He hasn't faced the slings and arrows that are raining down on Sidney Crosby and Rick Nash, but with Boston looking to close out the Canadiens tonight in Montreal, David Krejci's scoring struggles are now front and center for the Bruins.
The veteran pivot has always been an under-the-radar player -- effective, but not quite a star...except in the playoffs. While everybody else seems to struggle with the intense checking and immense external pressure, Krejci has built a reputation for being the rare player who ramps up his game when it matters most. He's led the playoffs in scoring during two of the past three seasons. The other year? He was knocked for a loop by a falling pane of plexiglass in Game 1 of Boston's first-round series against Washington in 2012. He never quite recovered and neither did the Bruins, who were knocked out in seven by the Capitals.
Much was expected of Krejci this spring with Boston primed for another Stanley Cup run, but he hasn't delivered. With just three assists through 10 games, he's nowhere to be found on the leader board for his own team, let alone the league.
So what's going on?
Part of the problem is the playing style of Boston's opposition. Both Detroit and Montreal prefer skating and possession to the ground war for which Krejci and his linemates, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, are best suited.
Maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Krejci's struggles this year are reminiscent of his 2011 series against the Habs when he potted just one goal in seven games. After that series, he went on a tear against the Flyers, Lighting and Canucks, teams that willingly joined the Bruins in the trenches.
The Canadiens' quicker pace worked against his line (which included Nathan Horton) in 2011, forcing it to spend too much time chasing the play. We're seeing that again this year: Krejci ranks 18th out of 19 Bruins in terms of possession time as measured by Corsi For at five-on-five with just 46.8 percent. Compare that to the team average of 54.2 percent and you can see who's bringing down the curve.
But possession time doesn't have to be the deciding factor here. After all, Krejci's Corsi came in at just 47.2 percent during the 2013 playoffs, which he led with 26 points in 22 games.
There's more that he can do to change his luck in this series, and one scout suggested where Krejci should start: "He needs to shoot the stinkin' puck."
Krejci, he says, isn't just a victim of the high expectations he's created or his line's leaden feet. He's simply become too predictable in this postseason.
"Everybody knows he's looking pass first, second and third," the scout told SI.com. "He can get a little pretty [with his playmaking] sometimes. He's most effective when he's mixing it up. [He needs to] look for the shot and take it. He has Lucic and Iginla who can crash the net and cash in on rebounds. Throw some meat in the crease and let 'em chase it."
There might be something to that theory. Krejci averaged nearly 2.5 shots per game last spring. This year, he's down to two and has been held to a single shot in six of his 10 playoff games. And you know what Michael Scott says about shots not taken.
For his part, Krejci thinks the points are just around the corner.
"I believe my time is about to come and I’m going to be big for my team," he told the Boston media after this morning's skate. "I owe it to these guys so I’m going to do everything I can to start tonight."
Krejci promised before this round that his line would be a handful for the Habs. Time for him to deliver.
If the Bruins can get by the Canadiens--and that remains a big if--they could be in for a big boost in the Conference Final. Top-two defenseman Dennis Seidenberg took part in light contact drills after this morning's practice, just 18 weeks after he had surgery to repair his ACL and MCL and could be available for the next round.
The recovery was supposed to be six-eight months, putting him out for the season, but an early return has been rumored for the past couple of weeks.Matt Bartkowski