By Danny Picard
BOSTON Nathan Horton scored just his second goal in 21 games on Tuesday night in Carolina. No doubt, it was a weight lifted off his shoulders.
And on the surface, getting Horton back on the score sheet in the goals category is a joyous site for Bruins players, coaches, and fans.
As the third-place team in the Eastern Conference, with 31 games remaining on the regular-season schedule, its clear that this years Bruins team will be once again poised for a serious playoff run, especially with the rate goaltender -- and potential Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas has been keeping pucks out of the net.
The Bs are a team that some believe could still use another puck-moving defenseman. But even if that type of acquisition isnt made, there are a few pretty good puck-movers already on the roster, in Steven Kampfer and Dennis Seidenberg. And when you talk about shut-down D-men, captain Zdeno Chara changes an offensive gameplan like no other in the NHL.
But offensively even though the Bruins stand sixth in scoring with 154 goals this season there seemed to have been something missing.
Guys like Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, and Brad Marchand have been playing some of the best hockey theyve ever played as a professional, but still, the feeling was that there could be more.
Look no further than Hortons horrid stretch before this past weekends All-Star break, where the big winger had scored only one goal in his previous 20 games. Even though the Bruins went into the weekend atop their division, and looking pretty good in the conference standings, Hortons struggles gave the sense that this team could be, and probably should be playing better, and certainly producing more offense.
Horton snapped that scoring skid with a goal in Tuesday nights win over the Hurricanes. He worked the puck behind the net to David Krejci, and cut to an open space out front, where Krejci, quickly snuck a perfect pass out front, leading to Hortons one-time snapper upstairs.
Nobody can deny it. That was huge.
But look deeper into that goal, and even deeper into the reason why it felt as if these Bruins even with the sixth-most goals in the league could produce more offense. Youll find that, sure, Hortons offense is important. But if his scoring chances are coming from the players around him, then whats even more vital, is the play of Krejci.
I think David Krejcis game is important to our team, more than just Hortons, said Bruins coach Claude Julien on Wednesday. But he gave Horton a nice setup, and I thought Nathan, in tight, did a great job of lifting that puck up.
But David, as you know in the past, has always been the key to our teams success. Whether its been Bergeron or whether its been Savard thats gone down, hes picked up his game. Hes made a world of a difference for this hockey club. And he knows that. The better he plays, the better the team is, because hes that good of a player.
The wizard-like centerman showed that he was a world-class player in last years Olympics. But after starting this season with 10 points in his first 10 games, Krejci suffered a concussion that put him out of action for two weeks in November.
Since returning, Krejci has put up 24 points in 33 games. Following his assist on Tuesday night, Krejci has a total of seven goals and leads the team with 27 assists.
But what we saw in last years second half of the season, was a different gear than we saw in this years first half.
Bottom line is, Krejci has been good. But he can certainly be better.
And Krejcis pass to Horton in open space on Tuesday night was just a small example of how much Horton needs Krejci to get him the puck in those situations. And Hortons goal, snapping a 10-game scoreless skid, was an example of how much the Bruins need Horton to pick up his offense down the stretch.
With Marc Savard out indefinitely, and possibly missing for the rest of the season, and with no break-up of the Recchi-Bergeron-Marchand line in sight, it will be Krejcis duty to make sure Horton is getting those prime scoring chances.
Its a confidence thing, said Horton. Krejci is such a great player. You just try to get open, and youre going to get chances playing with him.
And if Horton keeps getting high-quality chances like the one he had on Tuesday in Carolina, hes going to keep scoring. And if he keeps scoring, the Bruins, behind the best goaltender in the league, will keep on winning.
But, perhaps, all of that is up to Krejci.
Danny Picard is on Twitter at http:twitter.comDannyPicard. You can listen to Danny on his streaming radio show I'm Just Sayin' Monday-Friday from 9-10 a.m. on CSNNE.com.