Claude Julien still refers to Milan Lucic, David Krejci, and Nathan Horton as his first line. But lately, the three have been first-liners in name only.
In Tuesday’s 3-2 giveaway to Pittsburgh, Lucic didn’t put a single puck on Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Krejci recorded one shot in 16:18 of ice time. Horton landed two shots. The three forwards were on the ice for both of Brandon Sutter’s third-period goals.
“For some reason, our top line was overpassing and we weren’t getting any shots on net,” the Bruins coach said after the loss. “It was hard to create more offense after we took that 2-0 lead. In the third period, it was about playing our best period. We had to go out there and not sit on our heels.”
In the last 12 games, Patrice Bergeron’s line has carried the offense. Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Tyler Seguin have combined for 16 goals and 26 assists. Against Pittsburgh, Bergeron and Marchand assisted on Seguin’s net-front first-period strike. Earlier in the first, Bergeron set a screen on Zdeno Chara’s power-play goal. The three forwards have been dynamic offensively and thorough in their own end.
The same cannot be said about Krejci & Co. During the same 12-game stretch, the power line has totaled 6 goals and 13 assists. Lucic has only one goal in his last 13 games. Horton has found the back of the net just once in his last 10 games.
Krejci has not been as silent as his wingmen. Against Ottawa Monday, Krejci set up Daniel Paille’s goal with a long-distance pass to the streaking winger. Krejci also netted the winning goal in the shootout when he went upstairs on Robin Lehner.
Krejci had a four-game scoring streak (1-4—5) halted Tuesday, but he is not at his best when centering two ghosts.
“We needed to do more, put more at the net, and have more guys going to the net,” Lucic said. “That’s the way that, for us, we get most of our offense. You need everyone to step up and produce. Unfortunately, we didn’t have that.”
When Lucic and Horton skate swiftly and play north-south hockey, few defensemen can handle their size and speed. Their straight-line, smashmouth style, combined with Krejci’s creativity, made them the team’s best offensive forwards when the green flag dropped on the season.
But Lucic and Horton don’t have their good legs. The line hasn’t managed the puck efficiently. They are chasing the game instead of controlling its pace.
If Krejci’s line continues to misfire, opponents will blanket Marchand, Bergeron, and Seguin even more.
The Bruins need more offensive presence from Krejci’s threesome. With Chris Kelly sidelined indefinitely, the third line has been diminished offensively. Against Pittsburgh, Rich Peverley centered Jay Pandolfo and Jordan Caron.
It shouldn’t be so difficult for Lucic and Horton to re-fire their engines. They play a simple game: chip pucks ahead, apply their legs and muscle on the forecheck, find openings down low. Currently, that’s proving easier said than done.
In the market
The Bruins have lost three times in the last nine days after holding multi-goal leads in the third period: to Montreal, Washington, and Pittsburgh. Those fades underscore a need for teamwide defensive bolstering.
It’s likely that the Bruins will look to upgrade their blue line via the trade market prior to the April 3 deadline. Their ideal target would be a left-shot top-four defenseman.
If the Bruins stick to the formula they’ve used the last two seasons, the coaching staff will reunite Chara and Dennis Seidenberg. This season, the Bruins have paired Chara and Seidenberg for certain situations, including on the penalty kill and late in games. Last year, Chara and Seidenberg were reunited on March 17, 2012, and stayed together through the playoffs.
Johnny Boychuk, Chara’s current partner, would slide to the No. 2 pairing. Andrew Ference could move up to play alongside Boychuk. But Ference is most effective on the third duo.
One possibility for an acquisition would be Mark Streit. The Islanders captain will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end. The Bruins considered signing Streit in 2008 before he came to terms with the Islanders. The left-shot Streit has four goals and 10 assists while averaging a team-high 25:10 of ice time per game.
Streit would command a steep price. Interest around the league in the smooth-moving defenseman is high. The Bruins would most likely have to part with picks and prospects to outbid other contenders.
The Bruins went 4 for 4 on the penalty kill against Pittsburgh and overall are killing at a 92.6 percent rate, tops in the league. They survived a 65-second five-on-three power play with Bergeron and Gregory Campbell, two of their regular penalty killers, in the box. Even while two men down, they played the puck aggressively to limit Pittsburgh’s looks . . . The Bruins had a day off Wednesday after returning from Pittsburgh early in the morning . . . Bergeron has been serving as the net-front presence on the No. 2 power-play unit, a new position for him. The center has usually been at the point, the left-side half-boards, or on the goal line. Bergeron screened Fleury effectively on Chara’s power-play goal.Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.