The first assist was to Dustin Byfuglien. It was midway through the first period Saturday when Torey Krug attempted a pass out of the Bruins’ defensive zone, in the direction of Reilly Smith. But the Jets’ Byfuglien picked off the puck and went in on the Bruins net.
Byfuglien’s shot was saved by Tuukka Rask, but he nabbed the rebound, skated around the back of the net, around the left circle, and tried again. This time, he was successful.
But that wasn’t where it ended for Krug, whose defensive liabilities occasionally have cropped up in a season in which he’s been a significant offensive asset. Fortunately for him and for the Bruins, Krug proved yet again to have a short memory in a game that went Boston’s way, 4-1, at TD Garden.
As coach Claude Julien said, “No, his confidence will never lack. He’s very assured by what he can bring.”
Because Krug had come back with a vengeance, starting with a beautiful feed to Daniel Paille for the Bruins’ first goal, the defenseman passing up the shot in favor of an open Paille to the right of Ondrej Pavelec. Paille’s strike tied the game at 14:06 of the first.
The next two Bruins goals were all Krug, with the shots coming from long range. The first was aided by a screen by the just-recalled Justin Florek at 3:08 of the second period. The second went off Jacob Trouba and past Pavelec at 7:18, with help from Carl Soderberg in front. The three points were a career high in a game for Krug.
“He’s a great skater and he finds those lanes and he can shoot the puck, but he also got a minus on that first goal, so I’m sure he wanted to get that back,” Rask said. “And he got it back big-time.”
Krug had started the season on fire, rocketing to the top of the goal scorers among defensemen. He had tailed off lately, with just two points in his last 10 games. His last goal was nearly a month ago, Dec. 8 at Toronto, and still Krug entered the day tied for fourth among defensemen with eight goals. He finished the game tied for first, with Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson and Nashville’s Shea Weber.
Asked if he had felt pressure to score, Krug — who sat out Thursday’s practice for “maintenance” — said, “A little bit.”
He added, “Any time you aren’t contributing the way maybe you were before, you get frustrated. All you can do is help the team win and when you’re not contributing it’s tough, but it is a good feeling when you get the first one.”
So at the same time that Krug is proving his importance in playmaking in the offensive end, there remain areas in which he needs to improve, as he matures in his game at the NHL level. There is certainly some risk-reward with Krug — even, sometimes, in the same game.
“When he’s on top of his game offensively, he makes things happen,” Julien said, specifying that he thinks Krug has had a great season. “Just a few times it’s about him making safe plays at times and that’s a part of his game that he’s working on right now, but I liked his game a lot [Saturday].”
Asked what Krug needs to continue to work on, Julien said, “We’ve seen times where he’s forced passes and they get picked off. I think he really feels like he needs to make a play every time he’s got the puck and sometimes it’s just about making the safe play. It doesn’t have to always be a big play.”
The game had started out feisty, with seven penalties between the teams in the first 5:51. Two of those were a result of fights, the first between Zdeno Chara and Chris Thorburn, the second two seconds later between Matt Fraser and James Wright.
But after allowing that first goal, it was also a game that the Bruins took under their control. They cleaned up their second-period issues, getting both Krug goals in the period, and then added an insurance tally by Smith at 9:59 of the third.
Mostly this game was about Krug — the good and the bad — leading the Bruins to a win over the Jets in a game they needed with a difficult trip coming up through Anaheim, Los Angeles, and San Jose.
“It was important,” Krug said. “There’s three teams, I think Claude mentioned, they’ve lost collectively six games at home between the three teams [in regulation], so for us we know it’s going to be tough getting points in there and we wanted to finish our little homestand on a high note.”