BOSTON -- Let's face it. Nathan Horton may never have a worse scoring drought than he did midway through last season, in which he scored only one goal in 20 games.
But entering January, it was getting awfully close. From Dec. 5 to the end of the month, Horton scored only twice in 11 games.
The Bruins weren't struggling, so it wasn't that big a deal.Still, big picture, Horton is a major part of Boston's success. His presence on the right wing on the team's top line was crucial in the playoffs last year, until he went down with a concussion in the Stanley Cup Final.
His presence is all about intensity, and at the end of the day, that intensity -- for Horton -- turns into goals.
Sometimes, though, Horton doesn't seem to be fully engaged in the game that he's playing -- a reason he went through such a horrid stretch last season. It was also a reason for his latest drought, before the last four games.
Because in those last four games, Horton now has five goals, thanks to his two goals in Tuesday night's 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets at the TD Garden.
"I think he's doing more of what we had talked about when we wanted him to be a better player," Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the win. "I think he's more engaged in the dirty areas, battling. I think he's being more physical than he had been lately. And he's a lot stronger on the puck. Even near the net, he's trying those chances, where at the beginning of the year, he was there but the goaltenders were making the saves and he wasn't burying his opportunities.
"So I think when you look at all those little things, it's more about how engaged he is in the game. I think he's more mentally engaged in all those little areas."
Julien said that his team lacked a killer instinct in the first two periods on Tuesday night. But Horton seemed to have it from the get-go, scoring the Bruins' first goal of the night while going hard to the net in the final minute of the first period.
Milan Lucic completed a breakout by skating the puck down into the left corner of the offensive zone, and dished a pass out to the right post, where Horton beat the defense to the puck and tapped it into the open net, tying the game at 1-1 with 39.4 seconds left in the first period.
Horton's second goal started a third-period scoring spree, as he once again went hard to the net, beat the defense to the top of the crease, and put his stick on the ice to knock home a David Krejci spin-o-rama pass from the left corner, just eight seconds into the period.
That goal -- his 14th of the year -- tied the game at 3-3, and was the first of three unanswered Bruins goals to end the game.
"I'm just trying to get pucks to the net and go to the net, and get it to open people," said Horton after the win. "Im just trying to give David Krejci and Milan Lucic the puck as much as I can, and just go to the net, and good things happen."
Good things happened for Horton on Tuesday night, as he seemed fully engaged in the game, getting to those dirty areas.
And after that, the rest of the Bruins followed suit.