Bruins' Krejci Deserves Shot To Make It Work With Backes, Beleskey On His Wings
By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) -- Bruins coach Claude Julien wasn't ready Sunday to commit to maintaining the line combinations he used in the third period of the 4-1 shellacking of the Winnipeg Jets.
"I don't know actually right now. Finished off the game. I haven't really gotten into that," Julien said after about half his players took the ice and the rest just did an off-ice workout at Warrior Ice Arena on Sunday.
"Some of it I liked. I liked the fact that guys responded to the different places they were put into," Julien continued. "But at the same time it's about looking at the bigger picture and seeing what you want to do. It's nice to see that you have options, let's put it that way."
Julien shouldn't put too much thought into these lines leading up to the Bruins home game against St. Louis on Tuesday. The Bruins won and the new lines were effective. Most importantly, the new alignment gave him a legitimately threatening top six. Through all the injuries and all the scoring slumps that have affected the Bruins this season, center David Krejci has been in the middle of a line in flux. It's time to give Krejci a pair of veteran wings on a regular basis, and Matt Beleskey – who moved up to replace Ryan Spooner in the third period Saturday – and David Backes fit that bill.
Coming off offseason hip surgery, Krejci started this season slow in two ways: his production wasn't there and he literally was slow skating. He's hit his stride the past couple weeks and has two goals and six assists in the past nine games. For the season he's third on the Bruins with 11 points.
Backes' return to health has obviously been a boost to Krejci. And even Spooner and his skill set was making that line a formidable compliment to the line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and either David Pastrnak or Riley Nash. But if you were building the perfect team for a playoff run and needed to pick your top six forwards, you wouldn't want Spooner in that role for the long haul. Some players aren't as equipped as Backes to move back and forth between center or wing, and Spooner is one of those guys who's a center, end of story. If Spooner didn't play on a team that boasts Bergeron and Krejci down the middle, it would be unthinkable to move Spooner out of position. This experiment, as least as far as Spooner being a top-six wing, should end.
Krejci and Backes have played together regularly for a couple weeks and they might be generating the type of chemistry Bergeron and Marchand enjoy. But that might not be enough, as we've seen sometimes when even Bergeron and Marchand's third linemate is guilty of slowing down the productivity of that line.
"Well the best scenario is you find three guys so you can find chemistry. You see how with Marchy and Bergy, it looks like two's enough, you know. But you always need a third guy to kind of jump in and do the job and they've been having some success with David Pastrnak," Krejci said. "And I'm looking for the same success with Backes and if it's Spoon or Beleskey, or whoever else. We need to find the same success as them."
Krejci, who's now 30, is too valuable in his prime to be saddled with a player who's still learning his position and has all the flaws of a 24-year-old Spooner, who's still trying to find his role.
Beleskey and Backes are hardened veterans who know their roles, know how to maximize their skills and know how to fit in with linemates, whether it's Krejci or someone else. They know when it comes to playing with Krejci it's all about getting open, getting to the net and being responsible. Attention to detail is tantamount and you also can't be tentative when it comes to getting a shot off or battling for the puck. Spooner still often plays like a deferring rookie when he gets the puck. It's all right to mix things up and be the setup guy sometimes. But you also have to be willing to shoot and fire away without thinking sometimes.
And when it comes to the battle, he still hasn't found the knack for winning the puck with savvy, like Torey Krug or even Austin Czarnik, when sheer brawn isn't available. Krejci doesn't need a guy on training wheels, he needs someone who was born to be free, ala Matt Beleskey.
Julien's not concerned about the revolving door on Krejci's wings.
"I think David Krejci drives the bus when he's on his game and it doesn't matter who plays with him. He makes everybody around him better," Julien said.
Krejci may drive the bus, but it's not a magic bus. He can't make Spooner or Czarnik into Milan Lucic or Nathan Horton any more than he was able to turn Joe the Plumber into Horton or Jarome Iginla. Those players had pedigrees and Krejci helped them maximize their talents.
Right now the players with the best chance provide the Bruins with the most production playing next to Krejci are Backes and Beleskey. This line should be given a shot to shine.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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