The overlap of those two sidebars served as a stark reminder that Boston’s top forward line needs to move on from the elite veteran without delay, as does the Bruins’ 1-3-0 start in the wake of Monday afternoon’s 2-1 loss to Colorado.
Never mind the fact that Krejci and his longtime left wing, Milan Lucic, are unsure who will replace Iginla for the long run. For Monday’s matinee, it happened to be NHL debutant Seth Griffith.
One should be careful not to overlook the injuries from which the two veterans have recently recovered. Krejci had been out for the first week of the regular season with a mild ailment he suffered on Oct. 4. That came barely a full week after Lucic’s belated start to training camp in the wake of offseason wrist surgery.
In fairness, there were flashes of flair in their first meaningful game together in nearly five full months. Krejci landed his only shot on goal at the 0:62 mark of the first period during the troika’s first shift.
The two wingers, meanwhile, combined to pelt Avalanche stopper Reto Berra five times.
In one instance, at 11:49 of the third period, the veteran two-thirds of the line collaborated on a stimulating but ultimately wasted two-on-one. Lucic elevated the puck upon absorbing a cross-ice saucer from Krejci only to watch Berra shut the upper-left slab of his cage.
To that point, coming close did not cut it on the scoreboard, nor will it much longer in any philosophical sense. For that reason, Krejci and Lucic shoulder a joint obligation to actively reheat the top echelon of Boston’s strike force.
Iginla’s offseason exit via free agency deleted more than a perennial 30-goal scorer. The 37-year-old also transferred a coveted cornucopia of seasoning and know-how from New England to Denver, but the Bruins can compensate for the latter by laying a leadership onus on two of their few holdovers from eighth-year coach Claude Julien’s arrival.
Krejci and Lucic both became NHL regulars in 2007-08, the year Julien delivered a do-over from the Dave Lewis disaster. They along with Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara are the only remainders from when the franchise was considered something less than a contender.
In turn, they have lived through rises from mediocrity to might in the same workplace they occupy today. Since become bona fide top-sixers, they have been through team-wide bouts of underachievement, most glaringly in a couple of Octobers not unlike this one.
Almost exactly five years ago, another Columbus Day loss to Colorado dropped the 2009-10 edition of the Bruins to a 2-3-0 start. That was in the wake of a 116-point surge to the summit of the Eastern Conference the previous spring.
Two years later, Boston started its Stanley Cup championship defense with a 3-7-0 slog through the first calendar month of the season.
Those who lived through each of those stumbles and contributed to the subsequent recoveries should be the spark plugs this time. Because they will be working with someone who was not in the organization and/or league during those previous trials, the first-line fixtures warrant extra scrutiny on that front.
The team’s paltry output of four goals through four games tacks an extra underline beneath Krejci and Lucic in the prescription for exemplary leadership. Production from the two-way elites, Bergeron and Chara, would mathematically count the same, but Boston’s defense is throbbing a little less with nine goals against.
Between acknowledging and sustaining what is working and finding solutions to what is not, the Bruins will need to find their spark on the fly. The rest of this week features a three-game, four-night, all-Atlantic Division road trip to Detroit, Montreal and Buffalo.
In Krejci’s absence, the 29-year-old Eriksson has patrolled the right wing with Chris Kelly and Swedish countryman Carl Soderberg. That was one arrangement that saw action in 2013-14 and did not change for the better part of Monday’s action.
With Soderberg currently leading the team with three assists, perhaps Boston would just as soon keep tapping into the chemistry of that unit. The fact that Eriksson converted a Soderberg setup on a power play Monday for Boston’s only goal will do nothing to diminish that desire.
The rest of the top nine figures to keep consisting of the Brad Marchand-Bergeron-Reilly Smith second line that carried over from last year. That leaves Krejci and Lucic to maximize their veteran status and make do with the mystery on their right flank.
Assuming Eriksson is not the right fit for the first line (or vice versa), there figures to be some experimental rotation among young strikers for the vacancy.
Griffith, a gritty 192-pounder trying to defy his 5’9” posture, could get a longer look. Sooner or later, Boston could try the likes of Matt Fraser, who also has physical propensities not so foreign to the strikers who previously collaborated with Iginla and Nathan Horton.
Naturally, the Bruins cannot afford to experiment for too long. For any top-nine troika, especially the starting line, consistent configuration is a must. The sense of certainty that comes with one new face winning the open job will be critical to upholding a system that is already in a production drought.
The only way to establish that certainty is for one of these aspiring AHL graduates to establish his worth in a hurry. The way to achieve that is for the two veterans of seven full NHL seasons to instill relative comfort through active guidance.
Julien and the coaching staff cannot single-handedly administer the test that Fraser, Griffith and others are trying to pass. Krejci and Lucic have the task of giving life to the situation at hand, being a team within a team looking for a liftoff in 2014-15.