Kessel and Krejci offer hope for B’s fortunes
|03.12.09 at 10:44 pm ET|
The dynamic duo is intrinsically linked to the Bruins’ ultimate playoff hopes once the regular season curtain drops, and the grinding dress rehearsal ramps up into the operatic Stanley Cup playoff production.
Just call it the ballet of banging bodies and broken blades.
Kessel the finisher and Krejci the creator, as they might be known once playoff glory is potentially theirs this spring, have been knee-deep in the malaise that seems to have plagued the Black and Gold hockey club over the last five weeks.
But things changed last night after B’s coach Claude Julien played the mixed and match game with the skating lines, and both finisher and creator factored heavily into a 5-3 Boston win over the Ottawa Senators at the TD Banknorth Garden last night.
Kessel banged in his 28th and 29th goals of the season, including the game-winner on an excellent use of his blazing speed up the right side of the ice and an empty-netter that finally iced the game with a little less than a minute to go in the third period.
Sure the Bruins looked sloppy and perhaps even a bit timid in portions of the second and third period against a Sens team scheduled to be teeing it on the links once the playoff gauntlet begins, but the triumph once again banks the B’s some valuable points at a time when they’re desperately needed.
For Kessel, his mere presence on the frozen sheet in the waning minutes of a one-goal game speaks to the reservoir of confidence that the 21-year-old winger is again building up with Bruins bench boss Claude Julien. The former first round pick’s compete level has elevated to a higher ground over the last three games, he’s doggedly battling for pucks and playing tougher along the wall, and last night his effort was rewarded with a pair of good, old-fashioned lamp-lighters.
“I feel like I’ve had a lot of chances over the last little bit that I haven’t finished,” said Kessel. “The breakaway vs. Columbus (on Tuesday) and stuff like that. I just need to bear down on my chances and starting finishing them.
“It means something that when you’re out there at the end of the game,” added Kessel, who used his turbo skating speed to pot the empty-netter at the 19:04 mark of the third. “It means that the [coaching staff] trusts you out there. When the coach has that trust in you, it’s always a good thing.”
Linemate Marc Savard (two assists) freed up Kessel for his first goal with a head’s up passing play off the boards out of the D-zone, and then credited his right wing for the way he’s pulled his game together over the last week — a time when the Bruins need to be fine-tuning for future battles against playoff-style competition.
“It’s nice to see him get rewarded,” said Savard. “As a team we want to come to the rink with some smiles on our faces. Around the rink it’s been pretty dull. (Kessel) got that wide speed and that’s part of what gets our line going. I don’t want him to change. He made some defensive plays and (Kessel) was a lot stronger on the wall, and that’s going to get us out (on the ice) more. He did the job, he battled and that’s a credit to him.”
For Krejci, a new linemate in Milan Lucic paired with longtime winger Michael Ryder gave Krejci a bookend set of physically tough shotgun partners with the willingness to mix it up and create a bit of working room for the 22-year centerman to wave his magic stick. After going five straight games without a point, Krejci grabbed an assist on Boston’s second goal when he executed a perfect give-and-go with P.J. Axelsson that ended with Krejci serving up a one-timer at the right faceoff circle for the grizzled Swede.
“Today I felt awesome and I was ready,” said Krejci. “(Skating with Lucic) was a little different. He’s a good player, he’s a big body and he can find me in the middle. He did that a couple of times. When he’s going out there the defenseman get scared and they turn the puck away. He can get it , he can protect it and he can find you. He’s got good vision and I actually liked playing with him.”
It was a simple play for an elite puck talent like Krejci, but it allowed him to start building that confidence up and work toward again becoming the difference-maker Boston is going to need once the playoff bullets start flying overhead. Julien and his staff had a sit-down with Krejci recently to reinforce simplifying his at-times electric game, and the results — along with placing the brawling, bruising Lucic by his side to open up a little real estate on the frozen sheet — had him looking again like the offensive catalyst on pace to score 90 points in the first half of the year.
“I thought Krejci played pretty well tonight,” said Julien. “We’ve seen him have some tough outings lately, and tonight was one of his better games.
“I think the one thing we talked about with him was to just maybe take a step back and not look all those real fancy plays that he was capable of making earlier when his confidence was at its best,” added Julien. “Just take a step back, make good, strong plays and passes. As the game went on, I found him to be a little more confident and he started to find those kind of plays working for him again.”
Speaking of Looch, here’s a look at the first period brawl with Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil that seemed to spark the Senators after falling behind 2-0. This is perhaps one of the best examples of why fighting is necessary and still a vital part of the NHL game: the fight clearly changed momentum for Ottawa in the game and was immediately finished once Lucic was put in an exposed position with his jersey pulled over his head.
While the B’s clearly dropped back on their skating heels for a time in the second half of the game and let the Senators back into the proceedings in a flawed — but much-needed and important nonetheless — victory, the sign of both Kessel and Krejci confidently raising their arms during a B’s game in mid-March was exactly what the hockey doctor ordered.
The finisher and the creator both had solid performances in last night’s isolated win, but now it’s up to the dynamic duo to nail down the consistent excellence that seemed a B’s birthright just a few months ago.
Injury Ward: Phil Kessel and David Krejci both played extensively after getting Wednesday’s practice off. There didn’t appear to be any other Bruins injuries.
Player of the Game: Phil Kessel had a pair of goals, which marks his fourth two-goal game of the season — but his first since Dec. 18 against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Kessel’s presence on the ice in the final minute was a direct sign of the confidence Julien has in the way he’s skated over the last handful of games.
Goat Horns: Andrew Ference. The normally rock-solid and reliable defensemanwas saddled with a -3 on the evening, and struggled to break the puck out of the zone in the latter half of the game. Ference has been effective enough, but not nearly as good as he was in the first month of the season prior to breaking a bone in his leg.
Turning Point: The perfect pairing of Savard’s heady passing and unteachable instincts and Kessel’s blazing speed and true shot teamed together for the B’s fourth score — the eventual game-winner. Give a big bit of props to Milan Lucic as well, as he drew some of the defense away from Kessel by rushing up the left side of the ice opposite Phil the Thrill.