It all starts in the center square for the Bruins
|12.01.08 at 12:08 am ET|
The Bruins braintrust has seemingly stockpiled centers over the last three years, and their designed efforts to create a competitive, diverse group of pivots has paid huge dividends this season. Boston’s group of centers are potting their fair share of goals this season, and — more importantly — the quartet is setting up other Black and Gold skaters all over the ice in a high-octane hockey attack. Top line center Marc Savard is quietly enjoying perhaps the best season of his All-Star career, and is on pace for the first 100-point season of an admittedly impressive pro hockey body of work filled with offensive bursts, breathtaking moves and high assist totals.
Patrice Bergeron has been, by head coach Claude Julien’s own admission, the B’s best faceoff man this season and is again taking draws after recovering from a muscle pull that temporarily had Julien resistant to using him in the faceoff circle. Bergeron has been slow to return to the full dominant form he displayed prior to sustaining last season’s infamous hit-from-behind that led to a concussion, but he’s fearlessly tipping pucks in front of the net, backchecking to break up the opposition’s flow with fervor and purpose and helping out tremendously on both of the B’s special teams units as well.
Then there’s David Krejci, who has now jump-started a pair of slumping Boston wingers (Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder) by deftly getting the skilled skaters in touch with the puck in places that can only be described as their “happy zones” on the ice. Krejci’s ability to create and make others around him markedly better is obvious in the resurgence of both players, and the results were immediate in both cases. His fingerprints are all over the solid rookie season enjoyed by Blake Wheeler as well. The two young players have clicked famously while skating together, and the pairing could be a solid power (Wheeler) and puck possession (Krejci) partnership for a long time to come, with the Czech Republic native also capable of scoring goals when the situation arises. Krejci is one of an astounding eight Bruins on pace to score 20 goals this season.
Krejci slid into the No. 1 center spot when Savard went down with an injury toward the end of last season, and flashed glimpses that he would someday be a top-line, assist-collecting superstar in the finest hockey league in all the land. There has been nothing this season that should dissuade anyone from feeling that continues to be the case with the slick pivot, and he simply keeps getting better with each and every game.
The best part about him? Krejci will always dissect his game in the postgame locker room to the point that he’ll berate himself if he feels like he wasn’t 100 percent effective in a given game. There’s an element inside the youngster that burns to be great, and it’s a commond bond that many of the young Bruins share in common. The 22-year-old doesn’t dwell on those memonts of dissatisfaction as he might have earlier in his career bouncing between Boston and Providence, though, and now he instead “feels like he belongs on the team.” In other news, David Krejci is just plain good.
Stephane Yelle anchors a fourth line and adds veteran intangibles along with another quality penalty killer, and it’s a testament to Boston’s center depth that Phil Kessel and Petteri Nokelainen (natural centers before this season) have both slid over to wing positions with good success. Nokelainen continues to win a ridiculous amount of faceoffs that he takes, and is sometimes sliding in to take draws when he skates with Yelle and Shawn Thornton. Vladimir Sobotka similarly proved that he belonged in the NHL last season when he banged bodies, agitated and flashed enough offensive skill to deserve a full-time job in ‘The Show.’ There simply hasn’t been any room for him with Boston this season, but he’s the first center on call if the injury big hits. One of Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli’s goals when he arrived in Boston was to make the Bruins a strong, formidable team up the middle, and he’s done that with at least seven quality center candidates between Boston and the Baby B’s in Providence.
“I think we’ve got good depth down the middle. I can tell you there’s a guy in Providence right now that is also a real good player in [Vladimir] Sobotka,’ said Julien, referencing a skater that impressed the B’s coach once again during this fall’s training camp and has played well in the AHL. “I think we’ve got some real good depth in the middle, and we’re pretty happy about that.
“It’s been a real key for our club this year, being able to play four lines and feeling comfortable because those guys do a good job down low on our own end,” added Julien. “As you’ve seen, I’ve put our fourth line against other team’s top lines at times and they responded well. That’s been a huge help for our hockey club this year having that depth down the middle.”