Torey Krug has already made peace with the notion that this will be a learning season for him.
When the Bruins allowed Andrew Ference and Wade Redden to walk after last season while retaining Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski, they were committing to riding through the highs and lows of rookie defensemen playing in key spots.
That obviously doesn’t mean Krug can’t excel. He's building a Calder Trophy-worthy resume while leading all B’s defenseman with six points through the first 10 games, and his four goals rank second on the Bruins behind the red-hot Milan Lucic, who has six.
His statistical worthiness isn't just a local thing either, however. Krug leads all NHL rookie defensemen -- including the much-hyped Seth Jones -- in goals and points, and has picked up exactly where he left off last spring’s playoffs as a playmaker on the power play.
It seems a little funny to classify a guy like Krug as a fresh-faced rookie after he made so many big plays during Boston's run to the Stanley Cup Finals last spring. But that's exactly what the 22-year-old is by the letter of the NHL law.
“He’s given us a lot, and I’m obviously impressed with how much he’s consistently given us offensively,” said coach Claude Julien. “We keep working on his game defensively because he’s a smaller body, and we’re used to having big bodies back there.
“He’s got to keep working on being smarter rather than stronger, and using his stick to get pucks away or using good body position. He’s doing a good job in that regard, and getting better at it all the time.”
That doesn’t mean Krug won’t have his challenges, and that was just as readily apparent in last weekend’s ugliness against New Jersey, when the Devils scored twice in closing minutes to beat the Bruins. With Zdeno Chara in the box, Krug was pushed into more PK time and didn’t have the easiest time fending off the front of the net from attackers. Krug also missed while trying to lift Damien Brunner’s stick in the corner, and instead jabbed the New Jersey winger in the mouth with a high stick that gave the Devils a pivotal power play late in the game.
“His intention was to lift the stick, and he hit the guy in the face,” said Julien. “So as a coach you don’t stand there and blame players. He’s given us a lot of good things, but it was an accident that turns out to be costly. Some nights you get the breaks, and some nights the breaks get you.”
While clearly correctible mistakes, they are also teaching moments for a young player. At 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds Krug will always have to battle smarter versus harder in the defensive zone against bigger, stronger players, and really do his damage at the offensive end where his shooting skill and puck creativity are huge assets.
“Every game you try to take something away from it,” said Krug. “Hopefully our body of work will be good enough at the end of the season where we can throw that game out the window. It’s kind of my game. I’m a high-risk player sometimes. I’ve always made some mistakes, and I’m always going to make some mistakes.
“They’re not going to stop. But hockey players have to hold short-term memories, and just really learn from it. I was out there on the penalty kill (at the end of Saturday's game against the Devils), and it was our worst penalty kill of the season. But you learn from it. I just want to be out there on the ice to help the team win games. If it’s PK again, then great . . . I’m just looking to help.”
One little thing that might help on Wednesday night: playing at the CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
Krug played his first NHL game against the Penguins in 2011-12, and played a pair of games in Pittsburgh last year during the Eastern Conference Finals. So there’s an immediate comfort level with the Penguins’ tendencies, and with his surroundings in Pittsburgh.
“It’s crazy,” said Krug. “It’s one of the very few buildings in the league where I’m already comfortable going in there. I already know where everything is in the dressing room, and I’ve been on the ice playing against them. It’s fun playing against those guys, and matching up against one of the best in the league. We’re all looking forward to that challenge.”
If Krug’s early NHL career is any indicator, he’ll also be responding with a man-sized game against the Penguins after some mixed reviews against the Devils.