WILMINGTON — On Wednesday, for the second straight day, David Krejci practiced at right wing next to Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. When the Bruins practiced the power play, Krejci manned the right point, formerly held by the injured Dougie Hamilton, on the No. 1 unit.
These actions, along with Krejci’s declaration he felt good after the session, make it likely that the alternate captain will return for Thursday’s critical home game against Anaheim.
The Bruins are 16-13-6 without Krejci this season. They are 8-4-3 over the last 15 games that Krejci has missed because of a partially torn MCL in his left knee. The Bruins need Krejci’s presence to break their 0-3-2 tumble that’s dropped them out of playoff position. He will be playing with Marchand and Bergeron, the team’s most complete three-zone duo.
“There’s potential there,” coach Claude Julien said. “At the same time, I think it’s unfair to put all the pressure on two or three guys. The pressure should be on all of us right now. If we take it as a group, we have a much better chance of getting through this than with two or three guys.”
As Krejci returns to NHL pace, he most likely will return to center. But his reentry will take place at right wing. For now, the Bruins are not confident in either Ryan Spooner or Carl Soderberg moving to left wing to open up center ice for Krejci.
At wing, Krejci won’t have to skate as much as he does at center. In the defensive zone, he’ll be responsible for picking pucks off the wall, marking the points, and collapsing in the slot.
“Little bit different style,” Marchand said of playing with Krejci on the wing. “But I think it’s been good the last few days to practice together and work on things.
“David is so talented. I think he’d fit in with anybody. Hopefully we can connect and produce with the way he cycles the puck down low. We felt good in practice. We’ve been able to make plays. We’ve been feeling pretty good.”
Krejci is not a natural wing. But even out of position and at less than 100 percent, he is a more reliable option than Reilly Smith. On Sunday against Tampa Bay, Smith busted a six-game scoreless streak by assisting on Zdeno Chara’s power-play goal.
But the game before that, Smith was a healthy scratch against Florida because of his careless play with the puck in last Thursday’s 6-4 loss to Ottawa. Smith practiced on the third line with Loui Eriksson and Soderberg the last two days.
Once Krejci shifts back to center, it should give Soderberg more shifts against lesser competition. Soderberg has one goal and four assists during Krejci’s 15-game absence. When Krejci is out, Soderberg averages 0.43 points per game. When Krejci is in uniform, Soderberg averages 0.60 points per game.
Krejci cannot help fill Hamilton’s void during even-strength and man-down situations. Hamilton, who will miss his second game Thursday because of an undisclosed injury, is the Bruins’ best two-way defenseman. He has been a good partner for Chara on the No. 1 pairing.
Adam McQuaid will have to take over Hamilton’s five-on-five shifts next to Chara. This will be a tough task for the pair against the Ducks. McQuaid, best deployed as a third-pairing defenseman, will have to take on Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, one of the league’s best offensive combinations.
The third pairing of Matt Bartkowski and Zach Trotman may not get much ice time. Julien will have the last change for the next two games, which will allow him to maximize use of his top two pairs.