Chris Wagner, Torey Krug help 'pull out' Bruins’ physical nature in win over Penguins

Matt Kalman
January 16, 2020 - 11:54 pm

“We could use someone maybe to pull it [physicality> out of us a little bit, that’s what I think. And that’s up to the coach sometimes to pull it out of the players. Sometimes it’s a player that’s a bit of a pest to stir the pot a little bit. So we’ll address that internally as well.” – Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy on Thursday morning

“I can take a hint, probably.” – Bruins forward Chris Wagner after he was a hitting machine in a 4-1 win over Pittsburgh on Thursday

When asked about the criticism around town about the Bruins’ recent lack of pushback in the aftermath of Tuukka Rask’s injury in Columbus, coach Bruce Cassidy claimed to have not heard the complaints.

But clearly he, at the very least, was perturbed by what he was seeing out of his club because Cassidy, by his own admission, changed the game-day meetings. Defenseman Torey Krug said that the drills in the morning skate also were either completely different or slightly tweaked. The Bruins probably also a little inspired by the sight of Sidney Crosby and the Penguins, big-time rivals going back to Matt Cooke’s hit on Marc Savard in 2010 and the Eastern Conference finals in 2013.

It all came together as a perfect storm for the Bruins to play with the identity that’s expected of them not just because they’re supposed to be an elite team but because they’re suppose to be a Boston Bruins team.

“It wasn’t necessarily a challenge, it was a reset on supporting one another all over the ice,” Cassidy said after the game. “And you hope if you do that to get pucks back, it’ll bleed into anything else that transpires, the physical play, everything else that goes with it. I thought that part was good. We addressed the group about a little bit of our mentality. We feel we’re winners in that locker room, but you have to prepare to win, you have to compete to win and go through the process of winning. I thought today was a good first step to getting back to who we are.”

When it comes to the above-mentioned players that Cassidy wanted to “stir the pot,” it wasn’t difficult to decipher which ones he was talking about. The same message Cassidy delivered to the media pregame must’ve also seeped into his speech to the team, and it resonated

Chris Wagner was credited with one – yes one – hit among Boston’s 23, but stat sheets often lie in hockey. Wagner was in the thick of the battle from the time he drew a boarding penalty from John Marino 3:23 into the game, through the time he jousted with Kris Letang and earned matching minor penalties with the Penguins defenseman, through his tripping penalty early in the second period to his destruction of Brandon Tanev as the Penguins forward backtracked at his own blue line.

These are the things Wagner is expected to do, and if he doesn’t do them he could easily join or replace David Backes in the press box, or Brett Ritchie in Providence. Sean Kuraly’s not in danger of a demotion but his ice time was cut in Columbus and he could easily find himself out of the lineup unless he plays with the emotion and sandpaper he brought against Pittsburgh, with three hits and a defense of Wagner after the boarding.

The Bruins initiated as many hits as they took, and anything that looked untoward coming from the Pittsburgh side was met with retaliation and a scrum. Finally things boiled over when Torey Krug took exception to Patric Hornqvist’s cross check of Matt Grzelcyk. Hornqvist, 5-foot-11, 189 pounds, grabbed the 5-foot-9, 186-pound Krug, and they both went off for roughing.

Out of the box, they went toe-to-toe, with Krug winning the fight on points and then scoring a takedown, just the second Bruins’ fighting major in the past 16 games.

Even if Cassidy’s earlier criticism wasn’t directed at the playmaking defenseman, and even if the Bruins really don’t want Krug putting his hands in danger, he took Cassidy’s sentiments to heart.

“My guess is he wasn’t talking specifically about me. But look, if you want to be part of the group, you’re going to have to answer the bell at some point,” Krug said. “If you play hard and you play the right way, at some point you’re going to piss somebody off and you’re going to have to do that part of it. But you’re just trying to be a guy that, especially an older guy in the group, to set the tone and do your job. And that’s part of your job.”

With Krug and Wagner and Kuraly leading the way, everyone seemed determined to not just play with more bit but to play with more structure with and without the puck. Karson Kuhlman’s speed in the lineup also helped, and he finished with two assists.

The Bruins aren’t going to be able to duplicate Thursday night’s effort 33 more times before the end of the regular season. They should be able to “pull it out” of enough players every night to not be embarrassed and to make sure that if a key player is injured again the opponent will pay a price.

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