BOSTON - If Torey Krug had any inner giddiness that he was being “mentioned” for the US Olympic team, as confirmed by Pittsburgh Penguins/Team USA coach Dan Bylsma on Monday morning, the 22-year-old hid it pretty well. Krug let it all out on the ice after unleashing a bazooka shot over the glove hand of Marc-Andre Fleury to notch his first NHL overtime winner in a 4-3 victory for the Bruins over the Penguins at TD Garden.
But inside the Bruins dressing room following the dramatic win, Krug didn’t seem all that concerned about the long odds of making a US Olympic team among a stacked group of defenseman candidates.
Krug is a smart kid and a hockey nut, so he know that Bylsma and Team USA assistant GM Ray Shero were both at TD Garden watching him play the role of big-game hero once again on Monday. Just like they witnessed his abilities last spring when he took a regular shift in the Eastern Conference Finals with only a handful of NHL regular season games to his resume.
But this is November, and the rookie defenseman isn’t letting his focus skitter away from the NHL team that gave him his shot after 30 clubs passed on him during his standout career at Michigan State.
“I still don’t think about it. I’m worried about what’s going on here in our [Bruins] locker room, and still trying to make sure I keep my game at a level where I want it to be,” said Krug, who finished with one shot on net and five shot attempts generated in his 15:41 of ice time. “I was pretty close, and when you’re that close to the net you want to make a goalie make a save with his hands. It’s what I tried to do.
“I missed the net a few times throughout the game; I made some shots where I just missed the net, so I was focusing on hitting the net first and foremost. But then [it was about] trying to make him make a save with his hands.”
In many ways, Krug was made for power play possessions and overtime situations with the four-on-four play. The quick-moving youngster with the howitzer shot can make magic happen with a little bit of open space on the ice, and that’s exactly what happened in overtime after Brad Marchand found him with a point pass.
“When you’re at the blue line, it’s a risky area. So you’ve got to make sure you take care of the puck, and we did that,” said Krug. “Marchy [Brad Marchand] made an unbelievable pass through two guys, and one guy was cheating so it was good . . . good play by them.”
The rest was up to Krug, who is constant motion on the ice with quick skating steps and split-second decision-making abilities. Combine that with a booming shot and a little time and space on the ice, and it doesn’t take much for instant offense to happen.
“I mean, he gets around," Claude Julien said. "He seems to find those gaps . . . those holes, and moves around really well. There’s no doubt it’s an area for him such as other players in the league. You look at guys like [Kris] Letang and other defensemen that love that kind of space because they move around so well.
“Tonight he was in the right place – Marchy [Brad Marchand] made a great pass there – but he picked that top corner; he knew where he was going with that shot.”
With that picked corner, Krug moves back into a tie for the NHL lead among goals scored by defensemen with seven goals in 24 games. He’s in select company with Erik Karlsson, Shea Weber and Phoenix Coyotes D-man Michael Stone, and continues to turn heads around the NHL as a difference-making offensive force.
Will it be good enough for a US Olympic team that already has Dustin Byfuglien, Keith Yandle, Ryan Suter, Brooks Orpik, John Carlson and Ryan McDonagh on speed dial, and counts rookie Seth Jones as a locker for the roster going to Sochi?
That’s a question that will be answered in time by men like Bylsma, Shero and Team USA general manager David Poile, and most likely answered by his own play over the next month leading up to decision time for the US roster.
But Krug is making a giant difference for the Black and Gold as a unique offensive defenseman force that the Bruins haven’t seen the likes of in a long, long time, and he showed exactly why in a marquee game against fellow Eastern Conference powerhouse Pittsburgh on Monday night.