WILMINGTON — The letter David Krejci earned before the season was a reward. Krejci is the Bruins’ No. 1 center and most imaginative playmaker. Last season, Krejci was the team’s leading scorer in the playoffs (9-17—26), like he was in 2010-11, when he had 12 goals and 11 assists for 23 points.
But the alternate captain’s “A” was also a carrot. The Bruins knew that while Krejci is a postseason moneymaker, he had that much more to give in the regular season. Krejci, along with former linemates Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton, dipped into valleys. The letter would serve as a sign of faith. The organization knew Krejci could become an even better 82-game player.
Through 55 games, Krejci is the team’s leading scorer with 12 goals and 35 assists for 47 points and leads all forwards with 19:33 of ice time per game. Krejci is the swing man between Lucic and Jarome Iginla on the team’s most dangerous offensive line and has been the Bruins’ most consistent all-around forward.
The last two years, Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and Patrice Bergeron were the team’s most important players. Krejci is pushing to expand the lead group to four. He has been even better than Bergeron, the other right-shot center who wears an “A” on his chest.
“I think David has been as consistent as we’ve seen him during the regular season this year,” said coach Claude Julien. “It’s been a good year for him. He’s been good with his line. There were times in past years when he’d have some dips that would last quite a while in his play. We always knew when the time came, he’d be ready to go. It makes us such a better team with him being a guy that we can rely on with his consistency.”
The Bruins are 7-1-1 in their last nine games. It is no coincidence that Krejci is playing some of the best regular-season hockey of his career. In the last nine games, Krejci has three goals and eight assists. Krejci’s success starts with his skating.
Krejci’s signature move is to slow down the tempo, hang onto the puck, and wait for passing lanes to expand to Lucic and Iginla. It remains Krejci’s ace in the hole. But Krejci is becoming even more dangerous because he’s skating with purpose. When Krejci drops a gear from his elevated pace, seams become fatter. It’s why Krejci and his linemates are generating regular chances and not submitting peaks-and-valleys play.
Krejci went to his move for the opening goal in Tuesday’s 3-1 win over Vancouver. Krejci blew through center ice and was at full speed when Iginla gave him the puck. Krejci touched on the brakes, waited for Lucic to catch up, and stretched Vancouver’s defensive box. Krejci sold the shot, which prompted defenseman Alex Edler to hit the deck. But instead of shooting, Krejci slid the puck backdoor for Lucic to slam home.
“We’re trying to keep our feet moving and we’re trying to stay positive on the bench,” Krejci said. “It happens that we have a bad shift. But we’re staying positive. I’ve been talking the whole year that it’s how you respond if you have a bad game. Same thing goes for a shift. If you have a bad shift, you have to respond with a really good one. I think that’s what we’ve been doing. The puck’s been going in the net for us, which always helps.”
Krejci’s skill isn’t limited to offense. Bergeron (60 percent) is the Bruins’ best draw man and smartest defensive center. But Krejci (51.4 percent) has his coaches’ faith in the defensive zone. In late-game situations, Julien usually rolls out Krejci or Bergeron. Krejci has gained three-zone trust.
“It’s a little easier to be the best and get on top,” Krejci said. “It’s way harder to stay on top, stay at your best. You always have to push yourself. Any moment you’re satisfied with your performance, you go downhill.”
With Zdeno Chara unavailable for the next two games because of his Olympic flag-bearing duty, David Warsofsky will be in uniform against St. Louis and Ottawa. The Blues picked Warsofsky in the fourth round of the 2008 draft. St. Louis traded the rights to Warsofsky — the defenseman had completed his sophomore season at Boston University — to the Bruins for Vladimir Sobotka after the 2010 draft.
During Wednesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, Warsofsky skated alongside Kevan Miller on the No. 3 pairing. Warsofsky and Torey Krug worked the point on the No. 1 power-play unit.
Warsofsky, Krug, Miller, and Matt Bartkowski started last season in Providence. Because of the lockout, Dougie Hamilton started 2012-13 with Niagara, his junior team. Of the six defensemen who will play against the Blues, only Johnny Boychuk was an NHL regular before the start of 2012-13.
“We’re looking forward to seeing those guys with a little more responsibility than when Z’s around,” Julien said of his young defensemen. “You don’t win hockey games with just one player. We know one player can make a difference. But at the end of the night, when you look at the full game, it’s about how your team’s played.”
Bartkowski and Boychuk will be the top pairing. Krug and Hamilton will be the second duo.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.