By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — David Krejci’s in a 2011 state of mind, and it couldn’t come at a better time.
With Patrice Bergeron out indefinitely with a fractured foot, there’s a vacancy in the Bruins’ No. 1 center spot. No disrespect to Bergeron’s replacement Riley Nash, or his wings Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, but they’ve been temporarily demoted to second-line status now that Krejci and Rick Nash have started going steady.
Krejci sent a message that he’s back in top form Thursday with his fourth career hat trick in an 8-4 blowout of the defending Stanley Cup champions Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden.
Known as more of a playmaker than a scorer throughout his career (and with 171 goals and 388 assists to prove it), Krejci doesn’t mind sometimes finishing plays rather than setting them up.
“I like to make plays but I like to think of myself. I have a decent shot, so might as well use it,” Krejci said after the win.
Of course, he didn’t have to use his shot too often against Pittsburgh’s leaky defense and goaltending. He scored on each of his three shots, which totaled 22 feet in distance from the net. Those are the type of goals you get to score when you’ve suddenly been gifted the opportunity to play with a monster on wheels with more than 800 career NHL points on your right wing – and Nash has been just what general manager Don Sweeney ordered since joining the Bruins and Krejci’s line.
Nash set up Krejci’s first goal with an end-to-end rush, a move to the outside and a perfectly placed backhand pass to the top of the goal crease. Krejci added a couple of power-play markers to inspire a hat storm. The combination of Krejci, Nash and Jake DeBrusk was dominant at both ends of the rink, making folks forget they were also watching Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and that Bergeron was on the sidelines.
When the Bruins were winning and challenging for championships, Krejci was often granted the title of No. 1 center. He rolled roughshod over opponents with Milan Lucic, Nathan Horton and Jarome Iginla on his wings, while Bergeron’s lines handled the dirty work and toughest defensive assignments, chipping in offensively when they could.
But since the glory days, the now 31-year-old Krejci has played with a revolving door of wings the past three-plus seasons. Who could forget the run he had with Tim Schaller last season? Schaller’s a smart, tough, responsible player but not second-line material. Then at the trade deadline Sweeney’s gift to Krejci was Drew Stafford. That’s like buying a kid a Slinky when he wants an Xbox. Then along came Nash.
“He takes the puck to the net, he’s a big body, he can skate really well,” said Krejci, who has 33 points (14 goals, 19 assists) in 44 games. “So trying to get a feel for what he can do and trying to find that spot, kind of get an idea of where he puts the puck. So it’s getting better.”
Nash might not have known exactly what he was signing off for when he agreed to a trade to Boston. Despite Krejci’s impressive resume and postseason exploits (77 points in 96 postseason games), the Czech star has been flying under the radar for a few years since Bergeron went up in class from perennial Selke Trophy winner to constant contender for the Hart Trophy. He’s been compared by national television pundits to Pavel Datsyuk and won his share of battles with Datsyuk, Crosby, Malkin and other elite centers, yet Krejci other gets Ringo-level accolades among the Bruins’ stars.
That’s fine with him.
“That’s just, I guess, up to you guys … I’m just trying to stay in the moment and do my thing. I can’t really control what other people are saying,” Krejci said.
He’ll be getting full credit from Nash as long as their line continues to roll the way it has since Sunday’s trade. The deal has been mutually electrifying for both players. Krejci’s got more room to operate with two large speedsters on his sides who can finish his passes. And Nash has been rescued from the sinking Rangers, whose center depth has been lacking for a couple of seasons.
Nash is enjoying the instant chemistry he’s had with Krejci and learning more about him as they go along.
“You know he’s a great offensive player and a good passer. But his defensive game’s been great,” Nash said. “So he’s definitely the complete player, he’s fun to play with.”
Things will be more fun if Krejci and Nash keep clicking and produce many more vintage 2011 performances.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.