EDMONTON Nathan Horton might have been a little lost for a while in his first season in Boston.
But hes found himself at exactly the right time.
Not so coincidentally, Hortons game and the teams success have been tied together.
In contrast to so many games in December and January, when the 25-year-old Horton registered barely more than a sheepish peep on the ice, Bostons No. 1 right wing crashed, banged and loudly proclaimed his presence to the surprisingly combative Edmonton Oilers in a 3-2 win for Boston at Rexall Place.
Its a sharp edge to Hortons game that his coaches were more than happy to take note of.
Theres the offense and hes been playing with an edge the last few games, and that makes a big difference, said Claude Julien. I like the way hes been playing lately, and hopefully that continues.
We always talk about the timing of players playing well. This time of year you really want your players to start pushing hard, and hes been doing that.
Horton didnt like the way things were playing out in the first period with the Bruins down 1-0 to Edmonton, and falling quickly into the Oilers trap on a forgettable snowy Sunday evening.
His team was down early and Horton caught Oilers scrap-iron defenseman Theo Peckham taking a run at David Krejci.
So Horton did what any good teammate would do: He rolled up his sleeves for a good old-fashioned hockey bout with Peckham and beat the daylights out of the guy CBCs Don Cherry proudly called Teddy Peckman earlier this season.
Different than Hortons other rounds of fisticuffs in a Bruins uniform, the Bs forward sprang at Peckham with anger and purpose in defending Krejci and he immediately wobbled the Oilers defenseman with a punishing overhand right to the face.
Peckham was wobbly after getting slugged, according to the players inside the Edmonton room, and was done for the night after paying the price for running Hortons linemate.
Milan Lucic pounded his stick against the ice in appreciation when his fellow wing man stepped in for the center that makes things go on their line.
I saw somebody run Krejci and I didnt see who it was. But I just went after him, said Horton. Thats kind of how it happened. Obviously they scored the first goal, and I just wanted to pick everybody up a little bit.
I enjoy playing with my teammates and we all get along, so we stick together when those things happen.
Once Horton was back on the ice, he played with the same fire that inspired him to drop the gloves. Working in tandem with a line that once again appears as dominant as it did torching defenses in the first month of the season, Horton took a nifty cross-ice pass from Krejci after Krejci froze the Edmonton defense with a shot fake at Devan Dubnyk.
Horton fired it top left corner in the open area of the net, and had his third goal in the last four games for a Bs team thats now an impressive 5-0-0 on their current road trip. Its also 10 points (4 goals, 6 assists) in the last nine games for Horton while riding along the right side with Krejci and Lucic.
So why is Horton all of the sudden again playing up to his size, speed, skill and expectations with some heretofore missing gusto?
Some of it is finally getting reunited with his linemates from October and November, and part of it is simply taking a breath and relaxing. Horton admitted it got to a point this season when he had to simply take a step back and realize he was falling victim to the mental part of hockey that can chew players up and spit them into little bits.
Too many worries about goal totals and making everybody satisfied had gnawed away at Hortons confidence and ability to simply enjoy a kids game, but it was all back in a Big Bad way during this road trip.
I try not to think about confidence right now. I just want to work hard and play hard, said Horton. Whatever happens, happens. Youve got to enjoy your life, and really enjoy playing hockey. I think when you do that good things will come.
You get down on yourself, but thats not the case now. You cant let that happen. No matter what happens you have to keep smiling and staying positive. You just have to always be happy because its fun to play this game. You have to enjoy it because its not going to be forever.
It seems that after nearly a full season with the Bruins thats seen both highs and lows, Horton has figured things out for himself -- and for his team. It couldnt have arrived at a better time with all the pieces in place to bestow the former Florida Panthers winger the playoff experiences he always dreamed of while stuck fast in the Eastern Conference basement.
Horton is a long way from there now, and he doesnt want to go back.