Haggerty: Krejci thriving in leadership role

Haggerty: Krejci thriving in leadership role
November 14, 2013, 12:00 pm
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WILMINGTON – Once it was a certainty that Andrew Ference was moving on to other opportunities, there was no shortage of good reasons for the Boston Bruins to name David Krejci an alternate captain leading into this hockey season.

The 27-year-old has blazed the trail for the Black and Gold during two Stanley Cup Final runs for Boston as their leading scorer, and has always been an exacting, unmerciful critique of his own game when he’s operating at less than his best. The performance and the accountability are two very important traits for anybody that hopes to be a leader of men in an NHL dressing room.

But there was also a tacit hope that setting Krejci into a leadership position with an “A” sewn on his sweater would draw the best out of the playmaking center, and that consistent excellence would set the tone for everybody else in the Bruins dressing room.

It’s been so far, so good on that front.

Krejci leads all Bruins players with 16 points in 17 games this season, and consistency has been a big key for him. The B’s center has clicked immediately with Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic, and found consistency with points in 13 of 17 games while never going scoreless in two straight games. He’s not conscious of any differences – good, bad or indifferent – to his game, but the puck don’t lie.

“I’m not really thinking about it. I just try to get ready for each game, and that’s all I can do,” said Krejci. “My thing is to lead by example on the ice, so I’m just trying to get ready for each and every game. I’ve been pretty happy so far, so hopefully I can keep it up.

“The consistency is the biggest thing. I don’t think I can win the game when I go out there and say to myself ‘I’m going to do this, and this’ in order to lead by example. I just go out there and do my best, and trying to play my hockey. As long as I’m ready to do my best, that’s all I can do. I don’t want to focus too much on one thing, and start forgetting about the others. It’s about getting ready to play each and every game, and making sure you’re physically and mentally ready to play each night.”

For a guy that has bristled at descriptors like “streaky” and “inconsistent” used to illustrate his game in the past, Krejci has removed all of them while picking up where he left off during last spring’s playoff run. Krejci is second on the Bruins with a plus-10 rating, second in power play points (5) while leading all forwards with 19:10 of ice time built on plenty of reps on the power play and penalty kill.

The ability to create offense on the power play is a new wrinkle for Krejci, who has adapted well to manning a point position on the top unit along with Torey Krug. The center’s feathery passes have contributed to several of Krug’s long, successful blasts on the man advantage.

The Czech Republic native denied doing anything differently based on an “A” being stitched onto his shoulder, and instead Krejci chalked any newfound consistency up to his standing as a “young” veteran. He’s just now approaching his hockey prime at 27 years old with enough size and strength to win his own battles on the ice, but Krejci has the knowledge and experience of a seven year NHL veteran that’s experienced everything from a Stanley Cup title to getting unceremoniously dropped to centering the third line just a couple of years ago.

“He’s still a young player. You tend to forget that sometimes. Anybody under the age of 30 in this game is a young player,” said Claude Julien. “He’s one of those guys that you knew was going to be good in the playoffs, and you knew he would be at his best when those big games come around.

“He always got up for those. So basically if he would get him to be like that every game it would basically give us a better chance [to win]. With time, maturity and feeling like he needs to be a better leader, he’s been around long enough that all of those things come into play. It’s made him a real good player.”

The B’s bench boss then couldn’t help but slip back into head coach mode, and continued to throw down the gauntlet for Krejci’s consistency to show up nightly for the long haul of an entire regular season.

“We’re also standing here not even 20 games into the season talking about that, and there are 82 games,” said Julien. “Hopefully we can say the same at the end of the year.”

Julien wasn’t sure whether it was the voice of the experience or some added leadership responsibilities that was bringing out the best in Krejci, but assumed it might be a combination of both factors. Clearly the very strong starts for both Lucic and Iginla on either side of him have generated time and space for Krejci with the puck.

That always allows him to get in touch with his inner playmaker, and show off more routinely the player that everybody recognizes from the postseason.

“It’s been great to see. Having [Iginla] on our line with experience in that area where he’s been so consistently at such a high level throughout his whole career, you can see why he’s been at that level for so long,” said Lucic. “I know from talking to [Krejci] we also wanted to keep up that consistently high level of play that we had during the playoffs last year. We wanted to bring it into the season. [Krejci] has done that really well, and he’s been one of the top players on our team.”

One person Krejci gave big credit to for his consistency this year: Iginla. The 36-year-old right winger has brought a ton of sameness to the compete level, production value and willingness to play hard in all zones, and that’s a stark contract to the streaky nature of Nathan Horton. The top line center never uttered Horton’s name or brought him into the comparison, but gave a lot of credit to the former Calgary Flames captain for his dependability on a nightly basis.

“With the years, you kind of find the line between having too much fun, or being too high [energy] all the time or too low,” said Krejci. “You want to stay the same way the whole season, and keep working hard. You also don’t want to forget about having fun too, though. Because it’s a long season, and if you don’t have some fun off the ice it would be really long.

“It’s about finding ‘the line’ and then going with it. I know it took me a little time to find my first goal, but I think we’ve been playing pretty good hockey since the beginning. [Iggy] has brought a lot of experience. He likes to talk on the bench, and he likes to set up some plays when we’re there. So that’s what we’ve been trying to do. He’s been so consistent for us all year. It’s been fun to have him on our line. If you get too high or too low, he kind of helps put you back in your place. That really helps.”

Krejci, Lucic and Iginla have combined for 14 goals and 27 points along with a plus-31 in 17 games thus far with the crafty Krejci controlling much of that action on his stick. The only real challenge left for him is to prove to everybody that he can play at elite level for an entire 82-game season, and Krejci is off to a promising start in that department.