David Krejci's knee injury may kill the Boston Bruins' playoff hopes unless GM Peter Chiarelli makes some moves at the NHL trade deadline.
Now they face the prospect of trying to make the playoffs without him.
Krejci, who left Friday's game against St. Louis with an apparent knee injury after he delivered a hit on Alex Steen of the Blues, was examined examined by doctors in Boston today. Their diagnosis was grim: Krejci will miss the next 4-6 weeks with a partially torn MCL in his left knee.
For a team that is barely hanging on to the second wild card spot in the East, this is a devastating blow. Krejci has already been limited to 38 games this season by various injuries. When he's in the mix, he's a creative playmaker and responsible two-way player who epitomizes coach Claude Julien's style. When he's out of it, Boston's already limited offense (ranked 22nd in the league) grinds to a stop.
How valuable is he? The Bruins were 8-9-3 during his 20-game absence earlier this season. Anything close to that pace down the stretch and the B's are watching the playoffs from a bar in the Bahamas.
“We talk about adversity, and we just keep getting more and more,” Julien said. “There’s nothing you can do except persevere, stay positive, push through and find ways to win hockey games. You’ve got to fight through these situations. Every year you go through them, some worse than others which is this year. But you don’t change the outlook of how you’re going to get out of it.
“You lose a guy like Krejci and your team roster takes a step back, but our job right now is to make sure our game doesn’t take a step back. We don’t have a choice here. I’m going to tell you the same thing that I keep telling you no matter what happens here: there are a lot of guys in that room that are good players, good warriors and guys that you rely on to turn things around.”
One of those guys will be Ryan Spooner. The 23-year-old center has been an ill-fitting part during earlier call-ups, not good enough to displace Krejci or Patrice Bergeron in the top six and poorly equipped to handle the grinding required by a bottom-six role. Now, he'll finally get the chance to put his skill set on display in the proper light. Spooner offered up a mixed bag in Sunday's game, committing a couple of egregious turnovers but landing four shots on net and contributing an assist. He also got away a subtle act of interference on Brandon Saad that allowed Dougie Hamilton the time and space to score a third period power play goal. It was a surprisingly mature cheat from a relatively immature player. But one game is one game. For the Bruins to stay in the hunt, Spooner, or perhaps another young hopeful like Alexander Khokhlachev, has to bring something to the table consistently. And that might be too much to expect at this point.
Could the Bruins then become a more motivated buyer ahead of next Monday's trade deadline? With Krejci out for the long haul it presents an interesting challenge to embattled general manager Peter Chiarelli. He could focus his attention on Arizona center Antoine Vermette, whose skill set seems a better fit for the Bruins with Krejci out of the picture. Or he could use this latest injury to enhance his argument in favor of job security. After all, it's tough to pin the failings of one season on the general manager if his top center is sidelined for two extended periods.
The Bruins bought themselves a bit of breathing room with Sunday's win. We'll see how long they can hold it without Krejci.