Busy March schedule will test B's depth

Busy March schedule will test B's depth
March 2, 2013, 2:30 am
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WILMINGTON, Mass. -- The Bruins always knew the tough part of the schedule was waiting for them once the calendar hit March, so it’s officially here as the Bruins prepare for 17 scheduled games in 31 days. It’s all part of a 31 game odyssey in the final 58 days of the regular season, and it also means the Bruins will be starting to test out the depth they’ve built up since the NHL lockout ended back in January.

“Rather than looking at it as ‘oh, we’ve got 17 games in March’, we just need to take everything game by game,” said Aaron Johnson.

Johnson, the Bruins spare defenseman, hasn’t played since a Jan. 29 win over the New Jersey Devils, and has been a healthy scratch for 11 consecutive games since the Bruins defensemen corps gained full strength. Anton Khudobin has played a grand total of three times in Boston’s first 17 games, and has watched Tuukka Rask establish himself as one of the best goalies in the NHL this season.

Jay Pandolfo jumped in for a road game against the Winnipeg Jets when Milan Lucic had to return to Boston for personal reasons, but has played only once this season since signing a one-year deal with the Bruins. Lane MacDermid played three games when Shawn Thornton went down with a concussion, but hasn’t suited up for a game with Boston since a Feb. 6 road game against the Canadiens.

The Bruins have remained remarkably healthy on their current five-game winning stretch, so those extra players haven’t been able to get into the action. Both Johnson and MacDermid have reported to Providence at points for conditioning stints this season, but they stand ready to get into the game when needed.

“It’s the reason I’m here skating instead of down in Providence. Injuries will occur and fatigue will occur, and they need to be able to rely on me to play my game while not playing like I haven’t been out there in three weeks,” said Johnson. “You learn what helps and what works best. Before I used to try to stay out of the weight room, but now almost treat it like the summer.

“I just maintain myself and get better while trying to ramp myself up to play. I’ve been playing for 20 years now, so you get a pretty good idea of what you need to be ready to play.”

Johnson is only 29, but been hanging around the NHL since the 2004-05 lockout. Pandolfo, 38, is a veteran of 16 NHL seasons and knows how to prepare for games played with little notice, whether he’s going to play or not. MacDermid is still a young player, but coach Claude Julien said the fourth-line enforcer apprentice seems to know around the league beyond his years.

Khudobin told CSNNE.com after practice on Friday that he’s going to play against the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday afternoon.

“I am going to play against Tampa. They told me already and that’s why I took shots today,” said Khudobin. “I’ll just wait for my chances when the coach tells me to play. We play 17 games in 31 days with four back-to-backs, so maybe I’ll play 4, 5 or even 6 games [in that stretch]…maybe even more.”

Interestingly enough, Julien said it won’t necessarily have to be injuries that would open the door for some of the reserves to get into a game for Boston.

“It’s important because [the extra players] know and they’ve been there. They know how to handle it,” said Julien. “The reason we got those guys for that exact reason: they’ll do whatever it takes to stay at the top of their game while not playing. Younger guys can get a little more discouraged and drift away, but they know exactly what they have to do.

“It’s the same thing with MacDermid. Even though he’s a young player, he seems to be a mature player. I know his dad played in the NHL and he knows a lot of what needs to be done. Whether it’s based on injuries, fresh legs or it’s just because we want a change in our lineup, there will be situations that come up [for the extra players] to get in over the next two months.”

Pandolfo, Johnson and MacDermid wait for the call once attrition begins to take a bite out of the Bruins roster as the schedule density picks up. The second wave of players, including Jordan Caron, AHL Rookie of the Month for February Torey Krug and Ryan Spooner stand ready if the call comes to Providence for urgent help over the next few months.

Organizational depth is a huge factor in the success or failure of NHL teams in the unique, shortened 48-game schedule, and the Bruins are ready to prove their forward, defensemen and goaltending depth is every bit as good as advertised.