WILMINGTON, Mass. David Krejci is trying to keep his mind in exactly the right framework this year.The 25-year-old center has been through offensive struggles before and has always been a streaky performer. Krejci will go through stretches where points and production arrive in bunches like whenhe scored a team-leading12 goalsduring last years playoffs, and hell recede to the level of a background artist on ice for weeks at a time.The playmaking pivot has always pulled out of those scoring droughts in the past, and theres no reason to think he wont do that again. But the cold, hard hockey fact is that Krejci has two points and is minus-2 in his last eight games, and is pacing to put up 13 goals and 43 points along with a minus-14 this season.The center knows to ignore the numbers when things are going badly, but its sometimes difficult when one of his main jobs as a top line center is creating offense for a team expected to be among the NHLs best. It makes things easier when the team has won 10 of their 11 games and is ranked second in the NHL in goals per game, but hes self-aware enough to know hes not playing his best."Weve been there before. We know its a long season, and it been up and down for my line," said Krejci. "I feel like were going up now, and hopefully we can get there soon and stay for as long as we can. Im feeling pretty good and Im getting new skates today . . . so thats a good sign."Once youve had them for too long they get too soft, and you cant take turns as sharply. It takes me two practices to break new skates in, so it should work out perfectly for Wednesday against Toronto."So aside from a new pair of his customary skates, what makes things different for the Czech Republic center this season?Well, Krejcis contract is up at the end of the season as a restricted free agent and there hasnt been a great deal of movement toward a new deal. Its expected the center will be seeking a payday in the Patrice Bergeron neighborhood of 5 million per season, and that becomes a problem of simple roster math.The Bruins have three potential top line centers well under the age of 30 in Krejci, Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, and none of them would really fit in a third line center role. Temporarily Seguin is playing the wing and everything is good. But eventually those three centers will need to be pared town to a pair when it comes to salary cap considerations and simple roster composition. Thats thereality of the situation.So Krejcis name has been whispered in trade possibilities without any actual deals coming to the forefront. It would clearly have to be a major score for the Bruins to move their young playoff hero, but its also more of a possibility this season than its ever been before given the surplus down the middle.Krejci is a smart guy, and he knows the score. Hes heard all of the above as he attempts to simply play things out through the regular season and playoffs. Hes off to the worst start in his five-year NHL career and one has to wonder if the contract, trade rumors or any other issues are causing him to exert a little too much pressure on himself."I hope its not. I know its my contract year and there are lots of things I want to prove to people that I can do," said Krejci. "Im putting big expectations on myself for this season. Now the season has started, and even when Im playing good Im not putting the points on the sheet. People judge me by points and I dont like it. That gets me thinking a lot at night and stuff."I feel like Im getting better and were winning so its been fun with all of the guys and stuff. So Im not worried too much about it. Ive got 60 games left. Id have some bad stretches and Ive had some great stretches. I feel like I got ready for the season well enough and Im going to get back up there again."Everybody knows that players need to produce points and goals if theyre looking for the big bucks, and neither one has come all that easily for Krejci this season. Most everyone thinks the center will once again emerge from his offensive struggles provided hes putting in his current level of effort and commitment, and continuing to skate with Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. Krejcis coach would like his centers game to become more consistent on a nightly basis, and he hopes Krejci quits worrying about the stuff that he cant control."Weve seen him catch fire all of a sudden and he keeps producing and producing. The one thing David would like to get better at and wed like to see him improve at is his consistency," Julien said. "Streaky can be good when youre on a good stretch, but consistency can be even better. I know hed like to be better and its something hed like to keep working on."Bergeron earned his contract extension last autumn in part because everyone knows what they can expect from him 82 games a season in Black and Gold, and he rarely disappoints. Hes also proven capable of scoring 30 goals in a season and topping the 70-point mark when put in more of an offensive position as he is now paired with Seguin.Krejci will be in that class salary and reputation-wise only when he can bring the same playmaking and creativity every single game while combining it with two-way effort and responsibility.Hes not there yet, but his coach knows Krejci is still working at it diligently."Hes probably not getting the points on the board the way wed like it to be, and when I saw we Im including ourselves," Julien said. "That line is capable of scoring and putting points on the board, but that hasnt been happening much lately. In the course of the season you have those highs and lows, and you have to be patient. If Krejcis line were playing in their own end all of the time or playing lazy, then it would be a different situation."Whether its snake-bitten or a lack of confidence, I like their work ethic and with time Im sure its going to come around."If past performance is any indicator of the future, it wont be longbefore Krejci has his game together. When he does, he'll holda fewanswersto the questions he had for himself entering a this pivotal season.
BOSTON -- Noel Acciari missed a month of game action with a lower body injury, so it would have been perfectly acceptable to show plenty of rust in his game upon returning to the Boston lineup.
But the former Providence College standout didn’t look rusty, a step behind or out of place in any way as he played the fourth line energy forward role to a perfect fit after missing the last 13 games. Acciari did get in one game with the Providence Bruins prior to suiting back up for the Black and Gold on Saturday, and perhaps that helped him manufacture a couple of shots on net to go along with three thumping hits against the Maple Leafs.
