-- That the Boston Bruins
were led by five different goal-scorers in Tuesday's win against the Ottawa Senators
was the main positive after that slump-busting victory.
However, just as important was the improved play of a key performer who didn't wind up on the score sheet.
Forward Nathan Horton
still has just 2 goals, but by firing two shots on net and being in position to possibly tap the puck into an empty net during a second-period power play, Horton began to again resemble the player who finished second on the team with 26 goals last season and then scored 8 goals in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Horton's postseason was ended early by a concussion-causing hit from Vancouver defenseman Aaron Rome
in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, and his off-season workout regimen was curtailed by the recovery process from that injury, as well as a separated shoulder he had suffered earlier in the postseason.
Although Horton is fully healthy now, there still are some measures he has to take in order to be the same player he was before the hit.
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"I'm still trying to get my game back. I obviously don't feel 100 percent out there," Horton said after practice Wednesday at TD Garden. "I'm not myself, you know? I'm just trying to get that back. Last game, I thought we played better. Hopefully we can build off it.
"Obviously I just need to get my timing and stuff. I still don't feel like I'm myself out there. Like, I'm fine, but I just need to be better, obviously. That's it. I just need to be better."
Horton said he's been hit during games, and while taking contact lessens the fear of re-injury, forgetting what happened five months ago is proving tougher to get past.
"I'm only human. I do think of it," said Horton. "I think anybody else -- anybody would that was in my situation. It's not easy, obviously, but again, I'm still trying. I want to be better, and I think that's what matters."
Horton recently was reunited with his linemates from last season -- Milan Lucic
and David Krejci
. The comfort he has with them should ease his return to form. However, earlier in the week, Bruins coach Claude Julien
talked about Horton and Krejci needing to raise their level of competitiveness and desire in order to help the Bruins break their three-game losing streak, which they did with the win Tuesday against the Senators.
Horton said that competitiveness has been the least of his troubles.
"I actually feel like I'm trying. I'm backchecking," he said. "I think it's all about when I get the puck, or when I don't have the puck I'm just thinking too much. When you think too much, it doesn't go the way you want it to. When you're not thinking too much, it just falls into place and good things happen. Definitely, that's what I want to get back to here."
For one night, Julien felt like he was getting what he wanted out of Horton's line, even if not much showed up on the score sheet.
"All I know is (Tuesday) he and his line played a lot better," said Julien. "They competed better, and as I said to them today, put the stat sheet aside and look at what you did. They created some chances. Looch (Lucic) scored, but Looch has been going well. The other two had their chances, they played better and that line was better for us last night. So if they continue to compete like that, it's only a matter of time until they start getting rewarded with goals and assists and everything else.
"Going back to Horts, he's had a slow start to the season. I think anybody who comes back from that who's missed that amount of time is going to be slow coming back. It's almost a natural process. You saw (Patrice) Bergeron take almost half a year, three quarters of a year, and some other guys, not just on our team, and (Marc Savard
), when he came back. So there's a lot of guys that, when they're coming back from that sort of an injury, are slow to get back. Whether it's hesitation, whatever it is, it's something that we've noticed along the way."
It might be that just a goal or two more, or even a couple extra checks, will push Horton over the hump. He only has to look at Bergeron, who bounced back from three concussions to emerge as an Olympian and Selke Trophy candidate, for inspiration. Whatever it's going to take, Horton's not going to rest until he finds it and can move forward.
"Whenever it's brought up, I try to forget about it," he said of the concussion. "I definitely want to move on, and it seems like it's just kind of dragging on. People keep asking about it, so I'm going to talk about it, but obviously I don't want to talk about it. I want to forget about it, and that's it. I feel fine. Now I just want to be better."