November 12, 2013

Bruins' top line a constant threat

By Andrew Merritt

David Krejci and Jarome Iginla combined for six shots on goal in Monday's 3-0 win over the Lightning. (Photo: Sharon Bradley/New England Hockey Journal)


BOSTON – In the first five games this month, the Bruins’ top line of Jarome Iginla, David Krejci and Milan Lucic has combined for three goals, including the empty-netter scored by Iginla (and assisted by Lucic) in Monday afternoon’s 3-0 win over Tampa Bay.

Believe it or not, that’s the bad news.

While the trio’s goal output has hit the subtlest of skids, it has been doing plenty of other things right in November. Monday’s game was a perfect example: Until Lucic gave Iginla a setup for the put-away goal with just under a minute remaining, the line was held off the board. But it wasn’t for lack of trying, and the goal and assist columns aren’t the only measure of what the line is doing to put the Bruins in a position to win.

“I think they’ve been pretty consistent so far this year,” coach Claude Julien said Monday. “I’ve got no issues with that line. Whether they score or they don’t score every game, I think every game they bring something; physicality, work ethic, or opportunities. That line was good. … You need a little bit from everybody on different nights and the Krejci line, to me, has been as consistent as a coach would want it to be so far.”

Among the many things the trio is doing on a consistent basis is finding a way to keep the puck in the offensive zone. That’s leading to some monster shifts for the line. On Monday, they had nine shifts of a minute or longer – four in the first period alone. That included a 90-second whopper beginning with about 2:50 to go in the frame.

During that extended stint, Iginla threw two of his four hits, Krejci won an offensive-zone faceoff, and the Bruins had four shot attempts – two on goal, one by Iginla.

Those little things may not be what moved Boston to second place in the Atlantic Division, but they were signs of a line doing plenty even when it’s hitting a bit of a scoring skid.

“Yeah, it’s not always about goals,” said Iginla. “We’d love to score, as a line, we all love to score goals, but it’s about zone time, and a big part of the way we play as a team is that it isn’t run-and-gun, it’s territorial, making sure we’re spending that time down there trying to frustrate the other team. Our D are really good at coming down the walls and trying to hem teams in.

“It’s about physical play, it’s about getting to the net, on other nights it’s about trying to draw power plays, but the biggest thing we’re all trying to do is get that zone time, and just wear down,” the winger said. “Tampa’s a quick team, and there’s a lot of teams that like to play that way, but we’re trying to do what we want to do.”

The Krejci line didn’t have any shifts approaching the power play-augmented behemoth that saw Iginla on the ice for 3:03 in the first period of Saturday’s win over Toronto, but it still got a workout, especially early on.

“We’re not trying to stay out too long if it goes back, but once we get them hemmed in, it’s always more tiring for [the defense], so you want to keep up the pressure and not let them off the hook,” Iginla said. “I think sometimes in the last couple games, we’ve had them hemmed in, and we’re close, we’re close to getting a goal or drawing a power play.”

Not surprisingly, Krejci (22 shifts, 19:11), Lucic (19, 17:46) Iginla (19, 17:28) led the Bruin forwards in ice time, but it wasn’t but the wide margin the first period might have suggested. The trio’s shifts were managed well the rest of the way.

“I guess it’s making the changes at the right time,” Julien said. “And they’re pretty good when you look at their minutes. Whenever it’s a little high, you have to look at the power plays, because when we have a lot of power plays, they’ll spend a minute or even almost a whole power play because they hem teams in their own end and it’s not as tiring as it is going back and forth. So sometimes that kind of creeps up their average time on the ice but overall they’ve been pretty good at keeping their shifts adequate and making good changes.”

Through the first 59 minutes of Monday’s game, it looked like Krejci, Lucic and Iginla would be held off the score sheet for only the second time this year – particularly after a borderline goaltender interference call on Iginla negated a Krejci goal with 1:35 to go.

Then Lucic found the puck on his stick with a minute left and handed it to Iginla for the nail in the coffin – and the punctuation on another job well done by the Bruins’ top line.

Twitter: @A_Merritt