Haggerty: Offensive guns emerge after quiet month

Haggerty: Offensive guns emerge after quiet month
November 24, 2013, 10:00 am
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Perhaps that confident, patient David Krejci overtime game-winner will be exactly the remedy that was needed for a group of Bruins top-six forwards that had been on offensive life support over the last week.

Krejci’s goal snapped a streak of six straight Bruins goals that had been scored by either bottom six forwards or defensemen, and was only the second time in the B’s last dozen goals that one of the top six skill guys had lit the lamp dating back nearly 10 days to the Nov. 15 game in Ottawa. In Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s mind, those top two forwards aren’t reading the play as similarly as the third line is where Carl Soderberg and Reilly Smith are scoring in bunches.

“We still have some lines right now that are kind of waiting to see what the puck carrier is going to do with it. You hope that with time we can get that same level as that third line is right now, of anticipating well,” said Claude Julien. “They know exactly where they want to go, and where they’re going to put the puck…so they’re on top of it all the time. The last few games they’ve had a lot of chances and a lot of offensive zone time.”

Yes, zone time and pressure on the opponent’s defense is exactly what the Bruins offense is going for rather than gaudy goal totals.

Clearly individual scoring is never going to be a strong suit for the Black and Gold as attested by Boston’s leading point getters, Milan Lucic and David Krejci, being tied with 12 other players for 59th in the NHL with their 17 points. The bedrock of the B’s success will always be built on scoring depth and getting secondary offense from the third and fourth lines, and now getting goals from D-men like Zdeno Chara and the surprising Torey Krug.

But the top line guys know that it’s their job to produce goals and offense, and the Bruins can’t have sustained success if they aren’t piling up points like so many Jenga pieces. So Monday afternoon’s overtime that saw Jarome Iginla smoothly collect a high and tight pass from Johnny Boychuk, and then coolly split two defenders before dropping it back to Krejci for the confident finish?

That was exactly what those top line guys wanted to see. Particularly a guy like Jarome Iginla, who had a wide open chance in the third period that dinged off the near post before hitting Carolina defenseman Ryan Murphy near the far post and falling harmlessly away from the crease.

“As a team we were getting good chances, and especially our line had some really good looks and consistent chances. They haven’t gone in as much as we would like,” said Iginla. “It’s the way it goes sometimes. But if you keep the good habits up and you stick with it, one bounce and one break will come. Hopefully that was the one for us in OT tonight, and then you get on a roll.

“It can be tough to stay focused, but it’s doable as long as you feel like you’re getting those chances and you’re winning.”

While the Krejci line had some chances in recent games, they clearly stepped up Monday afternoon vs. Carolina with 10 of Boston’s 38 shots on net, and 15 total shot attempts between Krejci, Iginla and Lucic. That was the most combined activity from those three forwards in any game during a chilly month of November after a torrid start in October, and a signal to their teammates that they’re once again ready to start pulling their offensive weight.

There appeared to be way too much standing around and waiting to see what Krejci was going to do with the puck, and Krejci pretty clearly wasn’t playing at his highest level after getting his head slammed into the boards by Brandon Dubinsky back on Nov. 14.

Those dark times now appear to be ending.

“We get good opportunities to play in good offensive situations. Part of our job is to help produce offense, so we put pressure on ourselves to do that,” said Iginla. “At times we’ve been able to do that this year, and it’s not always about production. It’s about putting pressure on the other team, and lots of different things that go into it.

“But we definitely put pressure on ourselves to contribute, and want to get back at it on a consistent basis. Our last couple of games had been a good step in the right direction, and a great [OT] finish by Krejci might be something to build on.”

Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson and Brad Marchand finished with only five shots on net against the Hurricanes, and are clearly still looking for their Krejci “overtime moment” to once again kick start the second line of offense that had been better lately. Everybody is keenly aware how rare it is during an 82-game regular season on any NHL team when all four forward lines are humming with the identical high level of energy, efficiency and production.

But it’s up to the top six forwards to have many more good nights than average-to-bad nights. It’s the responsibility of those top line forwards to avoid long stretches without any production as Krejci and Lucic once couldn’t do with the notoriously streaky Nathan Horton riding shotgun on their right wing.

What’s the one positive about the offensive slowdown for the Bergeron and Krejci lines over the last 10 days?

The third and fourth lines displayed an unmistakable ability to supply enough goals to sustain the B’s offense for a short stretch of games, and carried Boston’s offense in wins against the Rangers and Hurricanes while the big B’s boys got their bearings.

“The season is pretty long; 82 games. That’s a lot of games,” said Krejci. “Your top two lines aren’t going to play…aren’t going to put goals every single game. The good teams, they need the two bottom lines as well to put the puck in the net.

“Our [bottom six guys] have been pretty good at it, especially lately.  We have a good team, good four lines, and we’ve just got to keep it rolling.”

That spreading of the offensive wealth is a sign of good things to come as Boston’s big offensive guns are once again coming alive after getting sparked by some overtime heroics.