BRIGHTON, Mass. – David Krejci hasn’t exactly been his usual self in the opening three games of the season for the Bruins and there are understandable, underlying reasons for that.
One of them is that the 30-year-old playmaking center is coming off major offseason hip surgery and that’s made him look less than his silky-smooth best with the puck in the season’s first three games.
The good news is Krejci doesn’t believe any lingering hip problems have been a big factor at all, and instead his comfort level is increasing each time he takes the ice.
“I feel better and better every day. This is a tough injury, but I’m in good shape and in really good hands. The doctors have done a really good job with me every day, and it’s been really good,” said Krejci, who has one assist in the opening three games with just three shots on net while fighting to hang onto the puck. “It’s been fun to be out there with the guys, and I’m just trying to get better every day.”
A more reasonable explanation for Krejci’s sluggish start was the last-second injury to Patrice Bergeron prior to the start of the season and the major alteration to his forward line as a result of No. 37’s absence. David Backes was pulled from the right wing spot on the Krejci line to fill in for Bergeron over the season’s first three games and he came away with two goals and three points in three games centering Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak.
But the B’s second line was almost non-existent with smaller, skilled wingers on either side of Krejci that weren’t able to generate anything productive with No. 46. The B’s obviously have massive production from the top line in Bergeron’s absence and have found a respectable fourth line that can get the job done for Claude Julien. Even the third line has found some footing after the B’s bench boss replaced rookie Austin Czarnik with veteran Riley Nash and instead went with a bigger, tougher power line with Matt Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes on the wings.
Now, Backes goes back to his rightful spot on the wing with Krejci and 21-year-old rookie Danton Heinen looks to replace a scuffling Ryan Spooner at left wing for tonight’s home opener vs. the New Jersey Devils. Backes is ready to bring some needed balance to the forward lines after the B’s top line really carried them over the first three games of the season and produced a team-high four goals for David Pastrnak.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Backes also knows that he’s exactly the kind of strong, determined net-front presence with goal-scoring ability that Krejci has always produced with over the course of his 10-year NHL career.
“I won’t be involved in the immediate face-off, but [I will be involved] in helping him on the 50/50 draws to win the puck back. Just talk all over the ice like we have been with Heinen on the wing he’s got two veteran guys with him, and we need to make him feel comfortable to be a very productive member [of the line],” said Backes. “We’ll get back to cooking a little bit with how we were looking before I was forced to play center.
“I think it puts the other teams in a predicament with that they’re going to try to defend if we have a couple-pronged attack. It’s a kind of pick-your-poison kind of deal. A checking line can typically do a good job of neutralizing a line, but when you have multiple options and multiple guns pointed at them it’s a little bit more of a predicament for them. When we’re healthy, we’re going to have that.”
So, the hope is that having a power forward, play-finisher like Backes is going to allow him time and space to create plays that have a little more hope of being turned into scoring chances at the offensive end of the ice.
“When injuries happen you’ve got to balance the team and that’s what happened. But I’m happy [Backes] is back on our line,” said Krejci, who has always been at his best while utilizing big, strong wingers on his line whether it was Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton over the years. “Hopefully we can get the chemistry early on as a line, and help the team to win.
“[Backes] is a right-handed shot, so that’s nice to have. I had two lefties there [in Spooner and Heinen] and sometimes it’s tough to get a good pass on the backhand. He’s been playing well the first two games, so hopefully I can keep up and we can get some chemistry to help the team win.”
So, it remains to be seen how long it will take Krejci to find his offensive mojo while centering a line combo of Heinen-Krejci-Backes that didn’t get much of a look in the preseason, but the sooner, the better for a Bruins team that needs to start firing on all offensive cylinders while still working through their defensive challenges.