The 25-year-old Acciari didn’t factor into the scoring at all for the Bruins, but that’s just as well given that his focus should be on killing penalties, being hard to play against and taking the body whenever the chance presents itself. Claude Julien reformed the B’s energy line that had so much success earlier in the season with Acciari, Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller, and didn’t hesitate tossing them back into the mix together while looking for energy and a spark for an offensively stunted team.
“It’s good to be back with my linemates, and you know, I think we kind of picked up where we left off, but there’s definitely things we need to work on. That’ll come with a couple more practices and games together,” said Acciari, who finished theSaturday loss with three registered hits packed into 11:35 of ice time. “Kind of getting back to our familiarity and kind of get back to where we were before I got injured.
“It was a good start tonight, but we definitely just weren’t clicking like we used to, but that’ll come. I think that will come. Like I said, a couple practices and just kind of getting some games in [are good things]. I thought we were pretty good tonight, but, you know, should get more pucks to score [goals].”
Clearly there is room for improvement for everybody including Acciari, but it was encouraging to see the fearless competitor again flying around on the TD Garden ice playing high intensity hockey for a fourth line that could use every little bit of that.
BOSTON -- This may not come as a surprise, but the Boston Bruins are having some trouble putting the puck in the net.
Despite outshooting the Maple Leafs by an 11-2 margin in the first period and outshooting them by a 32-21 margin over the balance of the 60 minute game, the Bruins scratched for just a single goal in a frustrating, constipated 4-1 loss to Toronto at TD Garden. Clearly some of the offensive difficulty was caused by a solid Frederik Andersen, who improved to 6-0-0 in a career against Boston that’s beginning to take on Bruins Killer proportions.
But a great deal of the B’s struggles to finish scoring chances on Saturday night is a malady that’s dogged the Bruins all season, and marked the 20th time in 29 games this year that Boston has scored two goals or less. In most of these games the Bruins have dominated puck possession and outshot their opponents, but still have come away mostly empty handed in the goals scored department while dropping deep in the bottom third of NHL offenses this season.
“It seems like every game we’re out-chancing teams, but we don’t outscore teams. That’s where the biggest issue is right now. Our scoring is not there and if you don’t score goals you don’t win hockey games,” said Claude Julien. “Because of that we criticize everything else in our game, but our game isn’t that bad.
“If we were scoring goals people would love our game right now, but that’s the biggest part. There’s not much more I can say here except for the fact that if we don’t score goals it’s going to be hard to win hockey games.”
But the Bruins aren’t scoring goals consistently, their power play is below average while trending in the wrong direction and the team has been forced to watch steady offensive players like Patrice Bergeron suddenly slump in a concerning way. Clearly David Pastrnak is doing his part with 18 goals scored this season in 24 games, and others like Brad Marchand and Dominic Moore have also performed above, or beyond, their acceptable level of play.
But there are other players failing with the chance to make an offensive dent: Austin Czarnik has been on the roster for nearly two months, and has zero goals and two points in his last 15 games as the offense is again dried up on the third line. He missed wide on a shorthanded chance in the third period after a Moore centering pass set up him all alone in front, and was critiquing himself for fanning on a perfect dish to him in the slot.
Moments later the Leafs had an insurance score from James van Riemsdyk to make it a 3-1 game, and it was all over for the Black and Gold at that point.
Czarnik is an easy target because he’s young and inexperienced, but there is more than enough struggle and frustration to go around with a bunch of offensive players that can’t seem to get out of their own way. David Backes admitted it’s reached a point where the Bruins are frustrated when they can’t score enough to beat a team like Toronto, and that it falls squarely on the lead guys in the Black and Gold dressing room that are underperforming.
“I think offensive frustration is warranted at this point; we just haven’t done a good enough job scoring goals. We played a heck of a first period. We limited them to two shots and we had an opportunity to have a team that’s coming in here that’s a younger team, to really put them behind the eight ball,” said Backes. “Instead, they think they got a second lease on life and they were able to capitalize. All of the sudden, they were up 2-0 and we’re fighting an uphill battle again rather than -- we have that opportunity to play a heck of a first period and we don’t find a way – it’s easy to talk about, but it’s going out there and doing the job and putting it past or through the goalie, or however it needs to happen. “You’ve seen our goals; you want to do a study on it unless you’re Pasta [David Pastrnak] with the one-timer on the side, it’s been ugly, it’s been rebounds, it’s been greasy goals and that’s our equation and we need more of it, and we didn’t do it. They did a good job of being in front of their net and boxing out, eliminating those second chances. But, we’ve got good players in here that need to create more and find those second chances and win those battles, find those loose pucks, and throw them in the net.”
The Bruins have been talking seemingly all season about the need to get to the “dirty areas in the offensive zone”, and for players to jump all over the second and third chance opportunities currently going by the board unchallenged on goalie rebounds.
Now it’s about speaking with action for the B’s, and more specifically speaking volumes with goals and offensive finish instead of “chances” that aren’t doing much of anything if they’re not being snapped into the back of the net.