From mid-December through mid-January, Boston Bruins’ center David Krejci was on a hot streak that saw him tally at least one point in 15 out of 16 games. The tear began and ended at the same site in Philadelphia, the same venue where Krejci’s right winger, Nathan Horton, saw his most recent action Jan. 22.
In the first four games after Horton returned to the sidelines with his second confirmed concussion in less than a year, Krejci accrued a single point and a cumulative minus-two rating. His gains on the stats sheet went in direct accordance with the Bruins’ gains in the standings, his three empty outings all being regulation losses.
The same basic trend applied to Krejci and Horton’s usual left winger, Milan Lucic. Boston’s second-best goal-getter nabbed a pair of points in last Tuesday’s victory over Ottawa, but was otherwise barren over a trinity of recent losses.
Amidst a typical slump or mini-slump for those three top-sixers, of which there have been plenty for the last year-plus, the conspicuous culprit would be the old nuisance of inconsistency. But with Horton plainly out of commission, this was a case of an outside disturbance muddling up head coach Claude Julien’s ecosystem.
The crisis bottomed out Saturday when the Bruins hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first half of a back-to-back game-day weekend. Krejci, Lucic and Horton stand-in Rich Peverley all went without so much as a shot on goal in a 2-1 loss.
Accordingly, in the 21 hours that separated Saturday’s final siren at TD Garden and Sunday’s opening faceoff at Washington’s Verizon Center, Julien shrewdly and opportunistically realigned his depth chart.
As it happened, one of the newfangled offensive combinations set the tone for a long-elusive 60-minute squall. Afterwards, the top unruffled line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Tyler Seguin cashed in on a long-elusive reward for themselves, and the Bruins, sprinkling two unanswered insurance strikes en route to a 4-1 victory over the host Capitals.
Fittingly, some of the same personalities who commenced Sunday’s scoring also dropped the curtain on this one. Peverley’s empty-net goal gave him 10 multipoint outings on the year and granted off-and-on linemate Chris Kelly an assist as well as a plus-two rating for the day.
It helped Julien’s cause to have Jordan Caron on recall from Providence and the resultant opportunity to replace the continuously unspectacular Zach Hamill. With the comparatively enthused Caron available to see his first NHL action in nearly three weeks, the shakeup options instantaneously swelled.
Julien ultimately linked Krejci up with Caron and Benoit Pouliot while reuniting Peverley with Kelly and letting Lucic supplement them.
Kelly arguably needed an overwhelming overhaul more than anybody else. He had one goal in a Jan. 19 bout with New Jersey sandwiched by two sets of six straight pointless games.
In addition, Kelly had gained multiple points on his plus/minus transcript six previous times this season, but none since Nov. 26. That changed Sunday with his role in the icebreaker and the cake-icing.
Although Kelly did not garner tangible credit, Julien’s moves began to pay relatively swift dividends at the 10:45 mark of Sunday’s first period. Kelly did his part to help recover from a loss faceoff in the defensive zone and subsequently watched his two linemates collaborate on the game’s first goal.
Lucic’s stroll down the center alley and homeward-bound shovel over Capitals’ goaltender Tomas Vokoun granted Peverley his 27th assist of the season and the Bruins their first 1-0 lead since the All-Star break.
The more reliable alliance of Bergeron, Marchand and Seguin was on the ice for Boston’s second unanswered strike, deposited by Marchand on a wraparound of Bergeron’s feed.
With that, at the 18:38 mark of the game, the Bruins had their first 2-0 lead since Jan. 12 against Montreal.
By the end of the opening frame, Caron stood out with three of Boston’s 12 shots on goal. At the second intermission, Lucic had pelted Vokoun four times, tying Seguin for the team lead through 40 minutes.
By day’s end, Seguin was the Bruins’ leading puckslinger with five registered stabs, but was trailed closely by Lucic, Peverley and Caron with four apiece. As a whole, the Krejci, Bergeron, and Kelly lines combined for four, seven and nine shots, respectively.
Seguin’s strike from Vokoun’s front porch at 6:38 of the third ended his own three-game point drought and gave Bergeron and Marchand each two points on the day. This came roughly 24 hours after their peerless efforts went for naught in a vain effort to surmount a 2-0 Penguins’ lead.
The missing ingredient versus Pittsburgh just might have been momentum to feed off of. But with Julien’s overnight realignment and the fruitful collaboration of Kelly, Peverley and Lucic, the Bruins got that back against Washington.