Joonas Kemppainen

Joonas Kemppainen off IR, Bruins welcome his return in faceoff dot

DJ Bean
January 05, 2016 - 10:12 am

Over the years, the Bruins' forward group has been overflowing with centers. The B's place such an emphasis on strength down the middle that they've never shied away from carrying so many centers that pivots end up playing wing (i.e. Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin, Chris Kelly). The Bruins have had to deal with many changes this season, one of which has been playing without as many centers. Kelly was injured early in the season, while Joonas Kemppainen was hurt last month and David Krejci is week-to-week with an upper-body injury. Claude Julien loves having options at center, but those options haven't really been there of late. With Kemppainen likely to return Tuesday from an upper-body injury (he was activated off injured reserve Tuesday afternoon), Julien hopes he'll be able to better balance his lines and control possession. "It hurts," Julien said of not having as many centers as usual. "I think it's been obvious in the faceoffs and how we've lost faceoffs in our own end especially, losing them clean and other teams getting possession of the puck a lot more than we're used to. When you don't win them, you've got to chase that puck. When you win them, you get to start with it." Kemppainen, a strong defensive center, is one of three Bruins who have won most of their faceoffs. His 52.3 success rate at the dot puts him behind Patrice Bergeron (56.6 percent) and Max Talbot (52.8 percent). "People sometimes don't realize how important (winning faceoffs) is," Julien said. "For our team not to have those centermen winning draws closer to 55 percent or more a game is huge. We miss that. And it's been a huge part of our game; it's been a strong suit for a long, long time. So there's no doubt that hurts our game." The Bruins did not have a full morning skate on Tuesday, so it's unclear where Kemppainen might play in the lineup. If Sunday's and Monday's practices are any indication, Kemppainen figures to play between Frank Vatrano and Jimmy Hayes. Kemppainen is not known for his offense, as is evidenced by his one goal and two assists for three points in 24 NHL games, but the Bruins could use any offense they could get out of him. The B's have scored more than one goal just twice in their last six games (2-4-0) and the sharp-shooting Vatrano has gone six games without a goal. The fact that the B's will face a Washington team that ranks second in the league in both goals against (2.2 per game) and goals for (3.1 per game), further underscores Boston's need for a good offensive showing on Tuesday. They might not get it from Kemppainen, but Julien can only hope that the Finnish center's return allows him to use a lineup more suitable to his preferences.