Bruins want Olympian performance from Krejci
Upon his departure from Vancouver, David Krejci had recorded 3 points, scored one goal in overtime, and presented himself as one of the rising stars on a Czech Republic roster that included Jaromir Jagr, Patrik Elias, and Martin Havlat.
The trouble was that Krejci’s departure came too soon.
The 23-year-old center, back at TD Garden yesterday for his first post-Olympic twirl with the Bruins, belonged to the Czech team booted from Vancouver when Finland scored a 2-0 win in the quarterfinals. The Finns, who would trump Slovakia two games later to win bronze, kept Krejci, Zdeno Chara, and Miroslav Satan from bringing neckwear back to Boston.
“Later on, I’ll think about it as a good experience,’’ Krejci said. “But I came to win a medal. Everybody expected that we could do it. It hurts. It’s something that’s not going to heal easily. I don’t know if it’s ever going to heal. That’s the only thought I have in my mind now.’’
The Bruins are hoping that Krejci’s international outburst translates to NHL success. The Bruins kick off the last stretch of 2009-10 tonight at the Garden against Montreal, 1 point ahead of the eighth-place Canadiens. With 22 games remaining, the Bruins will lean heavily on their skilled center to jack up their 30th-ranked offense.
“He just played with confidence,’’ coach Claude Julien said of Krejci’s Olympic performance. “He moved his feet. He made the right plays. He had lots of confidence. We’ve seen that from him here. We just hope he carries that back to our team and helps us here down the stretch.’’
After a sparkling 2008-09 in which the Bruins shredded the league in the regular season and sprinted away with a first-place finish in the Eastern Conference, this season has been anything but a repeat performance. They went 10 straight games without a victory, the second-longest winless streak in franchise history. They tumbled into 12th place before righting themselves with four straight wins prior to the Olympic break. They’ve been rocked by injuries. They haven’t won a game on Garden ice in 2010.
After a handful of players had career years in 2008-09, far too many Bruins have seen their games regress this season.
Krejci qualifies as one.
A major reason the Bruins ran the regular-season table last year was because of their depth at center. Krejci scored 22 goals and had 51 assists, good for 0.89 points per outing. In 11 playoff games, Krejci added two goals and six helpers. With rookie Blake Wheeler on one side and first-year Bruin Michael Ryder on the other, Krejci and friends often overmatched opposing third lines and bottom defensive pairings. Krejci did all this while gritting through an impingement on his right hip that required offseason surgery.
Although Krejci might have returned too early this season, the center suffered a dip the Bruins didn’t foresee. Krejci has 11 goals and 20 assists (0.52 points per game). Accordingly, Wheeler and Ryder haven’t been as dangerous as they were last year.
But when Krejci’s game is clicking, like it was at the Olympics and before the break (the line combined for 15 shots in a 4-1 loss to Washington Feb. 2), the Bruins have three centers who can spark the attack. While Krejci was working his stuff in Vancouver, his swagger was noticed by one of the players that knows him best.
“He was a stud,’’ Wheeler said. “He played really well. He’d been playing better. He’d turned it around. But I thought he was one of their best players. I think his confidence has to be huge right now. That’s the kind of player he is. When he has the puck in the middle, he makes everybody else look pretty good. He had the puck a lot and his confidence grew game by game. You could just see it out there. He wanted the puck. He got it. He did what he does. When I saw him out there, I thought, ‘I’ll be on his left soon.’ I can’t wait.’’
Krejci isn’t the only Bruin expected to elevate his game starting tonight. Other Bruins who have yet to match their 2008-09 play include Dennis Wideman, Tim Thomas, and Milan Lucic. The club’s hope is that such players, coming off the break and the four-game winning streak, can bring their best stuff in the 22 remaining matches.
“On its face, we need some more goal scoring,’’ said general manager Peter Chiarelli, referring to possible upgrades via the trade market (the trade deadline is tomorrow at 3 p.m.). “But I also know that if we don’t get it, I know these guys are better than they’ve been at scoring goals. I would demand that and expect that. What I saw in the last five or six games, including the four-game winning streak, was more chances and more willingness to go the net and do the little things that result in goals. That’s quite promising.’’
One year ago, the Bruins bumbled through one of their rare rough stretches. After a 6-0 rout of Anaheim Feb. 26, 2009, the Bruins went 3-5-2 in their next 10 games. The Bruins, however, were so far ahead the blip hardly registered.
This time, they’re aware that a similar hiccup could be fateful.
“It’s such a condensed schedule,’’ Andrew Ference said. “If you get in the right frame of mind and do things right, it’s a great boost. The teams that are best at that go into the playoffs and it doesn’t matter what seed they are. The teams that get in the right frame of mind in the next month are going to fly. Seedings in the playoffs aren’t going to mean much. Just like last year. We rolled in the first round, but we didn’t have the same kind of momentum, enthusiasm, and attitude. We went in on cruise control.’’
Tonight’s showdown will be the first of a 16-game minefield in March. Seven of the next nine will be on the road. There will be no such thing as cruising for the Bruins.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.