People might not have thought much of David Krejci the last time he donned his country's colors. There is a good chance that will be different at the 2014 Olympics.
There is no shortage of mystery as to why David Krejci does not seem to carry the same big-name, big-game persona as some of his fellow Olympic-bound Boston Bruins. The reason is because there is also no lack of evidence that he ought to be the most impactful skater in Sochi with Bruins ties.
The freshest piece of evidence came Saturday in the form of his first-star accolade in a 4-0 triumph over the Edmonton Oilers. That performance rounded out the penultimate week of NHL action before selected players disperse to Russia for the ultimate international tournament.
Odds are that Krejci will not slow down in the seven days and three games between now and then. Likewise, he should have several elements working in his favor that some of his professional teammates with stronger magnetic media pulls will lack.
There is no reason to fault anybody for spotlighting Team Slovakia captain Zdeno Chara, who figures to play the same leadership and minute-munching roles for his country as he does for the Bruins. It is especially hard not to embolden the scrutiny when he will be taking earlier leave than his peers to serve as Slovakia’s flag-bearer at Friday’s opening ceremonies.
Likewise, Tuukka Rask is seeking an extra exclamation point on his arrival as a No. 1 netminder by scraping a majority of Finland’s blue paint. His competition for crease time with Antti Niemi, in particular, and Kari Lehtonen will arguably be the most heated of any participating program.
Yet even with their hard-earned presumptive positions in the top echelon of their respective international clubs, Chara and Rask are more prone to performance-compromising fatigue. There have already been hints of that amidst the current NHL season, which hardly comes as a surprise considering the labor they logged last year.
Chara’s workload has been a worthwhile discussion topic since the beginning of this season, which came on the heels of a short summer after a draining battle with the Chicago Blackhawks. Key injuries on defense, though, have implicitly prevented the Bruins from lessening the towering blueliner’s minutes. This past Saturday, he played 27 minutes and 50 seconds, nearly three full minutes above his nightly average of 24:58.
Dating back to Dec. 14, Rask has allowed three or more opposing goals and posted a sub-.900 save percentage in seven of his last 15 starts. Four of those starts ended early, including his most recent outing this past Thursday versus the Montreal Canadiens, who only dealt with Rask for 31 minutes and 54 seconds amidst a 4-1 win over the host Bruins.
Conversely, Krejci continues to unmistakably thrive. He won 65 percent of his draws (11 out of 17) and managed to retain a plus-one rating in that 4-1 falter to the Canadiens, who scored three of their goals at even strength.
The only red light to coincide with one of Krejci’s shifts occurred while he was on Montreal’s porch, serving as a screen while Dougie Hamilton’s point shot tuned the mesh. In fact, he was initially the presumed scorer on the play, though he ultimately received no statistical credit for his role.
He followed up Saturday with a power-play icebreaker at the 2:06 mark of the second period. It was one of his six shots on net in the engagement with Edmonton. It also occurred at a particularly opportune moment, as it entailed capitalizing on a clean sheet and a man advantage, which inevitably means more ice to work with, in the tone-setting stages of the stanza.
Add another power-play conversion to cap off Saturday’s scoring and the Bruins have now run up a 13-0 scoring differential with Krejci in action over the last six games. He was also on the ice for five Boston goals last Tuesday against the Florida Panthers, four against the Philadelphia Flyers the preceding Saturday and one versus the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 20.
Seven of those strikes have come during even strength, six during a Boston power play.
One cannot ask for a much better two-way output from a first-line center and this all-around hot streak could not be brewing at a better time for the Czechs’ sake. Even if Krejci stumbles a little in the coming week, he still ought to have the requisite conviction to fulfill his position on the Olympic depth chart.
Playing on an international ice surface should be nothing but a boon in that regard. The additional space on the wider sheet figures to be inherently advantageous to European teams.
For someone with Krejci’s craft and dependence on finesse, that advantage ought to shine through brighter than it will for a physical, Cyclopean blueliner like Chara. In addition to the extra room for offense, the international ice means players like Krejci should also have the upper hand on defensive workhorses in terms of sustaining stamina.
The effects of the bigger surface are also a mystery, at best, for Krejci’s two fellow Sochi-bound Bruins forwards. Those are Canada’s Patrice Bergeron, who is firmly accustomed to North American-sized rinks, and Sweden’s Loui Eriksson, who is still trying to kick ice chips over two recent concussions.
Granted, in the sense of being on the team that hustled to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, Krejci is on virtually the same platform as Bergeron, Chara and Rask. One cannot say with unbreakable certainty that he will not suffer from an overseas business trip after a sweaty spring, short summer and return to rigor this past fall.
Nonetheless, he has had the most stability in terms of health and sheer performance among any Bruins-Olympic connections in recent memory. He has a right to self-assurance and his international team a right to conviction in him with his prolific playoffs in 2011 (23 points in 25 games) and 2013 (26 points in 22 games).
More critically, he has been just as dependable and efficient in the freshest additions to his game log. Now, he is a little more than a week away from testing his hot hands and sharp blades in an environment that ought to be more fertile to a player of his ilk.
*Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com