WILMINGTON, MA Nearly everyone assumed the David KrejciMilan LucicNathan Horton forward line would jump out to a sluggish start in the slapped together 48-game regular season sprint that began last weekend.
Nearly everyone has been wrong after two games watching Krejci, Lucic and Horton pick up right where they left off after going 362 days without playing together once Horton was lost to a concussion last Jan. 22 against the Philadelphia Flyers. It's clearly helped that Horton is in healthy, smiling midseason form. But the key element is Krejci pushing the pace and creating offensive scoring chances all over the attack zone.
The slick center cant do that unless both Lucic and Horton are keeping up with the pace while knocking opponents out of the way like bowling pins, but so much of Boston's offensive balance wouldn't be the same without the Czech Republic native.
Horton has been moving freely and easily without hesitation in his first few games coming back from the concussion that knocked him out of the final 36 games last year. That's the first bit of good news for a team that's had too much bad stuff happen when it comes to heard injuries. More importantly the big winger has been mixing it up in front of the net and around the slot area where things can get a little nasty. Thats a clear sign hes over any fear of suffering another concussion and that he's primed for a big season in the walk year of his contract.
The 6-foot-2, 229-pound winger could have had at least a couple of goals in Mondays tight shootout win over Winnipeg, and set up a scoring chance for Lucic in the season-opener when his wrist shot from the face-off circle hand-cuffed Henrik Lundqvist. But none of those golden chances found the back of the net.
Their forward play is part of a trio effort Claude Julien has appreciated in terms of work ethic when Horton and Lucic could have very easily taken weeks to get untracked. But instead both wingers were concentrated on being ready at first puck drop after the team had a healthy discussion in the days after the embarrassing loss to the P-Bruins roster. Fast-forward to this week and the Bruins are riding high with a group of skaters that were impressively ready to play.
I like their play," said Claude Julien. "We said it before the season started they were maybe a question mark because of the situation one being out for a whole year and another not having played while being big bodies, and it can take a little bit longer to get yourself going.
But that line has been really good. Davids Krejci done a great job in the middle, and those other two guys are using their speed, their strength. Theyre making things happen. I like their play. I think theyre very focused right now, and bringing something positive to the hockey club. Theyre making it happen.
Lucic has scaled his game back to the basics after getting a wake-up call in the scrimmage loss to the Providence Bruins, and its been all good since then. Like many of his teammates, Lucic was embarrassed by some of the habits that had crept into his game during a lengthy period of inactivity, and the alarm bells went off at the end of last week. The Bruins power forward is now simply focusing on throwing around his 230-pound battering ram body on the fore-check, setting a physical tone early in games and doing everything that has made him a household name around the league as an intimidating force.
Lucic is leading the NHL with 14 registered hits on the season and hasnt been on a pace like that since he amassed a career-high 262 hits during his breakout NHL season way back in 2008-09. But its the timing and tone of the physical presence that can change hockey games.
Hes finding his identity again, and thats not always about the team. Its sometimes about individuals, said Julien. Weve talked about that and Milan understands that his physical presence is a big part of our success, of our team image and of the success hes had over the years.
Thats what creates more room for him and allows him to score points and goals.
There was a palpable rise in the intensity of Mondays matinee against the Jets when Lucic crushed Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd in the neutral zone near the penalty boxes, and it carried over through regulation and into overtime. That is something unique that Lucic brings to the table that not many other NHL players, if any, can make claims about.
Over the last few years the Bruins left wings job description has become more evolved and infinitely complicated by the fact hes averaged 28 goals per season. But through all the questions about whether hed be physically ready after sitting out during the lockout, it was a return to simple Looch Smash hockey thats allowed him to not miss a single beat.
It always goes back to being a physical presence for me, said Lucic. Thats where everything else in my game stems from. It made a lot of sense with so much unknown going into the season and so many things flying around that I should just go back to the basics in my game. Thats really worked for me thus far."
Krejci joked that he misses Lucic in front of the net while the big winger is running around living out opponents worst nightmare while bombing away in the corners, but the power forward also has the lines only goal thus far this season.
Krejci was actually robbed of a certain power play goal by the Rangers when a shot gloved by Henrik Lundqvist appeared to cross over the goal line, but the play was ruled no goal after being viewed by NHL officials in Torontos War Room. So both he and Horton march on for their first score.
While all three forwards are happy with the way theyve seamlessly jumped into the regular season after only a week skating together, they also know its time to start producing more goals. The Bruins needed superior goaltending and some shootout firepower from Tyler Seguin and Patrice Bergeron to pull out two points against Winnipeg on Monday, and they need consistent, steady offensive results from KrejciLucicHorton rather than dinged posts and sure goals robbed by glove saves.
Were all feeling really good right now and having a lot of fun out there...this is the best I've felt in a long time personally, said Krejci. But were also one of the top lines and that means were expected to produce goals on most nights. Weve only got one so far and we need to be better than that.
The Bruins will need their lines nasty streak and their trumped up production when they jump onto the Madison Square Garden ice to match up with a desperate Rangers team on Wednesday night.
The good thing is Lucic, Krejci and Horton are trending to have a big game after getting robbed of one too many goals over the first two tilts, and the hockey gods have a way of evening those kinds of things out.