The line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton has been the subject of plenty of scrutiny over the last couple of days after Claude Julien bemoaned their recent trend of over-passing and veering away from their strength of “North/South” hockey. The hope was that a few words of criticism could get them to simplifying their game and playing good, old fashioned power hockey.
It wasn’t perfect on Thursday night against the Florida Panthers, but at least the Bruins head coach saw some progress from his top line in Boston’s 4-1 victory at TD Garden. The Krejci line accounted for 10 of Boston’s 32 shots on the evening, and set up Zdeno Chara’s first period goal to kick things off for them offensively.
“[They were] a little bit better, I thought those guys skated a little bit better tonight, so it was a step in the right direction,” said Julien. “We know they’re capable of doing more, but what we wanted to see was a step in the right direction.”
There were still moments like in the second period when Milan Lucic turned down a wide open shot from the left wing on a 3-on-2 rush in favor of a cross-ice pass to Nathan Horton that was easily broken up by the Florida defense.
But Chara’s goal came on the long rebound of a David Krejci shot from the slot after fore-checking work by Horton and Lucic. The brawny left winger had three hits and was doing a little better job lining up opposing defenseman for hits in the corner, but there were still plenty of times when he had a difficult time getting his skating legs moving.
That said, Lucic also very nearly had a goal of his own when a Nathan Horton centering pass bounced off his right skate before skidding just left of the open net.
That would have snapped a spell where Lucic only has one goal in his last 13 games, but that seems to be the way things are going for Boston’s power forward right now.
“We didn’t manage the puck that well on the rushes, and we probably made some turnovers too,” admitted Chara, who was the beneficiary of the top line’s toil in the first period. "But then once we simplified the game [in the third period] and played a more north south game, I thought we did a much better job in just creating a lot more pressure on them.
“[We were] getting some chances and eventually get rewarded. They probably got tired of it and we scored some goals.”
Horton and Krejci both picked up assists on Chara’s first period goal, and none of the three forwards ending the game with a negative plus/minus rating for the first in three games. So there are modest gains being made as each of the three forwards tries to find the confidence they were playing with in the first month of the season, but there is still plenty of work to be done.
That goes for Krejci, Lucic and Horton as they find their respective games, and that goes for an entire Bruins team that’s still not consistently playing to the highest level of their abilities.