By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — With defenseman Kevan Miller in the penalty box serving a double minor for high sticking with 8:52 left, and the Bruins protecting a 2-0 lead against Dallas on Thursday, coach Bruce Cassidy had to make a decision about who would be his second left-shot defenseman during the four-minute kill.
Torey Krug earned the nod over John-Michael Liles and got to play with his regular partner, Adam McQuaid. The Bruins preserved the shutout by making the kill with Krug making a couple plays down low to move the puck out of the dangerous areas of Dallas’ attacking zone.
With five games remaining in the season, Krug hit another milestone during the 2-0 win on his way to establishing that he’s more than just an offensive defenseman.
“I was really excited when I got a chance to go out and penalty kill [Thursday] night,” said Krug after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday. “I used to do it in college. I know it’s a step down for sure but it’s something that I take a lot of pride in. I’m trying to shake this label as an offensive defenseman and be an overall guy. When you get the chance to prove that you want to go out there and get it done and I was really excited to get out there on the PK, more so than going out on the power play to be honest. Trying to block more shots, proving that you can be part of that group and just help the team win.”
Regardless of how this Bruins’ season ends, Krug’s development into a defenseman that can be a fixture among an NHL top four has been one of its brighter achievements. Krug has averaged a career-high 21:54 of ice time and set a career-high with 49 points. After scuffling to four goals last season he already has eight this year, including a power-play goal in the 2-0 win against Dallas. Six of his eight goals have come on the power play, but he’s become much more generous at the offensive end and has a career-high 41 assists.
“If we go back to the start of the year, the offensive part, I thought he was looking for his shot a lot more than looking to make plays for his teammates,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He found that balance, all of a sudden his assist totals are up. … Would you rather have 12 goals and 30 points or eight goals and 50 points? That’s some of the questions, we would have discussions. He’s making players around him better.”
Like many of the Bruins’ offensive-minded players, Krug has benefited from Cassidy’s emphasis on becoming a more creative and aggressive team. Considering the junior career Cassidy had as an offensive defenseman — he once had 86 points in the OHL and was a first-round pick of Chicago in 1983 — it shouldn’t be surprising that Krug and Cassidy are on the same wavelength.
“We think the game the same way and we have an understanding with each other,” Krug said. “He knows the plays that I can make and when he sees that I’m not making those plays then he can get on me and give me a nudge to get my game going in the right direction. So we have a working relationship. We see the ice, we see the same things, the same plays that need to be made. And he understands that I can make them and it gives me the confidence to try those things when maybe in the past I wouldn’t try things like that.”
Although Cassidy loves offense, he knows the Bruins’ DNA is defense and that that’s what wins championships. That’s where Krug, even at 25, is still evolving into a player Cassidy can trust in a more expanded role. Krug has to “make sure the play” in the defensive end “finishes” before he can go on the attack, Cassidy explained.
“It’s about making the right call when to do it,” the coach said. “It’s like puck management, when do you make the play when it’s a risky play, when do you make the safe play? And that’s where Torey will find out if it’s in his calling. I think it is because he takes it to heart, he’s still young, he’s not a guy that’s set in his ways. He wants to be known as that guy and I believe he’ll get there if he’s not already there.”
Krug had 16 points in 27 games over two Stanley Cup Playoffs seasons before the Bruins took their two-year hiatus from postseason play. If the Bruins qualify this season, Krug will have a chance to add to those offensive totals and flaunt his more well-rounded game in a lead role rather than playing on a third pair. Although it seems like he’s been with the Bruins’ forever, Krug’s future is bright whether it continues in the playoffs or next season.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.