November 3, 2011

Despite clean bill of health, Horton still not feeling like himself on ice

By Jesse Connolly

For Bruins winger Nathan Horton, all the necessary checkmarks on his medical report are present and accounted for.

The 26-year-old forward, who suffered a concussion in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Finals, was given a clean bill of health well before the 2011-12 season got underway, but that – as has been proven time-and-time again – doesn’t guarantee a player can immediately pick up where they left off prior to such an injury.

For Horton, the bar was set awfully high. As the king of heroics during the Bruins’ playoff run, the former Panther shined in his first-ever postseason with 17 points – including two series-clinching goals — in 21 games. So far this season, he’s found the net just twice in Boston’s first 11 games.

“Well I’m still trying to get my game back,” said Horton. “I don’t feel 100 percent out there and I’m not myself. I’m just trying to get that back.”

The 6-foot-2 winger was quick to clarify that it wasn’t due to any lingering physical issues from his concussion.

“Obviously I have to get my timing and stuff,” he said. “I still don’t feel like I’m myself out there. I’m fine. I just need to be better.”

Coach Claude Julien was asked about Horton’s slow start and reiterated the winger’s assertion that he’s physically fit for action.

“It’s not the concussion because he’s been cleared and he’s passed every test,” Julien said. “He’s had a slow start to the season. I think anyone who has missed that amount of time is going to be slow coming back. It’s almost a natural process.

“You saw Bergeron take almost half a year and other guys, not just our team but other teams. There’s a lot of guys that are slow to get back, whether it’s hesitation or whatever it is. It’s something that we’ve noticed along the way.”

Looking back on his tenure in Florida, Horton was known for battling consistency issues. However, during most of his time under Julien, the Bruins bench boss has seen a different player.

“What I noticed last year is that from December or January on, he was a consistent player,” Julien said. “In the past they’ve called him a streaky player, but I thought if anything, he became a very consistent player in the last half of last year. If he can get himself going now and maintain that the rest of the season, I certainly wouldn’t consider him a streaky player.

“It’s not about only scoring goals, it’s about what difference you make in the game and what you create out there. His size, his physical play, his shot and even his vision you take into account. As long as he’s performing and competing, he’s a good player for us.”

And the coach certainly foresees Horton turning a corner sooner rather than later.

“All I know is that he and his line played a lot better,” Julien said of their performance in a 5-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday. “They competed better. As I said to them today, put the stat-sheet aside and look at what you did. ‘Looch’ [Milan Lucic] scored, but ‘Looch’ has been going well. The other two (Horton and David Krejci) had their chances and they played better. If they continue to compete like that, it’s only a matter of time before they get rewarded with goals, assists and everything else.”