Forward’s return Tuesday makes strong lines even stronger.
According to the standings, the Bruins are one of the best teams in the National Hockey League. After their 5-1 win over the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday that could have easily been 10-1, they had the fewest number of regulation losses (1) for the month of October and trailed only Washington for most points, with the Capitals having played two more games than the B’s. It’s all been pretty impressive.
But now we might really find out who this team is.
David Krejci, who played two shifts in the preseason because of a lower-body injury and had played fewer than half the B’s games in the regular season, returned to the lineup Tuesday night for the first time since being knocked out of the B’s game against the Ducks on Oct. 14 with an upper-body injury. This is a major development. For all of the B’s early successes this year, they’ve accomplished it mostly with the explosiveness of their tremendous first line and some lights-out goaltending. That’s not sustainable over the long haul of an 82-game season, never mind the grind of a two-month playoff run on which the B’s hope to embark come this April.
And with Krejci back in his regular spot, the B’s were no one-line wonder on Tuesday. Oh sure, David Pastrnak sent the B’s’ on their way with a power-play goal that displayed the top unit in all its wizardry. But this was an entire team effort in which a member from each of the four lines, plus a member of the defense corps (Brandon Carlo) got on the board. Krejci had a power-play goal and a beautiful primary assist on Charlie Coyle’s goal.
As former Bruin coach Claude Julien often used to say, this team goes as Krejci goes. That was certainly true last year when he tied a career-high in points (73) and was instrumental in staving off what many people thought was impending doom when Patrice Bergeron was lost for a month. Krejci’s been around a long time, but it seems like we need a reminder of his importance every now and then.
“He can drive a line when he’s going,” said coach Bruce Cassidy.
Beyond the talents that Krejci brings in his own right, the B’s need to figure out their second and third lines, something that ideally would have been accomplished in preseason or at least by now but was held up by Krejci’s injuries.
We know that Jake DeBrusk, barring a long extension of his early season goal scoring drought, will be on Krejci’s left side. Getting the first shot on the right side on Tuesday was Danton Heinen, who has a couple of power-play goals but hasn’t exactly been lighting it up, either. Cassidy said on Tuesday morning Brett Ritchie could also get an opportunity to play with Krejci. Some have been clamoring for Anders Bjork to get a shot with Krejci, but Cassidy has said he’s liked Bjork on the left side as well as with Coyle and that’s where he’ll stay, at least for now.
But here’s hoping that Heinen gets a good long look next to the crafty Czech centerman. Though Heinen — now in his third full NHL season — has been a bit of a tease in the offensive zone with his not-quite-consistent-enough production, he has steadily improved the details of his game to the point where he could be a three-zone contributor on that second line. On Tuesday, it looked like there might be some budding chemistry there, especially on the second PP unit (Heinen picked up an assist on Krejci’s goal, though he did have his moments of indecision). Krejci found the fit at least promising, which could go a long way.
“I thought we had some good give-and-gos. We connected on a couple, we didn’t on a couple, but there’s definitely something to build on for sure,” said Krejci.
There are other in-house options for Krejci’s right wing still to be explored — including the nuclear one of breaking up that first line and moving David Pastrnak there. This observer would not be as hesitant as some are of trying that maneuver, especially with the success Heinen has had with Bergeron and Brad Marchand, though now is not the right time with the way that unit is clicking.
If the B’s can’t find the answer in their own organization, then GM Don Sweeney could use his surplus of defensemen once John Moore and Kevan Miller are back to do so — it would seem a deal has to happen one way or another, barring another long-term injury — or simply wait till the trade deadline.
But for one night at least, all was right with the Bruins, and Krejci was all smiles afterward.
“Obviously scoring a goal in the first period helps, but honestly it was just so good to be out there with the guys” said Krejci.”They’ve been playing some really good hockey lately and I just wanted to be a part of it. I don’t want to be on the sidelines and I’m happy we got the big two points tonight.”
Now if Krejci can stay healthy, we may actually find out just how good these Bruins can be.