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The All-Star break couldn't come at a better time, either, as Milan Lucic (shoulder), Patrice Bergeron (concussion) and Andrew Ference (leg) get a few extra days to heal.
"The reality is that right now we can't be the same team people have seen since the beginning of the year. Not with that many injuries," Bruins coach Claude Julien told the Boston Globe. "We just have to look at our lineup, and I think it's important that people know that we've got to grind it out a little more like we did last year than what you've seen at the beginning of this year."
Beyond the three guys above, high-scoring forward Phil Kessel is out indefinitely because of mononucleosis, and forward Marco Sturm is out for the season after knee surgery.
Meanwhile, leading scorer Marc Savard, who has three goals and four assists in the past eight games, is still dangerous but isn't producing at quite the same clip since Kessel's last game, Jan. 10, or even Lucic's last game, Jan. 6.
The injuries have put more pressure on Savard and other core players such as forward David Krejci, goalie Tim Thomas and defensemen Zdeno Chara and Dennis Wideman.
"Our transition game has been good," Julien told the Globe. "We got on the attack quickly. But now we don't have that firepower. When you're missing four of your top six players on your top two lines and two [defensemen] that are normally top-four, we've got six players that are in the upper echelon of our lineup that aren't there right now. That's one-third of your team missing. It's impossible to think you have the same team."
Defenseman Aaron Ward returned from a charley-horse injury to help the Bruins beat the Leafs 4-3 in a shootout, and Lucic, Ference and Bergeron are expected back soon after the break.
|Rich Peverley is capitalizing on his second chance.|
Peverley has two goals, six assists and a plus-6 rating in five games since Atlanta plucked him from Nashville. It helps that he's been skating alongside a revived Ilya Kovalchuk.
"He looks like he's got a new jump to his game," Predators coach Barry Trotz told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution after Peverley had three assists Saturday in a 7-2 victory over his former team. "[He and Ilya Kovalchuk] clicked, and he's scoring points, and all those things you saw in Peverley are starting to come out now. The last thing I said to him was, 'Go and produce, and you'll be in this league a long time.'"
Kovalchuk, who recently became the Thrashers' captain, has four goals and two assists since Peverley joined the team.
"I think Kovy's a lot more dangerous now," Thrashers coach John Anderson told the Journal-Constitution. "He doesn't have to carry it from end to end. You saw a couple of plays where the passes to Kovy were beautiful. It just puts another weapon in our arsenal."
Sharks defenseman Rob Blake is trying out a clear plastic guard attached to his helmet to protect a jaw injury that has kept him out the past two games.
Blake, whose jaw was hurt by a deflection of a Dion Phaneuf shot Jan. 15, told the San Jose Mercury News he might not be ready for the Sharks' first game after the All-Star break.
"I might need a couple more practices before then, and I won't skate again for a week," Blake, who had wiring on the upper part of his mouth removed earlier this week, told the Mercury News.
The newspaper said that Blake will have to wear the jaw protector for two months and that the wiring on his lower jaw needs to be in place for another six weeks.
|Steven Stamkos is finally showing signs of life.|
The 2008 first overall draft pick has seemed to benefit from rest and extra conditioning, according to the Tampa Tribune. "You never want to sit out games," Stamkos told the Tribune on Tuesday. "But you realize the coaches seem to have a plan in place and I've been having success the last four or five games."
Stamkos is still overvalued by many owners -- he's still owned in 53.4 percent of ESPN.com leagues -- and is getting only about 11 minutes of ice time per game, but he bears watching after the break, especially with the Lightning playing better recently.
"He's made tremendous progress in his decision-making," teammate Martin St. Louis told the Tribune. "When you come to this level, everything is magnified, and the players are so much better. You can't try to manufacture offense when it's not there. You have to recognize that, and I think he's doing a better job of doing that and putting himself in a position where he can be successful."
Daniel Briere is headed for more surgery instead of returning to the Flyers' lineup.
The Philadelphia center had a positive three-game conditioning stint with the AHL Philadelphia Phantoms and was on track for a return to NHL action next week, but he has had lingering discomfort in his groin and stomach area, according to the Associated Press.
"I'm very disappointed. It's been frustrating not knowing what is going on, so we have decided to go in and check things out," Briere said, referring to an exploratory surgery scheduled for Thursday.
Briere, who has five goals and four assists in nine games this season, had surgery Oct. 25 to repair a torn abdominal muscle and has been out since leaving a Dec. 2 game because of a groin injury.
He'll be out at least another two weeks, but considering he has had two groin tears this season, that timeframe seems a bit optimistic.
"If it's scar tissue, and that's what we're hoping for, then it will be two weeks,'' Flyers GM Paul Holmgren told the Philadelphia Daily News. "If it's something more, the worst-case scenario we're looking at is six weeks. We're keeping our fingers crossed."
Jim Wilkie is a former NHL editor and writer for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.