WILMINGTON — The color of David Krejci's practice jersey Monday was green, not his usual white. The sweater's shade indicated that the Bruins' No. 2 center was a fifth-line player, alongside fellow extra forwards David Pastrnak and Tyler Randell.
That Krejci was well enough to practice with his teammates, regardless of his jersey's color, was welcome news to the Bruins.
For the last nine games, Krejci has been unavailable because of an upper-body injury. That streak could hit double digits Tuesday when the Bruins play the Canadiens at the Bell Centre, but it is unlikely to stretch much longer if Krejci's health continues to improve.
"At this point, where I'm at right now, it's going to be days," said Krejci, who planned to travel to Montreal with his teammates Monday afternoon. "We'll see how I feel tomorrow. Hopefully better. We'll see how it feels tomorrow in warm-ups."
Krejci worked on his skating, shooting, and passing during the on-ice session at Ristuccia Arena. There was some contact at the end of practice, but he did not absorb any thumps to test his injury. When both power-play units cycled through their repetitions, Krejci was on the other side as a penalty killer.
If Krejci is unavailable against the Canadiens, he could target Thursday's game against Vancouver or Saturday's game against Columbus.
As usual, the Bruins have not enjoyed Krejci's absence, which was triggered on Dec. 27 when Ottawa's Bobby Ryan bumped into the center's right arm. At first, the collision didn't look like much, even to Krejci.
"I never had this kind of injury before," Krejci said. "It was kind of an innocent play. I remember that play. I saw the replay. It looked like nothing."
But what looked like nothing was serious enough to KO Krejci for some important games: the Winter Classic, a showdown against the East-leading Capitals, and a pair of road losses to the Rangers and Flyers.
The Bruins are 4-4-1 without their skilled pivot. His presence, especially in one-goal losses to the Capitals, Rangers, and Flyers, could have made the difference between zero points and at least one.
Last year, the Bruins went 16-13-6 when Krejci missed 33 games because of groin and knee injuries. His ailing health was the primary reason the Bruins didn't qualify for the playoffs.
Krejci started this season on fire. Through his first 10 games, he had 7 goals and 8 assists to rack up a league-leading 15 points.
In 35 games, Krejci has 11 goals and 22 assists while averaging 20:17 of ice time per appearance, the most of any Bruins forward. Before his injury, Krejci was centering Matt Beleskey and Loui Eriksson on the second line. He also was the point man alongside Torey Krug on the No. 1 power-play unit, where he had recorded 11 points and was averaging 2:58 of ice time per game.
He was also averaging 1:29 of ice time on the penalty kill, a duty for which he has continually raised his hand and been regularly denied by his coaches.
Krejci's workload and production indicate his importance to his team. He touches the game in every way – five-on-five, power play, penalty kill, faceoffs.
"Anytime you get an injury, it's always frustrating, no matter if you did well or bad," Krejci said. "If you did well, you want to keep it that way. If you're doing bad, then you want to get back on track."
If his teammates can stay healthy until he's ready, Krejci's return will set the roster right. He will be back with Beleskey and Eriksson on the second line. That line can take some of the tougher shifts away from the Brad Marchand-Patrice Bergeron-Brett Connolly unit, which has been going head-to-head against opponents' top threesomes.
Ryan Spooner, Krejci's fill-in for the last nine games, has done well during his time as a temp. Spooner has two goals and nine assists during Krejci's absence, and has become more reliable in all three zones while playing against better players.
Once Krejci is ready, Spooner will go back down to the third line with the confidence of having produced against top-six competition. Spooner and Pastrnak could be a third-line combination. It would be a fast and skilled tandem that could do damage against third lines and bottom pairings.
Krejci remains on injured reserve. The Bruins are carrying the 23-player maximum. Once Krejci is activated, the team will have to make a transaction. Frank Vatrano does not need waivers to be assigned to Providence. The third-line left wing has one goal and no assists in his last 12 games. Vatrano is skating well, but not finding the space to rip off shots the way he did earlier during his promotion.
Sending Vatrano back the AHL would not be fun for general manager Don Sweeney to do. But it would mean Krejci is ready to roll. The Bruins have been waiting three weeks for that to happen.