BRIGHTON, Mass – It might be easy to overlook given the playoff chase and the spectacular individual seasons being produced by David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, but Torey Krug is having a damn fine year for the Bruins.
Krug scored one of the two goals in Boston’s coyote ugly win over the Dallas Stars on Thursday night. In the process, the young puck-moving defenseman hit the 50-point plateau for the first time in his NHL career. That score pushed the 25-year-old to eight goals this season and much closer to the double-digit goal totals that Krug averaged in his first two seasons in the NHL.
“It’s nice to see those [shots] go in and help the team,” said Krug. “I’ve changed my shot mentality while looking for tips and things like that, but a lot of my goals lately have come from going to the crease and getting in tight to the net. So, it’s just having that inner motor to get things done and they’ve been going in for me.
“Around Game 20 or so, I changed my mentality while realizing that I’m not going to score on every shot and when I was trying that it hindered what guys could do with rebounds and second chances. So I changed that approach and tried to make things happen with hitting tips or looking shot and then hitting a guy backdoor [with a pass].”
That little adjustment has clearly worked for Krug and the Bruins after starting the season with just two points in his first 13 games.
Some of that is clearly about Krug recovering from a shoulder injury/surgery that affected him last season, and dropped him to a career-worst 1.6 shooting percentage along with just four goals in 81 games. Some of it is also about Krug more actively looking to set things up offensively and make the players around him better. That's pushed him up to a career-high 42 assists this season.
“He didn’t want to be considered an offense/power play guy," said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. "He wanted to kill [penalties] when necessary and play top-four minutes, and still have his offensive label attached to him. If we go back to the beginning of the year, I thought he was looking a lot more for his shot than to make plays for his teammates, but he found that balance and his assist totals are up. He’s having a career year in points and he’s up to eight goals. So, would you rather have 12 goals and 30 points, or eight goals and 50 points? Those were some of the questions when we would have discussions in making players around him better.
“That’s why I think our power play has elevated. There have been a number of reasons, but he’s one of them. On the defensive side of it, we all know that he can’t defend like a [Zdeno] Chara or a [Brandon} Carlo because he doesn’t have the length. His anticipation on getting going on offense while still taking care of his responsibilities in front of the net is where we’ll always have conversations with Torey. Where is the fine line between doing your job and being able to activate to support the rush? That’s one that’s a challenge for us and for him, and we continue to work on it.
Some of it is also about Krug getting put in more advantageous offensive situations since the coaching change to Cassidy, who has put the Krug and Adam McQuaid pairing on the ice with Patrice Bergeron’s line much more regularly than happened under Claude Julien. It’s no slight to anybody to say that Krug is going to produce more offense skating in a quintet that includes Bergeron and Brad Marchand.
“Without being disrespectful to other players, I’m playing against top two lines now and that means I’m playing with the top lines on our team, which means they’re more skilled players and guys that can put the puck in the net more often,” said Krug. “Guys are having great seasons, and playing with [guys like] Marchand, Krejci, Pasta...it makes it easier. But it’s also a style that I enjoy, and I just want to be a consistent factor for this team. I’m trying to prove that this year.”
The 21:54 of ice time per game this season is a career-high for the 5-foot-9, 186-pounder that puts him as the No. 2 D-man on the Black and Gold behind Zdeno Chara, but Krug, at a minus-14, is also tracking to be a minus player for the first time in his career for a Bruins team that’s a bit more special teams-reliant than others of the past. Antiquated plus/minus aside, however, Krug is enjoying the best season of his NHL career because he’s closer to finding that delicate balance between sparking offense and living up to the nominal part of his defensive job description.
It will never be easy for the small-sized, big-hearted defenseman in the NHL, but Krug has all the impressive numbers to back it up.