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Krejci regaining momentum

In last two games, he's been old self

Phil Kessel has gone 13 games without scoring, but still leads the team with 24 goals. Phil Kessel has gone 13 games without scoring, but still leads the team with 24 goals. (Mark humphrey/Associated Press)
By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / February 21, 2009
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CORAL SPRINGS, Fla. - Neither games nor practices, acknowledged David Krejci, had been fun lately.

When the Bruins reconvened after the All-Star break, the team's second-leading scorer hit the skids. Krejci was fighting the puck. He wasn't involved offensively. His top-shelf confidence had taken a dip.

That's what happens when you're a point-per-game player and you total only two goals and two assists in nine games following the break.

"It's not easy. It's pretty tough," Krejci said. "It's in your head, always. Even on days off, you think about it. You're not having fun in practice and stuff like that."

There were several things misfiring in Krejci's game.

The third-year pro sets high expectations for himself, and he sagged emotionally when he wasn't helping the Bruins.

Also, when Krejci is at his best, he plays a high-tempo style, skating hard, entering the dirty areas, picking his spots to slow the game and create offensive chances. During his slump, Krejci didn't have the required urgency.

The last two games have been different. Against Nashville, Krejci helped set up Blake Wheeler's goal when he slammed on the brakes to keep a play onside, then took a Vladimir Sobotka feed and one-timed a shot. Krejci missed, but Wheeler was in position to tuck home the rebound. Against Carolina, Krejci broke through with his first goal in six games by snapping a backhander past Cam Ward.

"He's been a little better," said coach Claude Julien. "The last couple games, he's started to play with a little bit more jam, too. Physically, you've seen him throw some hits. You can see when he gets a little bit of that mean streak in him, he becomes a better player.

"I see him, right now, heading in the right direction. When he's on and he's showing a little bit of grit and jam, he's much better. When he starts to struggle, which he did the past couple weeks, I think he gets a little soft and he's not as intense. When he's not like that, he's getting stripped of the puck. The plays that he tries to make don't work. His intensity level and his grit and determination dictate a lot of how his game goes."

Krejci's turnaround comes as Patrice Bergeron has strutted some of his best stuff following two concussions. If Krejci, Bergeron, and Marc Savard can continue to be offensive presences, opponents should have difficulty limiting the centers' chances.

"The last two games I've been pretty happy about," Krejci said. "But I know what it took to play those two games and how hard it was. I can't just sit back. I've got to keep doing the same thing I've been doing in those two games."

Kessel struggling
While Krejci has picked up his game, Phil Kessel has yet to break out of his goal-scoring slowdown. The right wing has gone 13 games without a goal. Since Jan. 3, when Kessel tucked a puck behind Buffalo's Ryan Miller, he's been stuck on 24 goals, still the most on the club. Entering last night, Kessel was tied for 17th in the NHL in goals.

"He's got to understand that he's got to work his way out of this," Julien said.

"We're pushing him to try and do some extra things just to try and build his confidence and try to shake things off. But if you're going to sit and wait for things to turn and feel sorry for yourself, it's going to take a lot longer."

Kessel has gone cold in the shootout and on power plays, two of the sniper's strengths. He is only 1 for 8 in shootouts this season.

Yesterday, Kessel flashed a smile and drew applause from his teammates when he beat Tim Thomas during the shootout drill with a crisp backhander.

Kessel is tied for the team lead with seven power-play goals. But he didn't see any power-play time yesterday and isn't expected to skate on either unit tonight against Florida.

"Right now, our power play needs to score," Julien said. "If he's struggling to score, it's not about giving somebody candy for no reason. It's about working at it and getting himself back to scoring goals.

"Right now, our power play was 2 for 3 last game. It did a great job. Phil wasn't on it, but we know that Phil will be on it again at some point."

Stuart back
Mark Stuart, home in Minnesota Wednesday and Thursday for personal reasons, was back yesterday at Incredible Ice, the Panthers' practice facility . . . Michael Ryder wore the gray jersey of the No. 2 line (Sobotka, Krejci, Kessel) as he continues to improve his conditioning following his facial fractures. "The biggest thing is the adjustment to the screen he's got in front of him," said Julien of the cage Ryder will wear, most likely for the rest of the season. "I know it's frustrating at times when the puck is close to him and he's got to find it. But we've been pushing him pretty hard. I think conditioning-wise, he'll be ready to go when he gets the OK. I think he's looking forward to getting the OK."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at shinzawa@globe.com.

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