BOSTON -- The torrid scoring pace of the Boston Bruins' top line was essential to the team's run to the Stanley Cup Final last June.
Although the Bruins came up short of their second Stanley Cup championship in three seasons, little to no blame could have been directed at center David Krejci and his wings, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton.
When the dust settled on the Chicago Blackhawks' triumph, Krejci had led all scorers through the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 26 points. Lucic and Horton tied Chicago's Conn Smythe Trophy winner Patrick Kane for second place with 19 points. In the six games against the Blackhawks, Krejci's line combined for 13 points.
While everyone marveled at the postseason production Krejci and his linemates provided the Bruins, the glory of storming through three rounds of playoffs and then coming up two wins shy of winning the Cup couldn't keep one little question from creeping into everyone's minds: Where was this type of production in the regular season?
Through the first month of the 2013-14 season, Krejci and Lucic have answered that question by picking up for the Bruins where they left off last summer.
"Yeah, obviously. Yeah," Krejci responded recently when asked about wanting to prove he could be a top scorer in the League when the stakes aren't quite as high. "But my goal going into the season wasn't to be the same player as I was last year in the playoffs. My goal was to come into camp, coming into the regular season in the best shape I could be because it was a short summer. All I was focusing on was to have a very good start. I feel that it's OK, but it's still getting to where I want to be."
Heading into their game with the Anaheim Ducks at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET, NHLN-US), Krejci and Lucic were tied for the team lead with 12 points, and Lucic's six goals also paced the team through 11 games. Of course, Horton now cashes checks made out by the Columbus Blue Jackets. And free-agent import Jarome Iginla, who signed an incentive-laden, cap-friendly deal in July, has filled in as though he was the mainstay on that line the past several seasons.
Iginla is three points off the pace set by his linemates, and his recent five-game point streak (Lucic is also on a five-game run) has included three goals and eight points.
"I think it's fairly obvious that he's a consistent player," Bruins coach Claude Julien said about Iginla. "When you look at his first 10 games, you see him every game. You know we liked [Horton] and he's a highly skilled player. But we also know that he had his fair share of ups and downs. Some games he'd be really good, some other games he wouldn't have much of an impact. So we're getting consistency out of Jarome and he's been really good. We know his leadership qualities and his personality blends in well with our hockey team."
At 36 years old and with almost two decades worth of NHL experience, Iginla has played with numerous centers throughout his career with the Calgary Flames and the Pittsburgh Penguins. As his more than 500 NHL goals prove, he's been able to adjust to any sort of pivot.
In Krejci, he has a player that can find his wings as long as they put in the work to get open in a scoring area.
"Yeah, [Krejci] is a very easy guy to play. Really easy to play with," Iginla said. "You know sometimes you just have different chemistry with different guys, and sometimes you don't. And sometimes you work at it and it gets better. And I think from Day One, we've been trying to work at it and stuff. But I think it's also, as a winger, he's in the middle, he likes the puck a lot. You like to play with a center who likes it a lot. But he also likes to bring guys to him, have that patience and then dish it off.
"As a winger, that's great. You want to, just like he found [Lucic] on his goal [against New Jersey on Oct. 26], wait, wait, wait, until he's full stride, just give him a sauce over. So he's a very, very easy centerman to play with, trying to bring guys to him and go get open. And battles down low, he's right in there too. So I've really enjoyed him. You know, we'll keep working at it, keep trying to build up more. But I think it's coming."
Even when Iginla started the season without a goal for eight games, the chemistry was evident. Lucic and Krejci were picking up points and that line was wearing down the opposition on the forecheck and along the boards. Iginla's missed his chances to score, but his opportunities were getting better every time because he wasn't getting discouraged.
Although the Bruins are surviving mainly on the offense of just one line and they're attempting to squeeze some production out of their other units, there's one discouraging note for Boston's opponents that Krejci wanted to share. This might not be the best he and his line can play.
"I don't know. I felt pretty good last year. This year, I feel like I can be even better," Krejci said. "I know the points are there. But I feel like my game's not where I want it to be. So obviously it's good to see the puck's going in for me and my linemates … but I'm still not where I want it to be."
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