Milan Lucic remembers the conversation clearly.
The Bruins power forward was joking around with his center, David Krejci, on the post-Christmas flight to Phoenix for their game against the Coyotes, and gave his Czech center the signal it was time to start winding things up.
I was kind of joking with Krejci after the Christmas holiday that our break was over and it was time to get things going, said a grinning Lucic. Hes definitely responded to the little joke I said to him and Krejci has definitely got some confidence back in his game.
I think a big thing with him is . . . pushing the pace. He is definitely capable of controlling the play. Hes able to make plays and move it around at his pace, and when hes doing that he can play at a very high level and bring Nathan Horton and I there along with him.
Krejci had actually already put his game back into motion a few games before the holiday break, and was slowly erasing a sluggish first three months of the season at the controls of the line between Lucic and Horton. His struggles may have been related to his contract situation, which wasn't settled until after the season started, or it may have just been the traditional dry spell that Krejci endures each year, but the 25-year-old pivot is back on his game.
He set up a pair of goals in Tuesday nights win over the Winnipeg Jets including the game-tying score on a nifty assist that opened things up for Horton in front of the net and has quietly put together a nine-game point streak.
Krejci has 14 points (5 goals, 9 assists) in those nine games while also serving as the head foreman in offensive revivals for Lucic and Horton. Lucic has been the most consistent of the three players this year, but he admitted that all three knew they could be better.
We all got off to a pretty slow start, but we got things going and I think everybody found their game, said Lucic. Its about focusing on the next game and the next shift, and its allowed me to get more consistent.
Or its about David being David, as his coach so eloquently explained. When Krejci is playing within his abilities -- faceoff skills, passing abilities and an underrated shot that has him on pace for 20-plus goals -- he seems like a natural-born top-line centr.
Thats just David being David, said coach Claude Julien. I think when he skates and just plays with some good intensity, and hes strong on the puck, thats what David ends up doing. Hes getting rewarded with some good points and some good plays. When hes not, youre going to see him a little lighter on the puck.
Youre going to see him standing still a little bit more, looking to make plays instead of creating them with his speed and his hockey sense.
Its been a no-standing zone while Krejci has built up a plus-6 during those nine games and also only been a minus player once since jump-starting the first line as a trio.
It came at exactly the right time, with Brad Marchand out for five games due to his suspension for a clip of Sami Salo and the Bruins hoping to avoid any kind of offensive letdown in the next handful of games.
So far its clicking, said Krejci. My line and me, we are trying to keep our feet moving. Every time we get a puck, we are crashing the net, and making the most of our chances. The puck has been going in the net for us. Hopefully we will keep doing the good things and scoring goals.
Marshy is going to be out for four more games so hopefully that line is going to keep clicking and putting the puck in the net. We have good depth. All four lines, even the fourth line can put the puck in the net so thats the strength of our team and thats why were winning because all four lines can score a goal.
Hes also been on fire out of the faceoff circle, where hes dominated since a poor game on the draw in a losing effort to a young player on New Years Eve. Krejcis faceoff performance is vital given his lines personnel and personality, and the express preference to be playing with the puck rather than chasing it down.
So its a sign of great things to come when Krejci wins his first 10 faceoff draws of the game, and the 10th win in the circle immediately leads to a Horton goal to reverse the games momentum. Its the exact kind of hockey play the smooth-skating playmaker can execute on the ice when things slow down while hes carrying the puck in the offensive zone.
Or maybe its just David being David and this offensive explosion was just sitting there waiting to happen all along.