WILMINGTON Anybody thats watched the Bruins knows something is not right with David Krejci and Nathan Horton in the early, underachieving portion of the season.
In a combined 17 games during the month of October Krejci and Horton -- while spending much of the season skating with each other -- have teamed up for a total six points and a minus-7. Horton is second on the team with 24 penalty minutes, and hes taken ill-advised anger whistles in the third period of losses to the Hurricanes and Canadiens.
Its clear the penalties are coming directly from frustration on the ice for Horton with his game coming to him at such a glacial pace.
There have been times when weve taken penalties at wrong moments, and it goes to show that we have to be the bigger man at certain moments, said Milan Lucic. But the emotion were showing shows that we care and were trying to do the right thing. Theres a reason were getting mad. Because were trying so hard to do well and its not going our way.
Things are even worse for Krejci in the final year of his three-year deal with the Bruins.
Bostons playmaking pivot has been a spectator to the main flow of play, and has only a single point and a minus-5 in seven games sandwiched around a core injury that forced him to miss a couple of games.
Compare that with last season when Krejci and Horton teamed up for 18 points (7 goals and 11 assists) along with a plus-10 through the same 16 games in the month of October, and a completely different picture emerges for Bostons top line.
Krejci has been hesitant to jump into the high traffic areas to help jump start his offense, and has been far from a plus on the Bs struggling power play.
Horton has looked sluggish and out of synch with everything thats going on around him on the ice. His timing has been off on rushes up the ice, hes having trouble releasing his once-deadly wrist shot, and his passes seem too far off the mark on too many occasions.
To put it mildly both key Bs offensive players have struggled mightily, and both still seem stuck in neutral while Lucic has pulled his offensive game out of the dirty clothes hamper.
Rather than coddle the struggling forwards, Claude Julien said Lucic provides the beacon of hope and self-improvement for Krejci and Horton to turn their games around. The Bs power forward got on a line with Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly, and Lucic was forced to raise his compete level with quick feet and a willingness to take the body that always sparks his game.
The Bs coach basically threw down the gauntlet after Mondays practice and said the struggles will end for his two top-end offensive players when they start improving in the willingness to work category.
That line is pretty simple to analyze when it comes down to how they play, and thats their compete level, said Julien, who avoided a benching of Horton in the third period against the Habs Saturday night when it would have been well within his rights. I think Milan, when we switched him over, really found his game. There was a straight-forward, puck-behind-the-Ds fore-check and physical presence. All of a sudden he started making things happen and scoring some goals, and it was all about how hard he was competing.
The same thing goes for the other two in Krejci and Horton. That line will have success when theyre at the compete level they know they can achieve. When they compete hard, the plays come around and theres some good chemistry there. They know where to find each other. Thats not the issue. The issue is about how hard they want to compete, and if they can do that then they can be the line we know they can be.
Sounds like thats a wakeup call from their coach that one of the solutions out of their 3-7 predicament to start the season is for both Krejci and Horton to play up to their talent and reputation.