BOSTON -- Nathan Horton has been out of sorts for nearly the entire season, and only recently there have been modest signs of improvement.
In the seasons first 11 games there were two or three performances approaching Hortons high standards on the ice, and the top line right winger is on a Slowski Family pace for 15 goals, 37 points, a minus-22 and nearly 200 penalty minutes in a series of statistics that dont quite add up for the Game 7 hero.
One of the first steps toward fixing a problem, however, is admitting there is one to begin with. Horton finally went public with the struggles hes experienced finding his game coming off last years season-ending concussion, and related how out of sorts he feels on the ice. Horton is having major difficulty getting that crisp, quick release going off his stick and hes been out of position with and without the puck at points this season.
To be fair to Horton many of the Bruins have gone through this early in the season, but with Horton its been more pronounced and prolonged.
Im still trying to get my game back, admitted Horton, who has managed points in only four of the teams first 11 games this season. I dont feel 100 percent out there like Im myself. Im just trying to get that back.
With my timing and stuff I still dont feel like Im myself out there. I mean . . . Im fine, but I just need to be better obviously. I just need to be better. I had never had a concussion before or whatever. I didnt know what to expect. Obviously it has contributed a slow start, but Im just going to keep working through it. I have to be better, I know I can be better and I want to be better.
The player and the Bruins were both adamant there are no concussion-like symptoms remaining and physically he is feeling fine but Horton also admitted he doesnt feel like himself out on the ice.
Its very similar to the strange limbo existence Patrice Bergeron found himself mired in the season following his own severe concussion, and he knows exactly what Horton is fighting. Bergeron put up a very un-Bergie eight goals and 39 points in 63 games in and out of the Bruins lineup, and looks back at the season as a true bridge year toward getting back to his normal NHL self.
The two Bs forwards havent discussed their now shared experience yet this season, but Bergeron said his door is always open if Horton has any questions about life after the first big concussion.
That year when I came back it was more a question of timing and execution, and all that. I felt fine, but I also felt like maybe I was forcing things a little too much and putting too much pressure on myself, said Bergeron. I know what hes going through and hes going to come out of it for sure. Its not easy, but I know hes going to be fine.
The good news for Horton and the Bruins: Hortons concussion wasnt as severe as the one dealt out to Bergeron, and it shouldnt take nearly as long for the right winger to snap out of the haze. Claude Julien has seen evidence Hortons game is coming around, but the statistics and foolish frustration penalties would say otherwise at the present moment.
Last night Horton and his line played a lot better, and they competed better, said Julien. I told them today to put the stat sheet aside and look at what they did. They created some scoring chances and Lucic scored. The other two had their chances and played better. If they continue to compete like that then its only a matter of time before they start getting rewarded with goals, assists and everything else.
Horton has had a slow start to the season. I think anybody thats missed an amount of time with a concussion is going to be slow coming back. You saw Bergeron take half or of a year to come all the way back and Marc Savard when he came back too. Whether its hesitation or whatever it is, it can take some time to come back from a concussion. Its something weve noticed along the way.
Horton admitted that his Falling Down impersonation of Michael Douglas in the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes was regrettable, but he didnt have as big a problem with the cross-checking penalty in the third period against the Montreal Canadiens last weekend.
Or the boarding penalty last night against the Senators when pucks werent falling into open nets for him.
Or his decision to skip speaking with the media masses following a needed win.
Instead Horton seemed to be speaking like a man looking for a clean slate to this season after Wednesdays practice at the Garden, and its justified given the fog that hasnt quite lifted from his game after a cheap shot from Aaron Rome in the Finals.
Horton saw some of the fog start to dissipate Tuesday night against the Senators, and thats good news for a guy battling just to get back to normal on the ice again.