Patrice Bergeron is the defending Selke Trophy winner as the NHL’s best defensive forward. Bergeron wants more than the 55 points he scored last season.
David Krejci is the team’s most skilled offensive center. Krejci is lobbying for inclusion on the penalty kill.
The Bruins’ two best centers are looking to amplify the complementary parts of their games. Their bosses would like nothing else.
The Bruins have several strengths, from their goalie to their shutdown defenseman to their coach. Their 1-2 center combination is just as critical to their success as Tuukka Rask, Zdeno Chara, and Claude Julien.
Bergeron and Krejci are 200-foot players who touch the game in every area. When Bergeron finishes his heavy lifting of shutting down opposing top lines, Krejci hits the ice to do his thing. Bergeron and Brad Marchand have grown into one of the league’s elite pairings. When both were healthy, Krejci and Milan Lucic were a powerful offensive duo.
It is no coincidence that the Bruins missed the playoffs when groin and knee injuries limited Krejci to 47 games last season.
This season, while health is the priority for both centers, squeezing out additional performance is also on their to-do lists.
In theory, a boost in Bergeron’s offense will happen naturally.
The Bruins are adjusting their breakouts to generate more momentum through center ice and play at a higher tempo. Bergeron’s weak-side wing, be it Marchand on the left and perhaps Loui Eriksson on the right, will be overloading on the strong side instead of staying wide.
They will advance up the ice with speed. Bergeron, who led the team in scoring last year, should be in better position to set up scoring chances if he’s approaching opposing nets with more pace and reinforcements.
“Having the weak-side winger overloading, it’s just about making sure you don’t give up too much space on that side,” Bergeron said. “And make sure we’re being sharp and smart with the puck and get out. That’s the whole point — to generate some speed and get out of the zone more quickly and easily.”
The trick for Bergeron will be to balance hustling up the ice and playing his dogged defensive game. Neither Bergeron nor his coaches intend for the three-time Selke winner to compromise anything about his play away from the puck.
In open ice, Bergeron will continue to backcheck in his regular manner. In the defensive zone, he will remain a critical support player down low. He will be available to hound the puck and close down passing lanes. Amid their system tweak, the Bruins do not want Bergeron cheating up the ice.
“The center still supports low and does the same job,” Bergeron said. “So it doesn’t change much for that. It’s a matter of getting adjusted and used to having the weak-side winger ahead of you and try to send him a few times with chips.”
Krejci, meanwhile, wants more penalty-killing responsibility. In 2008-09, Krejci averaged 1:46 of shorthanded ice time, with ex-Bruin Blake Wheeler as his primary PK partner. That year, Krejci had 22 goals and 51 assists for a career-best 73 points, second-most on the team behind Marc Savard (88).
Killing penalties helped Krejci feel engaged. It also made the center feel better about his offensive game after making a defensive stand.
“Sometimes you get really big confidence when you kill some good penalties, then you play with the puck,” Krejci said. “You hold onto it, you shoot it down the ice, you feel really good about yourself. The next shift, you go back playing five-on-five and you’re feeling good.
“That’s no secret that I want to play there.”
Krejci’s penalty-killing duties have decreased. Last year, he averaged 0:34 of PK time per game. Julien liked using Krejci’s line for the first post-kill shift.
Krejci has been practicing with Matt Beleskey and David Pastrnak during training camp. If they develop offensive chemistry, Julien could deploy the unit as the first wave after successful kills.
The Bruins have two returning PK pairs: Bergeron and Marchand, and Eriksson and Chris Kelly. Max Talbot should enter the rotation. The Bruins lost two PK horses in Daniel Paille and Gregory Campbell. Julien hasn’t committed to giving Krejci some of those regular shifts, or keeping him as a spot killer.
“I always liked to come back with David’s line after killing,” said Julien. “That took away his opportunity at times. One thing I know is that he can kill penalties. It’s not an issue there. Whether we use him or not or maybe use him a little bit, we’ll see how everything unfolds here.”
There are elite center combinations around the league: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter. Krejci’s injuries kept the Bruins’ duo from being part of that cluster last year. It is company they want to rejoin.