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BOSTON (CBS) – Sidney Crosby’s gruesome injury Saturday left the Pittsburgh Penguins with just one of Jarome Iginla’s “best two players in the world” active in their lineup.
Crosby is out indefinitely with a broken jaw, so as long as Evgeni Malkin is skating good health there’s just one slot open in the top two until Crosby’s return.
Sunday afternoon, much to the shock of many lovers of Pavel Datsyuk, Patrick Kane and others, I tweeted that David Krejci is ready to fill that slot behind Malkin. It took until the third period Sunday night in Buffalo, but Krejci showed some signs that he can be that player.
By winning a battle in front, Krejci scored the Bruins’ first goal to break a 0-0 tie. A few minutes later, he made a magical backhand pass to Nathan Horton on the doorstep for Boston’s second goal, which was the margin of victory in a 2-0 win against the Sabres.
So the Bruins earned a two-point weekend when many expected four. Despite the loss in Philadelphia Saturday, the Bruins are back within one point of Montreal for first in the Northeast Division.
Now calling Krejci the second-best player in the world might be an exaggeration. But the point is that when he’s playing his best, the Bruins are at their best. And Krejci is only playing his best when he believes he’s not just second in the world but best in the world. Although his 28 points in 34 games are respectable, they’re not reflective of a player who thrives on being his team’s No. 1 center and going up against the opponent’s best players every night.
For most of this season, Patrice Bergeron has wrestled that No. 1 center title away from Krejci. You can blame Krejci’s slumping wingers Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, and credit the increased production of Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin on Bergeron’s wings. There’s a reason, however, that centers are typically the centers of attention. They’re the ones that make their lines go.
When Krejci’s at his best, he’s in the right frame of mind, he’s using his vision to make excellent decisions with the puck and he’s winning physical battles. At 6-foot, 188 pounds, Krejci will never be mistaken for a brawler, especially compared to his linemates. That doesn’t mean he can get away with shying away from contact. We saw him withstand a cross check in front of the net on his goal. We saw him engage with Robyn Regehr and a couple other Sabres in the victory Sunday.
Krejci was a master of point-production in the ’11 Stanley Cup championship run (after the Montreal series) because his effectiveness in open ice and the trenches. When he was bottled up and unwilling to pay the price against Washington last spring, and for much of this season, we’ve seen how much the results drop off.
As a younger player, Krejci was often too hard on himself. Coach Claude Julien tried to get the center to lighten up. Well, it’s time for Krejci to start taking failure harder, thinking he’s one of the best players in the world and then start playing like it. The Bruins need him to be at his best more anyone else in a black and gold sweater. Boston is 15-3-4 when Krejci records a point and 6-1-1 when he scores a goal this season.
Too often, Krejci and his linemates have hinted at a potential roll with a strong game only to flop in their next outing. If Krejci can once and for all build a hot streak off the Bruins’ Sunday night win, the club just might be peaking in time for the postseason.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.