THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

In Savard’s absence, Krejci needs to buck up

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / November 5, 2009

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After David Krejci agreed to a three-year, $11.25 million extension June 2, the sentiment around the league was that the Bruins had gotten themselves a bargain.

The slippery Krejci was coming off a 22-51 -73 season that saw him serve as a potent No. 2 center behind Marc Savard. At times, he was so sublime that the club could project him as the eventual No. 1 center, which would give the Bruins the option to cut ties with Savard after this season.

Right now, neither scenario looks likely.

Fourteen games into a deflating 2009-10 season, Krejci has one goal and four assists. He has recorded one multi-point game (two assists against Colorado). Savard, out the last seven games because of a broken left foot, looks assured of earning a Black-and-Gold extension - a league source said the center is seeking a five-year deal - given how poorly the offense has performed without its best playmaker.

The numbers aren’t pretty. In the last two games, Tim Thomas has allowed a total of three goals to the Red Wings and Rangers, only to stumble away with losses because his teammates failed to tuck a single puck behind Chris Osgood and Henrik Lundqvist.

The last time the Bruins were shut out in two straight games was in the thud of the 2006-07 season. They dropped a 7-0 result to the Rangers March 17 at Madison Square Garden (that day, the Bruins had to take a bus to New York after their flight was grounded), then lost a 1-0 decision to the Canadiens March 20.

Without Savard serving as the half-wall quarterback on the right-side boards, the power play - officially the worst in the league - has gone 1 for 20 in the last seven games. The Bruins, who had the NHL’s second-best offense last season, are averaging 2.21 goals per game, 27th-best in the league.

The ugliest number of the bunch: 12th place in the Eastern Conference (going into last night’s games). Talk all you want about it being relatively early in the season, but the Bruins have to get going soon.

“We’re going to get out of it,’’ coach Claude Julien said after Tuesday’s 2-0 loss to Detroit. “When you allow one goal the other night and two goals tonight against some decent hockey clubs, you know that eventually, you’re going to score some goals. Once we start scoring goals, those things are going to turn around. We know we will. We just have to decide how quickly we want that to turn around.’’

The trouble is, the skill players aren’t burying their chances. Against the Wings, Marco Sturm had two goal-mouth chances in the first period that Osgood turned aside. In the second period, Michael Ryder blasted a one-timer off the post. Mark Recchi didn’t produce much as a net-front presence. And with Krejci hardly qualifying as an offensive presence, Detroit coach Mike Babcock deployed his top defensive pairing of Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall to shut down Sturm, Recchi, and Patrice Bergeron.

After last season, when he played through an impingement on his right hip that eventually required surgery, Krejci believed he was one of the NHL’s elite playmaking centermen. He skated with swagger, using a sharpened sense of deception as his primary tool to create scoring chances for himself and his linemates.

The Bruins knew that Krejci, who missed the entire preseason, would need some time to find his touch again. But now, a month into 2009-10, the 23-year-old’s game doesn’t appear close to returning.

With Savard expected to miss most of November, the Bruins are down to a lone up-the-middle offensive threat in Bergeron (Vladimir Sobotka and Trent Whitfield, who started the season in Providence, were the third- and fourth-line centers during the back-to-back shutout losses).

Once he’s healthy, Savard should be back to his playmaking self. And it would be in the best interest for the Bruins, given this stretch of futility, to ratchet up contract talks with Savard’s camp. The concern is how the 32-year-old Savard would perform in the later portion of a long-term extension. The Bruins would most likely have to front-load the contract, giving themselves the option of buying out the center at shorter dollars if a decline take place.

But based on the lack of offense and the ho-hum upcoming options (Patrick Marleau and Olli Jokinen will become unrestricted free agents on July 1), Savard should be back in Boston for several seasons to come.

As for the here and now? Tonight, the Bruins host the Canadiens for the first time since they bounced the hated Habs from last year’s playoffs in four straight games. The Montreal matchup, which always provides a spike in emotion, may be the boost the Bruins need.

The Bruins recalled Mikko Lehtonen from Providence on an emergency basis. He will participate in today’s morning skate and will be available against the Canadiens. The recall indicates that the Bruins were down to less than 12 healthy forwards following Tuesday’s loss to Detroit.

The second-year pro has three goals and seven assists in 11 games for Providence. The right wing netted a team-leading 28 goals last year as a rookie. Lehtonen made his NHL debut last season when he played against Buffalo in the second-to-last regular-season game.

Prior to his recall to Boston Oct. 21, Whitfield served as Lehtonen’s center in Providence. The two had chemistry and could be reunited with the big club. Against Detroit, Whitfield centered Steve Begin and Shawn Thornton.

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

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