BOSTON -- Torey Krug hobbling out of TD Garden on crutches with a big, bulky brace supporting an injured right knee certainly isn't a sight Bruins fans were hoping for with the Stanley Cup playoffs less than a week away.
But that's what they saw after Krug went down in the first period of Boston's 2-1 shootout loss to Ottawa Thursday night, suffering from what the B's are ominously calling a "lower-body injury."
If Krug is sidelined for any length of time, it would put the Bruins in deep trouble before their playoff run even starts. He's Boston's most accomplished puck-mover among their D-men by a wide margin, he's the quarterback of a power-play unit that's been dominant during the just-concluded six game winning streak, and he's a legit top-4 defenseman on a team that simply doesn't have enough of them.
"It's a tough loss, especially for the D's," admitted David Pastrnak.
Krug's absence was felt in the loss to the Seantors.
"We [only had] five D's [for most of the] game, so it was tough for them," said Pastrnak. "Maybe that's why [the Senators] came [after our D-men] in the second period. They obviously recognized that and put more pucks deep, and pressured our D. So, we tried to make it easier for them, the forwards."
With Krug out after just two shifts, the Senators pinned the Bruins defense deep in their own end and dared them to adequately move the puck through the 1-3-1 trap employed by Ottawa coach Guy Boucher. They couldn't come close to doing that, resulting in the B's fourth loss in four tries against the Senators this season.
"These are the games where [Krug] sees the ice very well in the neutral zone and it only takes a few seams when all the sudden you're in, and even on the foreheck [he can] spring a guy," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "He does it once or twice a game, and he gives us opportunities to attack with numbers, keeps pucks live, and even the offensive blueline play he'll find a play or two."
So what can be done?
Certainly the Bruins could plug 36-year-old John-Michael Liles into Krug's spot and hope he can pull together the kind of puck-moving performances Boston desperately needs. That would mean Colin Miller also drawing back into the lineup to give Boston more of a puck-moving element.
The other option: Promoting Charlie McAvoy, newly signed after completing his sophomore season at Boston University, and seeing what he can do. McAvoy, 19, is the only defensemen in Boston's system with the ability to find seams while transitioning the puck up the ice like Krug, and the best hope to step in and replicate his skills on Boston's dangerous power play.
President Cam Neely said just hours before the game on Felger & Mazz that the Bruins didn't plan to use McAvoy at the NHL level this season -- one benefit is that it wouldn't burn a year off McAvoy's rookie deal; if he plays even one game in the NHL this season it would enable him to hit free agency sooner -- but Neely also added if "there’s an opportunity where we think he can help us when we need him, then that’s a different story."
This might qualify, as McAvoy is the only defenseman the B's have who can provide the same kind of electric offensive presence that Krug routinely brought to the table.