Anderson: Bruins need to let Torey Krug play his way out of funk

Ty Anderson
October 30, 2017 - 5:33 pm

Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports

Perhaps it’s fitting given the time of year, but the 5-foot-9 defenseman affectionately known as ‘Kruger’ to his teammates has been living in a nightmare this month.

One of just nine NHL defensemen to record at least 50 points last season, establishing career-highs in assists (43) and points (51), Krug has noticeably struggled out of the gate thus far (that’s being nice), with just one goal, one assist, and a minus-10 (tied with the Coyotes’ Clayton Keller for the third-worst mark in the NHL) through eight games.

Krug’s latest endeavor, a 2-1 overtime loss for the B’s last Saturday, included a horrendous giveaway that led to an unassisted goal, and Krug later capped his terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day with the icing that led to an offensive zone draw for the Kings, and L.A. scoring with just nine-tenths of a second left on the clock in overtime.

With everything that can go wrong seeming to do just that for the B’s most important d-zone puck-mover, Krug is still waiting for the one night that breaks everything open.

“I sure am,” Krug admitted following Saturday’s defeat at the hands of the Kings. “It takes one big play and you feel like your back. There were glimpses of that last game and unfortunately it came back to bite us tonight that I didn’t make those plays.”

Maybe this was to be expected In a year that started with a nondisplaced fracture to Krug’s jaw, suffered on an errant puck to the face in the preseason, robbing him of the games meant for working out the wrinkles of your game.

But at a certain point, the Bruins simply need Krug return to form.

Or at least show signs of it.

In the last four games alone, Krug has totaled zero shots on goal. He’s attempted 10 shots on goal over that span, and the lack of shots is pretty incredible when you consider the fact that that four-game sample includes a 6-3 win in which the Bruins peppered Vancouver goalies for 13 shots while on the man advantage. And it’s noticeable because Krug has never had a four-game stretch without a shot on goal in his entire career. He’s never gone more than two games without a shot, actually.

This, along with the injury to his typical pairing partner Adam McQuaid (not that the two were playing fantastic together, but it’s still a loss that throws everything else out of whack), has most definitely contributed to Krug’s fall in the advanced metrics, too, which have him as a middling puck-possession talent through his first eight games of the year.

It’s all unusual territory for Krug, and it really could not come at a worse time for the B’s.

Between the Vegas expansion draft and free agency last summer, the Bruins lost Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, and veteran John-Michael Liles. These players, while all flawed in different ways, helped shoulder some of the offensive load that was often put on Krug’s shoulders. They were your perfect secondary scoring presences on the backend.

The Bruins replaced them with the in-house promotion of Charlie McAvoy, and made one free agent signing, adding righty Paul Postma on a one-year deal. And with a training camp that failed to see somebody like Matt Grzelcyk carve out a full-time NHL role for themselves, it was clear that the Bruins were focusing more on the defensive side of things from their point, and that Krug and McAvoy were going to be beyond important to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy’s system, which appreciates aggressive defensemen.

Cassidy, for what it’s worth, still believes the B’s have enough offensive firepower on their backend to run that up-tempo style he wants from his points.

McAvoy has done his part to back Cassidy up, with eight points (the 19th-most among NHL defensemen), but Krug’s struggles have turned the left side into a black hole.

Top left-side defenseman Zdeno Chara had a strong offensive night in Arizona, but has zero points and 11 shots on goal in his other eight games played. Kevan Miller, a right-shot playing the left side this season, has one assist through his first eight games.

The 40-year-old Chara’s role is to be a premier shutdown defender, especially when paired with McAvoy, so you should not expect points from him. His ceiling is around 30 points or so, and he’s still paced for that. And it’s tough to establish offensive expectations for Miller when on the left, as it’s better for one-time shots but tougher to jump into play and activate like he’s typically done playing the right side in his career. (Miller is also playing through an upper-body injury that will surely limit his offensive capabilities right now, too, so it seems wise to take that into account as well.)

This only furthers the point that the Bruins need Krug to work his way out of this, and the Bruins apparently remain committed to letting him do just that.

Cassidy has made it known that he has no intention of moving Krug out of his role as the first power-play unit’s lone defenseman (he views it as Krug’s “spot” and considers that same when it comes to the second unit, calling that one McAvoy’s spot). Cassidy has clearly remained committed to letting him play his way out of this at even-strength, too, with several shifts in the final minutes of last Saturday’s tied third period (with McAvoy, no less), and then another three shifts in the three-on-three overtime.

It didn’t pan out that night, and there may be more nights like that on the way, but the Bruins know it’s the only way for Krug to wake his way up and out of this.

It's also their only choice right now.

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