Krejci puts up All-Star performance in victory
|01.10.09 at 10:35 pm ET|
Rookie Blake Wheeler is going to be in Montreal two weeks from now at the NHL All-Star weekend as part of the Young Guns game between the rookies and the sophomores, but he appropriately called the decision to omit linemate David Krejci from the YoungStars game as a “head-scratcher”.
Well, the head-scratching festivities kicked up another notch when the 22-year-old puck prodigy notched a goal and collected assists on a pair of highlight-reel passes in a 5-1 taming of the Hurricanes at the TD Banknorth Garden yesterday afternoon. You can find sound from the postgame locker room here.
Krejci himself didn’t seem altogether surprised — after the game — that he wouldn’t be playing in the NHL main event All-Star game, but wasn’t quite sure how his NHL All-Star YoungStars invitation blew off the doorstep of his Boston Garden mailbox. Milan Lucic will be returning to play for the second-year players after taking part in last year’s rookie game, and a group of five new players (Brandon Dubinsky, Bryan Little, Mason Raymond, Andrew Cogliano, Devin Setoguchi) were hand-picked ahead of the wunderkind playcaller to take part in the showcase event for the game’s youth movement.
Kudos to the NHL for skipping over a creative, skilled magician on the ice capable of executing breathtaking passes and stickworking mastery while making teammates around him better — the exact kind of hockey player that the league should be trying to show off at each and every possible turn.
Or maybe not since — as it stands right now — Krejci is in the NHL’s top 10 in both assists and overall points and has been one of the key factors in Boston’s offensive explosion this season. He won’t be among the galaxy of NHL stars in Montreal, and the youngster has made peace with it after some initial diappointment.
“There wasn’t even a thought from me about going to the big [game], but when I heard about the second-year players going [to the YoungStars game] I’m not going to lie to you…I thought I was going to go,” said Krejci. “But they didn’t pick me, so I’m just going to enjoy my four days. Honestly the All-Star game is the All-Star game. The Young Stars game is something else and it was a bigger deal to me. I would go if I were invited, but I wasn’t. So I’m making plans for the weekend.”
So while Krejci makes some All-Star break plans apart from five of his teammates and a head coach that were all invited to take part in the Mid-Winter Classic festivities, the nifty young center took out any Young Guns frustrations on the unsuspecting Hurricanes yesterday. The first goal was a simple play with Wheeler carrying the puck on the sideboard and then connecting with Krejci as he came bombing down the slot. The center showed off his quick hands and scoring ability by simply flipping a backhanded shot under the crossbar to open up the B’s scoring.
A Stephane Yelle redirect made it a 2-0 lead and then Krejci uncorked a spin-o-rama pass to a wide open Michael Ryder right in front of the Carolina net, and — just like that — the rout of the ‘Canes was on. That particular pass from Krejci and the behind-the-back effort that led to Ryder’s second score later in the second period also led to plenty of “ooohs” and “aaahhs” among the sold out Garden crowd. The passing clinic put on by Czech Republic youngster even turned Boston’s bench boss into an admiring fan during Krejci’s afternoon of Hockey Skill 101.
“I think that second goal that [Michael] Ryder scored, that play. I kind of just looked at my assistant coaches and just kind of shook my head,” said B’s coach Claude Julien. “You don’t stop those guys from making those plays when they’ve got that kind of ability. He’s a pretty smart player and I think the most important thing with him is that he seems to be gaining more and more confidence all the time.
“He seems to be wanting to control the play a lot more. I think it’s about taking advantage of his play like that and riding it.”
While Julien certainly feels that Krejci, Dennis Wideman and Phil Kessel were all similarly deserving of some kind of NHL All-Star honors after an amazing first half of the hockey season, he was clear about where the team’s priorities should stand with regard to individual recognition. It’s all about getting closer to raising Lord Stanley’s Cup during the first week of June rather than playing in some hockey exhibition half-way throught he grueling NHL season.
“I think we make way too much of that whole All-Star situation. I mean, unfortunately the way it’s set up right now, there are disappointments everywhere, not just our hockey club,” said Julien. Does [Krejci] deserve to be there? Sure. So does [Phil] Kessel, just to name a few, so does [Dennis] Wideman, and there are a lot of guys. That would make six on the all-star team, and two more with the [YoungStars game], and now we have eight guys going.
“I think what’s important right now is that they are being recognized. Whether they are there or not it’s about thinking about what’s more important right now: our hockey team here and what we’re doing or is it that little nomination. That obviously them not being on the team is one thing, but being mentioned by everybody goes to show that they probably deserved to be there, and that should be good enough.
Good Debut by Bitz
It was a bit of a surprise when word filtered out that hulking Providence forward and Cornell alum Byron Bitz was making his way to Boston for yesterday’s game, but it made a great deal of sense with intimidating force Milan Lucic out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound Bitz is another player that wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around in Providence, and that was exactly his role skating on the fourth line with Stephane Yelle and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line.
Bitz rocked a few Hurricanes with thunderous body checks and even picked up his first career assist while clearly showing he could keep up with the speed of the NHL game. It clearly served as another successful call-up from the deep well at Providence, and both Bitz and Martin Karsums picked up their first career NHL points yesterday.
“Everyone’s so welcoming when you come up,” said Bitz, whose parents made it from Western Canada in time to catch yesterday’s victory. “Everyone’s giving you the congratulations and the handshakes, but the coaches were good. They went over the systems before the game, which are pretty similar to what we do down in Providence anyway, so just a little bit of a refresher, and then just go out there and play.”
And then, of course, there’s the first career fight for B’s defenseman Matt “One Punch” Hunwick, who blew up Carolina forward Justin Williams in the neutral zone and then dropped him with a big right handed shot in the ensuing fracas.