By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
Bruins defenseman Torey Krug summed up his role perfectly.
“I have the ability to be a bus driver for this team and I’ve got to make the plays that are in front of me,” he told me after the Bruins lost 4-2 to Buffalo on Saturday at TD Garden.
After going 23 games with just one regulation loss (18-1-4), the Bruins’ bus stalled out against the Sabres. From the outset the Bruins weren’t in sync against the Atlantic Division’s last-place team. And you could tell from Krug’s early plays that it might be a long night in terms of execution by Boston.
In the first half of the first period Krug twice got whistled for icing. Once he tried to hit David Pastrnak behind the Buffalo defense with an indirect pass. The second he tried to get Ryan Spooner up and running with the puck in stride.
Pastrnak told Krug he didn’t see him pass the puck, so he wasn’t ready to receive it. That was basically the story of the Bruins’ night.
“We were 6 inches away from being in the right spot and 6 inches away from executing passes, and you know they thrived on that,” Krug said.
Krug was one of 18 culprits (or 15 if you subtract the fourth line, which coach Bruce Cassidy said played the way everyone else needed to) in the Bruins’ first trap-game defeat since they became a juggernaut after their Dec. 14 loss to Washington.
Pastrnak looked pretty making his behind-the-back move to try to get around defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen but didn’t get enough separation and his scoring chance flamed out. Brad Marchand tried a fancy move at the blue line that was read and extinguished by Buffalo defenseman Casey Nelson. Adam McQuaid told Matt Grzelcyk to attack the puck carrier on a Buffalo 3-on-1 and then left Benoit Pouliot wide open for the goal that made the score 3-1 with 1:11 left in the second period.
Passes went awry, shots went wide and high (16 missed the net) and the Bruins were humbled by a combination of soft ice on a warmer than expected night, cockiness in the face of an opponent 20 points out of the playoff structure, and their own subpar play.
During the Bruins’ run before their loss to the Sabres, everyone was filling their role almost to perfect. Patrice Bergeron, Pastrnak, Marchand and Danton Heinen have been the finishers; Jake DeBrusk and Ryan Spooner have been the burners opening up space with their speed; the defensemen have assumed their roles – shutdown guys and puck movers.
Krug has been the engine making the transition game and the attack fly. In the past 24 games, he’s had 15 points (four goals, 11 assists). He’s hit his stride as the quarterback of Boston’s first power-play unit.
After that slow start, Krug got his game closer to where it needed to be over the final 40 minutes. He made a simple play to DeBrusk, who took the pass in stride and set up Spooner’s goal. But there were still some shaky moments, like Krug’s soccer-style pass back to goaltender Tuukka Rask which went haywire when Rask tried a return pass and Kyle Okposo nearly scored a gift goal to the right of the crease.
Over the second half of the game, Cassidy went to his version of the hurry-up offense by pairing Krug with Charlie McAvoy in an effort to give the Sabres a one-two wallop of offensive defensemen. The coach has done that before and he’ll be sure to use it again when it’s time for the Bruins to go all-out for a goal.
“Charlie … obviously he’s got the vision and the ability to make some plays. I think that can be a spark for our team if we’re down a few goals and they put us together, then we obviously have a job to do to get the puck to the forwards and let them do the work. Just create four-man attacks down the stretch,” Krug said.
Krug, the self-proclaimed “bus driver” couldn’t find the road enough against the Sabres, and the rest of the Bruins also wound up on the side of the road. But based on Krug’s track record, he’s almost certain to get the Bruins back on the highway in the games ahead.
“When I [make those plays] I think it’s good for everyone, the forwards, and also gives our other D men confidence to make those plays too,” Krug said. “Early on you’ve got to be sharper and give the guys some confidence.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.