Kalman: Torey Krug injury will put Bruins to the test right out the gate

Matt Kalman
October 01, 2018 - 5:34 pm

Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports

The Bruins power play was the fourth-most efficient in the NHL in 2017-18.

Heading into this season they thought the greatest challenge to their potent power play was going to be getting rookie Ryan Donato to replace the net-front presence of Rick Nash.

But then Torey Krug got his skate caught in a rut and took a hit at the same time in the first period of the Bruins’ preseason finale against Philadelphia on Saturday, and the Bruins’ power-play concerns became more severe. Krug left the game and is now in a walking boot with a plan to be re-evaluated by the doctors in about three weeks.

Krug, who has been quarterbacking the Bruins’ power play for years, averaged 3:26 of man-advantage ice time last season and had 24 (five goals, 19 assists) of his 59 points during the power play last season.

As if Krug’s departure from the lineup wasn’t enough to take, defenseman Matt Grzelcyk’s status for the Bruins season-opener in Washington on Wednesday is up in the air. Grzelcyk, the obvious replacement for Krug because of his play-making abilities, didn’t play in the Philadelphia game but practiced Monday. He didn’t take contact in practice but said he felt on track to play against the Capitals.

If Grzelcyk can’t go, rookie Urho Vaakanainen could make the jump straight from the Finnish Elite League to the NHL. Vaakanainen, 19, was at the top of Boston’s first power-play unit with Donato, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak in front of him at practice Monday.

“We’ll have somebody young up there, more likely Vaakanainen, Grzelcyk or Charlie [McAvoy],” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “There’ll be a bit of a learning curve there, so we’ll have to probably simplify it, get it into Pasta’s hands more often. Maybe less movement, more pucks to the net. And rely on the other group to pick up some of the slack.

“David Krejci is a very accomplished player in this league, he’s in charge of the second group, so we will rely on that group again to be more productive. And they should have more opportunities as well.”

The Bruins, who ranked sixth in the NHL in goals scored per game (3.26 last season), are going to need their power play more this year than last year, at least at the outset of the season.

There’s danger of the Bruins regressing offensively. It’s impossible to project that Jake DeBrusk, Danton Heinen and other young players will match or increase their point totals from last season. And so far the third line, led so valiantly by 15-goal scorer Riley Nash, figures to have more of a grit factor than offensive bent. We have yet to see a similar offensive skill from new third-line center Sean Kuraly and we don’t know if he’ll have the same success Riley Nash had centering Heinen and David Backes.

Basically with two days to go until the season starts, the first line is the only line the Bruins know they can count on for offense.

That’s where the power play could be a sort of crutch to get the Bruins’ offense through the early part of the season. Maybe Cassidy is right and the second power-play unit, which often was kept off the ice by the success of the first group, will make Krug’s absence less meaningful. Krejci led the second unit, along with McAvoy, and Backes, Heinen and DeBrusk during practice Monday. That group lacks the dynamic offensive flair of the first group, but makes up for it with a ton of savvy and grit in front of and around the net.

Or maybe Grzelcyk will return and calm fears of the Bruins’ power play going astray by mimicking Krug’s every move.

“Torey’s someone who I’ve obviously been watching for a while, a number of years, so I’m just kind of seeing and talking to him, how he operates and what he’s kind of thinking on certain plays,” said Grzelcyk, who averaged a little more than a minute of power-play ice time and had two power-play assists last season. “It’s nice to kind of have him and the coaching staff to go over that.”

The Bruins’ power play plan has been thrown off track by Krug’s injury. Now, whether it’s a group effort or a one-man replacement job, they need to find a way to make up for Krug’s loss and make sure there’s no offensive drop-off that could lead to a sluggish start in the standings.