The phrase "load management" sounds ugly enough on its own. When the load that needs to be managed is a chronic issue affecting Bruins assistant captain Patrice Bergeron, it gets even uglier.
Bergeron was scratched not long before the start of Saturday's game against the Washington Capitals. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said the move was primarily made to ensure that the injury was not further exacerbated, especially considering Boston played back-to-back games last weekend.
The first-line center practiced ahead of Tuesday's game in New Jersey against the Devils and even traveled with the team to Newark. However, after being declared a "game-time decision," Bergeron did not play that night.
Bergeron returned to the lineup for Thursday night's victory against the Buffalo Sabres. Despite missing two games, he put in the performance we've all come to expect from perhaps the best defensive forward in the National Hockey League. Still, he was held out of Friday's practice for what was officially classified by Cassidy as a "maintenance day."
No one can question Bergeron's toughness or his impact on the team, both on and off the ice. If the Bruins were in the playoffs instead of late November games, there's no doubt number 37 would have played both games he sat out.
Still, since this is an injury that is apparently not going to go away anytime soon and could flare up at any point, there is cause for concern. Cassidy admitted earlier this week that there is a possibility that Bergeron could continue to sit out one of the games in future back-to-back situations. He also mentioned load management, certainly not what Bruins fans want to hear.
For now, it seems the team is trusting the player himself to decide what is best for him based on how he feels before any given game, as well as erring on the side of caution. But in important stretches of the season or bigger games, his pride and desire to help his team no matter what could affect that decision-making process. And that could make a bad situation worse.
Like it or not, if Bergeron is going to be in and out of the lineup on a regular basis, that will impact continuity and line chemistry. If last season is any indication, the best Bruins team is one with relatively well-established lines. Bergeron's importance to the team's power play and penalty killing units also cannot be overstated.
Of course, Bergeron is not to be blamed. No doubt he would love to be at 100 percent health every day. However, this is not the reality of professional hockey. For this particular player, a 34-year-old veteran in his 17th season, the injuries he was able to play through at one point in his career probably hit him harder now.
All of these factors put the Bruins' coaching staff and medical personnel in an unenviable position. If Bergeron, one of the team's most consistent players, is feeling OK, he will certainly be used. Deciding how sore is too sore, and balancing the desire to have him in the lineup against the need to avoid more significant injury could be tough.
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