Patrice Bergeron finished the Islanders, but Torey Krug made it happen, as he so often does.
To set up Bergeron’s power play winner Saturday, the Bruins quarterback carried into the Islanders’ zone and drifted toward the left half-wall, drawing forward Josh Bailey and defenseman Johnny Boychuk well outside the faceoff dot.
They overcommitted. Krug made them pay.
“It was an amazing play by Torey,” said Bergeron, who read Krug and held his ground in the slot. After taking Krug’s feed, he had a one-two count to beat Semyon Varlamov with a wrister. “I figured if I stayed in that pocket and the puck would come, I’d have plenty of time. Great play by him.”
It gave the Bruins a power play goal in 13 straight games, a club record.
Meanwhile, Krug is still waiting for his future to come into focus. The pending unrestricted free agent understands he will almost certainly be a Bruin through the end of the season, but he doesn’t know when — if — his camp and the club will agree on a long-term deal.
Krug had a bit of reflecting to do before puck drop. It was the 500th game for the undrafted, undersized blue liner.
“Especially from where my career started, it seemed like a long shot,” said the 5-foot-9 Krug, signed as free agent out of Michigan State in March 2012. “I’ve enjoyed every step along the way. A lot of good memories. Hopefully a lot to come.”
Krug leads all defensemen in power play assists (18), and is third among all players, behind Edmonton’s Connor McDavid (22) and Leon Draisaitl (21).
With five goals and 26 assists, he was tied for 11th in scoring among defensemen, and had played in eight fewer games than league-leader John Carlson (13-42—55 in 46 games).
As one of six defensemen in the league listed shorter than 5-10, Krug has done that while absorbing his share of punishment. In his first five full seasons, beginning in 2013-14, he played in at least 76 games a year. That dipped to 64 last season, largely because of a pair of ankle injuries. A pair of upper-body injuries, one against the Flyers Nov. 10 and another against the Capitals Dec. 23, cost him eight games this season.
In the last 40 years, only six defensemen listed at 5-9 or shorter have reached 500 games, according to league records: Curt Giles (895), former Bruins player and general manager Mike O’Connell (860), Francis Bouillon (776), Gerry Hart (730), Colin Campbell (636), and Risto Siltanen (562).
“There’s smaller guys that have been a flash in the pan before,” Krug said. “They haven’t been able to survive the day-in, day-out toll that it takes to be an NHL player. Five hundred games is a big deal, for sure. “I’ll tell you what, longevity is still a question in my career. I’m seeing how long this thing goes. I’ve enjoyed every step of the way. All the bumps and bruises have been worth it.”
Looking for help
With the Feb. 24 trade deadline fast approaching, the Bruins remain on the hunt for scoring help. Sportsnet NHL insider Elliotte Friedman offered a few interesting tidbits on his 31 Thoughts podcast this past week.
Friedman believes the Bruins could snatch a right wing from the rebuilding Kings: 27-year-old Tyler Toffoli, who has a 12-15—27 line in 45 games. However, they may also be interested in another rental: 28-year-old Rangers left winger Chris Kreider.
“My opinion is changing almost on the day,” Friedman said of the Boxford, Mass.-bred Kreider (14-15—29 in 43 games). “I’ve had guys tell me that they think the Rangers are starting to think more and more about, do they keep him?”
Friedman explained that Kreider, a speedy, 6-3 forward who plays with an edge, would be “hard to replace” for the Rangers, who are “starting to get some things going offensively. Their top couple of lines have some chemistry.”
“I do think Boston, if they wanted to, could do a deal for Toffoli almost at any time. I think they know they’ve got that in their hip pocket,” Friedman added. “So the question is, do you do that or do you wait for Kreider?”
Ritchie back in
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy sounded apologetic Thursday when explaining why he sat Brett Ritchie for David Backes in that night’s game against the Jets. As Cassidy further explained Saturday, it was not because Backes’s play forced his hand.
“The mothers were here,” Cassidy said. “Our plan was to use everybody, for obvious reasons. It’s a good team-building exercise. It’s good for everybody. We try to use our whole roster anyway, so it was as good a time as any. [Ritchie] just happened to come out following one of his better games.”
In his most recent game, Tuesday in Nashville, the 6-4, 220-pound Ritchie put an encouraging game on film. He created trouble for the Predators with smart forechecking, got to the net and occupied a defender on Danton Heinen’s snap shot goal, and even set up a late Charlie Coyle goal with a slick pass to the far post.
Cassidy has good puck protectors in Heinen and Coyle, and each has some offensive polish. Ritchie’s size makes him an intriguing project, but in the last two months he hasn’t played more than four games in a row.
If he keeps playing like he did on Tuesday, he might earn a few more. “Hopefully that line in general can create some offense for us, because we’re starting to see a better, balanced attack now every night,” Cassidy said. “If we get that I think we’re going to be tough to beat.”
Chris Wagner said he’s well aware of pal Noel Acciari’s breakout season for Florida, which has seen him score 17 goals in 41 games (entering Saturday tied for 34th in the league with such luminaries as Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov).
“I tell him to stop,” Wagner joked. “It’s kind of funny. Good for him. He’s got a couple tips and tap-ins, but when you’re hot, you’re hot.”
Wagner did feel his regular linemates, Joakim Nordstrom and Sean Kuraly, were finding their groove.
“I think we’re getting our swagger back,” Wagner said. “Just can’t get discouraged looking at the box score. Noelie’s scoring and we’re minus-2. What’s going on here?”
Beneath the surface
At Saturday’s morning skate, the ice at Barclays Center was in rough shape.
“A little scruffy out there,” Cassidy confirmed. “I wasn’t flying like I typically am.”
The Bruins placed a bucket at the blue line to cover one of two divots. Jake DeBrusk estimated the larger of the two was the size of a brick.
“I stayed away from it,” DeBrusk said. “I don’t trust myself near potholes.”
The Islanders, who play half their home games at old Nassau Coliseum, had not seen their Brooklyn digs since Nov. 30.
In the six weeks since, Barclays had hosted 13 basketball events (including nine Brooklyn Nets games), seven concerts, a WWE wrestling show, and a boxing fight night. The ice sheet sat underneath all of that.
Adding to the problems for the ice crew: It was 64 degrees here on Saturday morning.
Chara good to go
Zdeno Chara (jaw) returned to the lineup after he was talked out of playing Thursday by Cassidy and general manager Don Sweeney . . . Kuraly played his 200th game . . . Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins’ representative for the NHL’s “Last Man In” fan vote, was free to go elsewhere during the All-Star break: Toronto’s Mitch Marner was named the Atlantic team. The others: Washington’s T.J. Oshie (Metropolitan), St. Louis’s David Perron (Central), Vancouver’s Quinn Hughes (Pacific).
Wagner, a noted Patriots fan, on the Tom Brady situation: “I just think it’s funny how everyone has their opinion, but nobody’s probably really talked to him about it. I don’t even think he knows what he’s doing. It was a good 20-year run if it ends, but hopefully it keeps going. I want him to stay. Sentimentally, and probably best for the team, too. It’s not like you’re going to pick up a Tom Brady in free agency or the draft.”