BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s not much of a coincidence that Torey Krug and the Bruins are off to bumpy starts.
With so many injured players and inexperienced rookies in tow for the Black and Gold, the onus - whether fair or unfair - falls to core players such as Krug to pull more than their share of the load.
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Unfortunately, Krug hasn’t been up to the challenge the first six games of the season, while coming quickly from a fractured jaw suffered in the preseason, and he sits with a team-worst minus-8 for the season after a brutal minus-3 performance in the Saturday night collapse against the Buffalo Sabres.
Krug’s timing still doesn’t appear to be fully there yet after missing most of training camp. That's causing him to play more in the defensive zone where the 5-foot-9, 186-pounder just doesn’t want to be.
The Bruins absolutely need him to be better if they’re going to survive the early portion of the season with their playoff hopes still intact, so it’s up to Krug to find his game a little sooner than he did last season.
Krug, 26, returned a few games ahead of the initial injury timetable, which he’s always done to his tough-minded credit. Still, it feels like this season is playing out much the same as last when Krug was coming back from shoulder surgery and started very slowly before getting his bearings physically with just six points and a minus-9 rating in his first 20 games of last season.
Krug is hoping that a few more days of practice this week can help him hit the reset button ahead of this weekend’s games against the Sharks and Kings and get him into midseason form.
“Maybe [a few days to reset is a good thing], but there’s also a side of me that says ‘screw it’ and wants to get right back out there,” said Krug, who has just a couple of points and only eight shots on goal in his first six games. “The more I get out there and play the more I’ll find my game, and start playing the percentages that make me a good hockey player. The more I touch the ice the better I feel, and that’s what I’m looking forward to doing in the next game.
“I know it’s going to click. Last year was a physical thing with the shoulder, and I guess it’s the same situation this year where I think I only practiced four times and then missed all of camp [with the fractured jaw]. So, I’m in the same situation as last year, and it took me about 20 games to feel right last season. I’m trying to right the ship a little sooner this time around. The next game is when it’s going to start, and then we’ll move from there.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy wondered whether the protective plastic mouth-guard that Krug is wearing on his helmet after the broken jaw was hindering his play a little bit. It’s clear he’s still in recovery mode while still unable to eat things like a nice steak dinner because of the healing jaw. Krug may or may not be able to ditch the plastic jaw-guard after his next doctor’s appointment next week, but there are also some things he can do to aid his efforts in bouncing back.
“He had a significant injury, so I don’t know if some of the puck battles and 1-on-1 battles in tight that it affects him or not. Only he can answer that, but I suspect it would [impact] a lot of people. On the offensive end some of the plays that he’s made haven’t ended up in goals, and other ones haven’t presented themselves as much. That might be a byproduct of who he’s out there with,” said Cassidy. “But I know he’s going to make his plays and get his points. It’s just inevitable. He does that every year. On the defensive part of it there have been a few plays where rather than tying his guy up, he’s trying to play goalie a little bit.
He’ll just have to be cognizant of that. Do your job and tie up your guy, and don’t try to do too much. That’s usually when you get yourself in trouble, and that’s happened a little bit. So once we all buy into that in front of the net, we’ll all be better off.”
But Cassidy and Krug know that he’s a key player in the aggressive transition system that the Bruins want to play and that the diminutive D-man is important as an in-his-prime bridge player between older warhorse Zdeno Chara and young, inexperienced D-men Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy.
At his best, Krug was a de facto No. 2 defenseman for the Bruins last season and certainly was a legitimate top-four guy playing well more 20 minutes a night. The Bruins need every inch of that right now with a team that’s certainly facing its share of adversity.
Krug knows his team badly needs him to step it up after an understandably slow start, so now's the time to start stepping.