By Matt Kalman. CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — This is what it’s like to be Torey Krug in 2016-17.
On December 1, the Bruins defenseman was credited with the game-tying goal with 32 seconds remaining in what turned out to be a 2-1 shootout win against the Carolina Hurricanes at TD Garden. On December 2, the NHL credited the goal to David Backes upon review.
Krug is still stuck on one goal this season and his 0.8 shooting percentage is last in the NHL among defensemen with at least one goal who’ve played at least 20 games this season. He’s gone 29 games without a goal.
But Krug’s primary assist on that Backes goal was one of 13 primary assists he’s accumulated this season.
Krug is tied with Montreal’s Andrei Markov, New York’s Ryan McDonagh and Chicago’s Duncan Keith for third in the League in primary assists, behind League leader Victor Hedman of Tampa Bay and second-place Brent Burns of San Jose. Krug’s 22 assists overall tie him with Brad Marchand for first on the Bruins, who are 1-0-1 on their current four-game road trip heading into a matchup with the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.
So critics should think twice before they criticize Krug for not meeting expectations in terms of offensive production.
Scoring from the blue line, where Krug spends most of his time in the offensive zone, is nearly impossible with the focus on shot blocking, and the size and athleticism of goaltenders. Krug recalled three shots, including the one against Carolina, which were deflected into the net this season. If you add those three goals to his ledger, all of a sudden those not paying attention to Krug’s game and instead just look at the stats on NHL.com would probably be pumping him up as a premier offensive defenseman.
Krug says his No. 1 job in the offensive zone is to get pucks through the traffic and then let whatever happens in front happen. And that’s what he’s been doing.
“I’m in the business to help my team win games and I’ll try to do that,” he said recently.
Krug is averaging nearly as many shots per game (2.81) as he averaged last season (3.01) when he scored four times. His shots per game average in the past 22 contests is down to 2.56 per game, but over that span he’s had 17 assists.
After a rocky start to the season, Krug has also improved his play away from the puck and in the defensive zone. Coach Claude Julien is protecting Krug more this season than last by starting the defenseman in the offensive zone 60 percent of the time. Krug’s rewarded that strategy with a 60.3 Corsi For percentage. And his time on ice is up 20 seconds from last season at 21:57 per game.
Although he’s able to rationalize his contribution to the Bruins by looking at the assist column, Krug is as disappointed as anyone that there aren’t more goals on his ledger. At 5-foot-9, 186 pounds, he’s able to generate significant velocity on his shot. Nonetheless he’s not going to challenge teammates Zdeno Chara or Colin Miller in the rocket launching contest. Krug has to be content to improve subtly.
Krug loves the cliché about struggling scorers “squeezing their sticks” because he believes it’s true.
“I find myself, if I’m really gripping the stick then I’m swinging harder and my accuracy goes down. If you take a little bit off of the grip strength I think you’re more relaxed and you place pucks better,” he said.
Krug can also benefit from changing the angle of his shots and moving around more with the puck. He remembered that early in his career a lot of his goals were scored around the home plate area, after joining the rush or on backdoor plays. Krug also plans to be more spontaneous about when he shoots. Unlike teammate David Pastrnak, who has mastered the odd-angle and look-away shots, Krug has to be more conscientious about being in position to defend after shooting so the between-the-legs and whirling-dervish shot attempts will be few and far between.
As the season wears on, Krug’s bound to get a bounce or two go his way if he keeps shooting at his current rate and keeps thinking up different ways to get the puck through the trees that block the path to the goal. He’ll also benefit from an improved Bruins power play, which has shown signs of life recently, and better finish from some of the forwards, which could create more open scoring chances active defensemen, as well as more assists.
Sometimes those assists are as valuable as goals and they’re a perfectly fine way to appraise Krug’s contributions are valuable to the Bruins.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.