BOSTON (CBS) – There will hopefully be a season when Bruins head coach Claude Julien won’t have to resort to coaching gimmicks to squeeze the best out of David Krejci.
That season, though, is not the 2011-12 campaign.
Fortunately for the Bruins, Julien’s latest maneuver with Krejci paid off Wednesday night in St. Louis with the type of game Boston wishes it could get from Krejci almost every night.
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Shifted to right wing in a continuation of a lineup move that started in the third period Sunday in Minnesota, Krejci, the Bruins’ co-leading-scorer last season, didn’t register a point in the slump-busting 4-2 win over the Blues (the first regulation home loss for St. Louis in its last 22 games). But from the first drop of the puck, Krejci was involved in every aspect of the game, as though he thought he could snap the Bruins’ two-game losing streak all by himself.
The line of Chris Kelly centering Milan Lucic and Krejci produced its first scoring chance just 40 seconds into the game. That trio was on the ice for two goals, including the eventual game-winner by Kelly, before the period was out. Krejci helped set up Lucic’s goal with a great hit on Kris Russell on the forecheck to create a giveaway.
Krejci finished with two hits, a blocked shot and two shots on net. Although Brad Marchand was the statistical team leader with two goals, Krejci was back to being his electrifying self. He still has just one point (a goal) in his last 10 games, but Krejci seems on the cusp of going on the type of tear the Bruins have come to expect from him.
Julien’s decision to shift Krejci to the wing was just the latest installment of operation “light a fire under Krejci.” In past seasons we’ve seen Krejci’s slot on the depth chart dropped, we’ve seen his overall ice time cut and even seen him pinned to the bench during occasional power plays. Eventually, Krejci has emerged from his slumps. A recent move to a line between Benoit Pouliot and Jordan Caron didn’t rev Krejci’s motor, and Julien opted to put Krejci back with Lucic.
The Bruins are banking on Krejci establishing himself as a perennial No. 1 center who scores at close to a point per game, plays responsibly in his own end and provides some on- and off-ice leadership, as evidenced by the $5.25 million per season contract extension they granted him earlier this season. We all got an overwhelming glimpse of what Krejci could be if he could ever find his consistency during the Stanley Cup run when he scored 23 points in 25 games. This year, the Bruins hoped Krejci would build on his playoff run and 62-point (in 75 games) regular season. With 40 points now, he might struggle to match last year’s total.
Of course, he could make up for a subpar regular season with another remarkable postseason run. Krejci will probably settle back in as a center at some point. Hopefully for the Bruins, the move will be based on merit and not on Julien’s need to again cajole a high level of play from Krejci. Because when Krejci’s at his best, the Bruins usually are.