Julien: Time for Bruins top line to go full steam ahead

Julien: Time for Bruins top line to go full steam ahead
March 14, 2013, 2:15 pm
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BOSTON -- Claude Julien mentioned after Tuesday night’s loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins that he was seeing too much “passive” play from the line of Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and David Krejci as of late.

“For some reason our top line was over-passing and we weren’t getting any shots on net,” said Julien following the tough loss. “So it was hard to create any more offense once we had that 2-0 lead.”

The Bruins coach had just watched Lucic – a guy that had averaged 29 goals over the last two seasons – finish without a shot in 16:21 of ice time, and saw both Horton and Krejci play in less than dominant fashion. It’s been a bit of a season-long thing for No. 17, who has only 33 shots on goal in 23 for an average of 1.43 shots per game. Last season Lucic averaged 1.84 shots per game and during the 2010-11 Cup season the power forward averaged 2.19 shots per game.

That’s a steep drop in his shot production while Horton has yet to show that dominating, physical streak that always colored his game as a power forward prior to the concussion. He still has seven goals and was good to start the season, but hasn’t been noticeable as a big body fighting for pucks in front of the net.

Their coach wants to see more of his big bodied forwards taking straight lines up and down the ice while powering through smaller defenders. It’s the bread-and-butter of that top line’s game.

“I think it’s about turning pucks over at the blue line and not getting them in where they can make things happen. When they’re playing north/south they can go to the outside a little and use their speed to take it to the net,” said Julien. “A lot of it is attributed to [not playing north/south] I think.”

Krejci has been the most consistent of the three while producing 20 points in 24 games, but his game is severely compromised when his two big bookend wingers aren’t skating at optimal levels. All three are at their best when they’re playing a north/south game straight to the net using strength and power, and that’s something their coach hasn’t seen much of lately.

Julien expounded on his thoughts about that line, and its troubles, after Thursday’s morning skate at TD Garden with the Florida Panthers coming to town.  

“I think they need to go back to their north/south game. I don’t think there’s a single team in the league that likes to see Lucic fore-checking or going after loose pucks. It’s the same thing with Nathan Horton,” said Julien. “When he’s committed to it he’s another player that can fore-check and put teams on their heels.

“When they play that way it eventually backs guys off. When guys start to back off then you’re capable of making plays like they have been just inside the blue line. But right now there hasn’t been a lot of attention paid to putting pucks where those guys can use them to their advantage.

“They’re forcing plays a little too much in the neutral zone, which ends up being turnovers. That doesn’t utilize their strengths to their advantage.”

Lucic has one goal in his last 13 games, Horton has one goal in his last 10 games and Krejci has one goal with a minus-4 during the month of March. All three need to step it up now that injuries are taking a chunk out of the Black and Gold, and the Bruins are still seeking for that elusive stretch where they’re playing consistently great hockey this season.