BOSTON, MA - The last time Torey Krug had scored, he was firing off the goal horn in overtime, playing hero in a win over Pittsburgh back on November 25.
Twelve games later, on a Saturday afternoon at TD Garden, the defenseman fired in two goals and put up an assist for the first three-point game of his NHL career.
His No. 1 Star effort helped the Bruins take a 4-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets, and set them up well for their upcoming road trip through California, facing three of the West's toughest teams.
"He was terrible…two goals, one assist," Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien jested to media following the win, when asked about Krug's play.
"No, he played well," the bench boss went on. "When he’s on top of his game offensively, he makes things happen."
Krug is now tied for the league lead in goals by defensemen (for yet another time this season) with 10, up with Ottawa's Erik Karlsson and Nashville's Shea Weber. Zdeno Chara comes in just behind him with nine goals.
The "ice in his veins" blueliner has been confident since Day 1; it has led to his offensive risk-reward success, with 23 points on the season.
"His confidence will never lack," said Julien, of there not being much self-doubt to Krug's game. "He’s very assured by what he can bring and when you talk to him about parts of his game that he has to improve, he acknowledges it."
There was some doubt, though, outwardly, as to whether the defenseman would be playing the game, after taking a maintenance day Friday at practice. But Krug was ready, and he delivered.
Winnipeg took the first lead of the game, going up 1-0 thanks to Dustin Byfuglien's one-man effort following a turnover, with Krug initially hesitating to play the puck to prevent a too-many-men situation.
But the defensemen washed out that minus just about four minutes later, when he used his vision to set up Daniel Paille for the equalizer in the first.
Amidst a hard-hat shift, Paille battled and sent a centering feed through the crease as he was falling to the ice.
"He saw me the whole way and I could see him looking at me the whole, entire way," said Paille, who quickly got to this feet after the diving pass near the goal that ended up on Krug's stick at the top of the left circle. The defenseman walked down the left side, waiting for his opening to feed Paille on the door step.
"If he didn’t pass it to me, I would have been surprised; he would have fooled me for sure. As soon as I got up he looked at me the entire way," said Paille. "That’s the type of player he is, he’s got that offensive ability and that offensive skill to even pass it through two or three guys. I thought that was a good, smart play by him."
Playing with Krug on the ice usually means those opportunities come more readily.
"It makes you aware that you might get that puck back sooner than you think," said Paille, who notched his third goal in his past four games, since returning to the lineup following his concussion. "So it definitely changes our dynamic a little bit back on defense. But he does so many things well offensively. And he’s starting to contribute more defensively for us, which has been huge for our system."
The offensive part comes effortlessly to Krug, who always has his head up, weighing his options.
In the second period, with the game knotted at 1-1, Krug took a feed from Paille, and returned the favor by firing one in from up top. Justin Florek helped provide the screen in front.
"Any time you aren’t contributing the way maybe you were before you get frustrated," said Krug, who snapped an 11-game scoreless streak. "All you can do is help the team win and when you’re not contributing, it’s tough but it is a good feeling when you get the first one."
Florek was making his NHL debut after getting the recall early Saturday morning, with Jordan Caron sidelined by a stiff back. He slotted in alongside Paille and Gregory Campbell, and made Krug's first of the game possible.
"Actually, I was hoping Flo [Florek] got his first NHL goal, I was hoping he tipped it; but it was nice."
"You know a goal is a goal and helping out the team," said Florek. "It’s awesome being out there and trying to contribute."
Just over four minutes after the eventual game-winner, Krug took a pass inside the blueline from his defense partner, Adam McQuaid, and wristed a simple shot through the legs of Winnipeg's Eric Tangradi that deflected in. Carl Soderberg was planted on the doorstep this time.
"Trying to get it through, and get pucks to net," said Krug. "Just get pucks to the net."
"Those two goals that he scored, great job by both Florek and Soderberg, to screen the goaltender," said Julien. "You’ve got to give credit to people who do a good job around him too - but he got the shots on net, it was good."
After helping light the lamp for his two second-period goals, the Bruins started to pull away, and Reilly Smith added an insurance tally midway through the final frame.
"I mean, he’s been that guy for us for most of the year, and a guy that’s capable of doing that," said McQuaid, of Krug's offensive spark. "He’s been, for the most part, pretty consistent for his first full year. It brings an element to our D core that we need. So it was nice to him get rewarded."
Krug is the only Bruins defenseman to have played all 42 games this season.
He has just 45 total NHL regular season games, along with 15 in the postseason. Like on the Byfuglien goal allowed, he's still - like any young defender - contenting to develop his defensive game.
"He’s been pretty solid," said Tuukka Rask, who saved 36 of 37 shots in the win. "Obviously, everybody goes through tough games and tough stretches when you’re trying to make the light bright, and it just doesn’t happen and it ends up in the net. It happens to everybody, but I think for the most part he’s been a great threat offensively, and defensively really good and improving all the time."
"It’s frustrating but it’s all about forgetting, and putting it in the past," said Krug, of his short-term memory.
"Forgetting about it and making plays to move forward, and that’s what we do."
He's not alone in that regard; every player in the Bruins' locker room would say the same. Every player has their fair share of mistakes. Occasionally for the 22-year-old, his risk-reward style makes his stand out more. And the fact that he makes himself 100-percent accountable, every night.
"I think he feels he needs to make a play every time he has the puck, but sometimes it’s about making the safe play. It doesn’t always have to be the big play. That’s where he’s trying to improve his game," said Julien.
"It’s about him making safe plays at times, and that’s a part of his game that he’s working on right now, but I liked his game a lot tonight."
Still, when Krug's offensive game is on, it's on. The defenseman ended the night a plus-3 as a result.
"We are nit picking here because, if you ask me my opinion on the player himself, he’s had a great year, he’s been a great player for us," said Julien. "We are talking about different things that we want him improving and those are areas that he’s heard from us."
Krug has notably helped changed the dynamic of the Bruins' power play, but in a game like the 4-1 win over Winnipeg when his contributions came during five-on-five, it's worth noting - once again - how he's helped shift the entire back end.
"A lot of good things moving the puck and carrying the puck up ice and he’s been a great asset to our hockey club," said Julien. "And an asset that we have been looking for, for a long time."
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