DALLAS — Per 60 minutes of play, his five-on-five defensive numbers are very good: 47.2 shot attempts allowed (second-lowest among regular Bruins defensemen), 5.7 scoring chances given up (second-lowest), and 2.3 goals allowed (lowest), according to www.corsica.hockey.
They are not numbers Torey Krug was once trusted to produce.
During his NHL break-in period, Krug was considered a power-play specialist, third-pairing even-strength defenseman, and a penalty-killing ghost. But the 25-year-old is continuing to mature into a dependable defensive presence, even if he’s not doing so in a traditional stay-at-home manner.
The heaviest lifting remains in the hands of Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo, the Bruins’ top matchup tandem. But coach Bruce Cassidy does not hesitate to deploy Krug and Adam McQuaid, usually with Patrice Bergeron’s line, against first or second lines. In the Bruins’ 4-1 win over the Kings on Thursday, Krug regularly played against Los Angeles’s top threesome of Dwight King, Anze Kopitar, and Tyler Toffoli.
“It’s great when you earn your coach’s trust and he puts you out there in all situations,” Krug said. “It’s been a lot of fun. We’re winning a lot of hockey games right now. You want to be part of it.”
It’s an ability that Cassidy, Krug’s head coach in Providence in 2012-13, believed was always there to be expressed. What Krug had to learn was how to conclude his defensive responsibilities before going on the attack. Sometimes, the lure of joining the rush before the Bruins blunted an opposing parry was too keen for Krug to resist.
“With the defensive side, you’ve got to keep your thumb on him on not being worried about getting involved on offense before the defensive play is finished,” Cassidy said. “That’s the challenge with all good offensive players — anticipating versus cheating. We want to make sure the play is dead before he gets ahead of it and gets going. A couple times this year it’s been a question where we’ve had to get him back under control. But for the most part that’s the area he has to understand if he wants to be a full-time responsible player.”
The Bruins have never questioned Krug’s offensive ability, even when he fought to find his game earlier this year following offseason shoulder surgery. Once his legs, hands, and vision clicked into synch by about Game No. 20, in his estimation, Krug became the offensive dynamo he’s been since the Bruins pursued his services out of Michigan State.
The left-shot defenseman is the team’s fourth-leading scorer (5-33—38) after Brad Marchand (61 points), David Pastrnak (49), and David Krejci (41).
The area that wasn’t so certain was Krug’s dependability without the puck. There would always be reservations about Krug’s defensive game because of his size. He cannot handle bossmen such as Jaromir Jagr (6 feet 3 inches, 230 pounds) who can utilize their reach and their frames to swat away the 5-9, 186-pound Krug. McQuaid is better equipped to assume roughneck responsibilities.
When necessary, Krug can lean his shoulder into smaller forwards to ride them off the puck. But he has used his other skills to play defense in a progressive manner. He’s good at challenging plays up high and slamming the door shut at the blue line. He uses an active stick to poke pucks away and lift the blades of oncoming forwards.
Above all else, Krug’s best defense takes place when he doesn’t give up the puck.
“Offensively, he’s less concerned about scoring goals and more about getting pucks to the net and making plays for other people,” Cassidy said. “I think that’s when part of his offensive game turned around, specifically on the power play.”
Krug is averaging 22:07 of ice time per game, second-most on the team after Chara (23:10). Part of this is because of the power play, where he logs a team-high 3:18 per game.
On the No. 1 unit, Krug is the point man, a responsibility that sometimes carries over onto the second unit. Krug can rip away from the point, but the team’s best one-up finisher is Pastrnak (seven power-play goals). If Pastrnak has a lane and his stick is ready, Krug will feed him pucks for one-timers at the left circle.
But Krug also has gained his coaches’ trust in other areas. His 18:24 of average even-strength time per game trails only Chara (18:55) and Carlo (18:34). If one of the regular penalty killers is in the box, Krug has his hand raised for shorthanded duty.
Ideally, the Bruins want another left-shot defenseman to slot in behind Chara and Krug. Kevan Miller has been playing his weak side on the No. 3 pairing. It’s unlikely the Bruins can fill this need before Wednesday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline. General manager Don Sweeney has better odds of pulling off such a deal before the draft.
If the Bruins don’t acquire outside help, an in-house lefty, such as Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon, or Rob O’Gara, could grab the spot full time in 2017-18. Grzelcyk and Lauzon are not known as being defense-first players. But Krug added that dimension to his portfolio. They could be next.
“Sometimes, it’s about, ‘What do you want your legacy to be down the road?’ Do you want to be a 200-foot player or a guy that just scores some goals offensively?’ He really wants to be known as a guy who can play both ends of the ice,” Cassidy said. “And get back to being a plus player, which he’s always been.”
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.