History says that Torey Krug will come around. In 241 previous games of NHL data, Krug has racked up 30 goals and 95 assists, numbers that place Krug in a point-producing category of pace-pushing defensemen. Krug is in the first season of a four-year, $21 million contract that pays him market price for the skill set he brings to the Bruins.
Five games of 2016-17 play, however, have seen Krug submit nothing but zeroes.
Points do not always reflect a player’s performance. A four-goal season last year did not accurately capture how Krug walked the blue line on the power play, worked the point, and joined the rush to supplement the offense. But Krug’s 0-0—0 statistical output goes hand in hand with how he’s performed on the eye test: like a player still trying to find his touch after major offseason shoulder surgery.
“No. Nope,” Krug said after Saturday’s 4-2 loss to Montreal when asked about his satisfaction in his performance. “No consistency in my game, for whatever reason. I’m working to get better so my teammates can count on me on every single shift. It’s not there right now. I’ll take the blame for that. I’ve got to work through it.”
Players make mistakes even when they’re peaking. Even if Krug were on top of his game, a puck can always elude him at the point, like the one that bounced past him in the third period to spring Paul Byron for a shorthanded chance. This happens all the time, and coaches can do nothing but shrug it off.
The issue with Krug is how he’s missing other elements of his game. His shortcomings are compounded by the inconsistency of the other defensemen.
The faith the Bruins have in Krug’s recovery does not run as deep in his blue-line mates. Collectively, Colin Miller, John-Michael Liles, and Joe Morrow have been a mixed bag. Rob O’Gara was a peculiar press box presence at TD Garden against Montreal and New Jersey when he could have been getting valuable game action for Providence.
Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo are the only defensemen who are delivering consistent and predictable work. But the coaches don’t know what they’re going to get from the other five defensemen on a given shift. Saturday’s second period was a good example of how rapidly things go sideways when the blue line cracks under pressure.
The Canadiens went with an aggressive forecheck. Clean retrievals, crisp outlet passes, and sharp movement could have helped the Bruins advance past Montreal’s first wave and approach the neutral zone with speed and possession.
It didn’t work. The Bruins fumbled passes. They put pucks in skates instead of onto sticks. It was panic stations every time Montreal closed on the forecheck. The Canadiens dominated zone time in the second period because of the Bruins’ inability to execute clean breakouts.
“We didn’t make good outlet passes, and we spent way too much time in our own end,” coach Claude Julien said. “Because of that, it gave them some momentum. By the end of it, we cheated ourselves a little bit. Pucks ended up in the back of our net.”
Krug will come around. Everything about his NHL history says he will.
“There’s always times throughout the season where you play poorly,” Krug said. “You’ve got to work through it, and fortunately for me, it’s the start of the season. I’ll get back to the place where I know my teammates can count on me. Every time I jump over the boards, they’ll know what they’re going to get. I know it’s not there right now. But I know it will be.”
The others are not sure things. Liles is a 35-year-old third-pairing defenseman. Both Miller and Morrow have higher ceilings, but they are both fourth-year pros whose development is still in question. Last year, between healthy scratches and AHL assignments, they combined for 75 NHL games.
Miller considers his options when the puck is on his stick. By the time he makes up his mind, a once-open lane has closed down. In the defensive zone, his above-average skating encourages him to take chances when more conservative positioning is required.
Morrow’s history is of a good first game after time spent in the press box. It played out according to plan Thursday, when he made his season debut after three games in suit and tie. But another part of his history is of a dip after a solid first performance. He was on the ice for two of Montreal’s four goals.
Help is coming. Adam McQuaid, out the first five games with an undisclosed injury, is healthy enough to play. Once the Bruins determine he’s had enough reps in practice, they will approve his return to the six-pack. He has his limitations, especially in today’s up-tempo game, but he has a history of executing straightforward plays.
Julien isn’t asking for much. He wants good outlet passes, help from the forwards coming back, and clean zone exits. So far, even that’s been too big of an ask.