alongside Paille and Peverley.
Instead, Jagr was with Campbell and Paille for most of Saturday’s game.
“To me, it doesn’t matter,’’ Jagr said. “Both guys work very hard. They’re getting the puck. We just have to be strong in their zone and be strong on the boards. That’s what we did. We had some shifts where we were in the offensive zone. I think Coach is looking for the right chemistry. It’s going to take time. We’ve still got 12 games left.’’
Bergeron’s absence — his return date is unknown — has ripped Julien’s lineup apart. On Thursday against New Jersey, the first game without Bergeron, the coaching staff believed Seguin could help replace Bergeron by filling his spot in the middle.
In hindsight, it’s a move that didn’t work, and maybe one that shouldn’t have been attempted. The Bruins knew that switching Seguin to center would take time. They saw something similar take place when Seguin stumbled post-lockout in his re-entry to NHL play after tearing up the game in Switzerland. Against the Devils, Seguin lost 9 of 12 faceoffs.
In Saturday’s first period, Marchand, Seguin, and Jagr were on the ice for Montreal’s opening goal. After a Matt Bartkowski turnover, Rask stopped Subban’s point shot. But Seguin couldn’t collapse hard enough on Alex Galchenyuk in the slot. Galchenyuk found the puck and fired it off Bartkowski and into the net at 6:49.
With the Marchand-Seguin-Jagr line misfiring in the first, Julien pulled the plug. In the second, the new line of Paille, Campbell, and Jagr was on the ice for Boston’s only goal.
After Campbell was tossed from an offensive-zone draw, Paille beat David Desharnais and swept the puck back to Johnny Boychuk. The defenseman’s shot thudded off Paille and fluttered past Price (26 saves) at 7:10, making it a 2-1 game.
“I thought Jags had a good night with Campbell and Paille, two guys that work hard,’’ Julien said. “That kind of stabilized at least three lines. But one line didn’t give us much.’’
Julien was referring to the Peverley line, specifically Marchand and Seguin. The two wingers combined for zero shots. Seguin, a power-play regular, didn’t even get on the ice for the final 6-on-4 man-advantage. It might take Seguin yet more time to regain his confidence after being yanked.
The only threesome that remained together the entire game was Lucic, Krejci, and Horton. The three combined for five shots. They had good looks around the net. Krejci led all forwards with 19:55 of ice time. Krejci set the tone by clobbering Brendan Gallagher early in the first. But the line couldn’t bury its opportunities.
“I thought we had some good chances,’’ Krejci said. “Horty had an open net in the second period. Looch had a good one-timer. I thought we had some good chances. It just didn’t happen today.’’