December 12, 2018 | 12:08pm ET
By Shawn Hutcheon, The Fourth Period
BRUINS’ KREJCI CENTER OF CONTROVERSY
David Krejci, centre
BOSTON, MA -- As Boston’s top line in 2017-18, David Pastrnak (85 points), Brad Marchand (80 points), and Patrice Bergeron (63 points) established itself as the best forward trio in the NHL. This season, the unit was on its way to continuing its domination of the League, but that was put on hold when Bergeron suffered a rib injury in a game at Dallas on November 16.
The following day, the question of who would replace Bergeron, who was the second leading scorer in the NHL, on that line began and for a while it looked like the answer would be no one until an injury to another forward left David Krejci searching for linemates.
Without Bergeron, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy was forced to experiment with his lines. He tried breaking up Pastrnak and Marchand to form new ones, but that had limited success. Cassidy then reunited the two wingers with center Joakim Nordstrom. The line played well, but offensive-output was sporadic. The same can be said when Pastrnak and Marchand were paired with first-year centerman in Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson and then-rookie Colby Cave.
Cassidy took to moving veteran Krejci to the middle of his two veteran forwards, usually in the third periods of games when a goal was needed, and it was apparent the three had an instant feel for how they would play together.
In the meantime, Boston had fallen out of the top three places in the Atlantic Division and was battling for a Wild Card playoff position with Montreal and Buffalo before seeing Buffalo overtake the Bruins in the standings.
When Krejci’s left wing Jake DeBrusk was forced out of action with an upper-body injury, Cassidy made it official on December 8 when he had Pastrnak, Krejci, and Marchand start together versus Toronto at Boston’s TD Garden. In that game, Pastrnak produced two assists while Krejci scored once and assisted on one goal, and Marchand assisted on three goals in a 6-3 Bruins win.
The following night in Ottawa, a 2-1 Bruins overtime victory, Marchand picked up two more points on a goal and an assist, Pastrnak earned an assist, and Krejci scored one goal and set up the game-winner for two points of his own.
In the trio’s third game together, the line led Boston with three goals on the way to a 4-3 win over Arizona after their team had spotted the Coyotes a 2-0 lead. In that contest, the three exhibited pinpoint passing that produced two goals and an assist by Marchand (his second lamplighter was the game winning goal) and one goal and two assists from Pastrnak. Krejci topped off the unit’s production with three assists.
Cassidy obviously has liked what he has seen from his new number one line.
“Let’s face it,” Cassidy said after the win over the Coyotes. “We need those guys to be our best players every night and offensively they’ve come through for us as of late. “
It only makes sense to have Krejci centering Marchand and Pastrnak. They are the Bruins’ best forwards and it isn’t as if they are complete strangers to each other.
Krejci, who played his first game with Boston in 2006, became a teammate of Marchand’s when the winger was called up to the big club from the AHL’s Providence Bruins in 2009.
Krejci has also played with Pastrnak. The two have been Bruins since Pastrnak’s rookie season (2014) in the NHL and began forming a strong chemistry as linemates at last Spring’s IIHF World Championships in Denmark playing together while representing the Czech Republic. In five games, Krejci accounted for six points on one goal and five assists. Pastrnak also accumulated six points on four goals and two assists in five games.
After the game versus the Coyotes, Krejci had extended his point streak to four games (2 goals, 5 assists, 7 points). Marchand extended his point streak to three contests (3 goals, 5 assists, 8 points) while Pastrnak’s point streak reached four games (2 goals, 6 assists, 8 points).
The offensive output has been just what the doctor ordered. After defeating Arizona, Boston trailed Buffalo by two points in the standings.
Pastrnak has enjoyed being reunited with his countryman and noted there is a difference in Krejci’s style of play versus that of Bergeron.
“I’ve played with Krech (Krejci),” said Pastrnak. “I know what to expect of him and pretty sure Marchy (Marchand) played with him some games as well in this long time they’ve been here.
“Bergy (Bergeron) and Marchy like to play fast, and Krech likes to slow it down sometimes and both of it works. Some nights it works better if you play fast and some nights it works better if you play slower, so it’s just two star players and it’s been fun.”
Marchand agreed with the Czech winger in that the two centers play differently.
“It’s been good,” Marchand said. “Krejci is such a good player the way he sees the ice and the plays he makes. So, it’s great to be able to connect on a few (goals) and it’s fun to win, so we’re enjoying it right now.
“He (Krejci) slows the play down and I think that’s the big thing. He really does that much better than a lot of other guys in the League. He can slow a fast-paced game down and kind of control the play. You always have to be ready when he has the puck. It’s the same with Bergy (Bergeron) but Krech always finds that late guy (into the offensive zone), or can find that (passing) seam. He probably has the best saucer pass in the League so you just have to get open and you know with his patience and his ability he’s going to make some plays.”
Understandably, Krejci is happy with the line’s recent performance.
“It’s been fun,” Krejci commented. “Those are two world-class players, so I’m just happy to be on that line and happy to help the team win games. We’re just working hard, and they make lots of skilled plays out there, so they kind of make it easy on you. I just got to be at the right time at the right place, and the puck will find you.”
Earlier in the season, there was a bit of a goaltender controversy in Boston and now, we seem to have a center controversy with a growing number of people wanting to see Krejci remain with Pastrnak and Marchand which would mean Bergeron would become the center of the club’s second line with yet to be named linemates.
Krejci put that notion to bed nice and early.
“Obviously, (we) can’t wait for him (Bergeron) to be back,” Krejci said. “We need our best players to be in the lineup, but at the same time, this is what we’ve got and you’ve just got to grind it out. Like I said, those two guys (Pastrnak and Marchand) make so many good plays out there, so I’m just going to try to be, in the right time, at the right place. (It’s) so much fun playing with those guys so, just filling in for Bergy (Bergeron), and like I said, just happy I can help the team win games.”
On the surface, it makes sense to keep Boston’s new top trio together and give them time to possibly become one of the NHL’s best forward units but the fact of the matter is Pastrnak, Bergeron, and Marchand, is one of the best lines on the planet and as the adage says, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Right now, with Bergeron on the shelf, it is broke, so putting Krejci in the middle has been the quick fix and a great one at that, but the Bruins will be better served by returning to their tried and tested trio as well as Krejci partnered with DeBrusk, who has thrived playing with the immensely skilled centerman.
End of controversy.