Monday, November 7, 2011
B's top line finally finding its groove
By Joe McDonald ESPNBoston.com
BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins have never been so happy to be in second-to-last place in the Eastern Conference.
The defending Stanley Cup champions finally dug themselves out of the basement with an impressive 6-2 victory over fellow conference cellar dwellers the New York Islanders on Monday night at TD Garden. The Bruins extend their season-high winning streak to three games -- Ottawa Senators, Toronto Maple Leafs and the Islanders -- and have now outscored their opponents 18-5 during that span.
"We're getting there," Bruins alternate captain Patrice Bergeron said. "Obviously we can always get better, but I think the past three games is the way we're supposed to play and it shows in the results and the outcomes."
It's no coincidence that the Bruins are winning and the top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Nathan Horton is finally playing like a top line. That line has produced a total of 15 points in the last three games and that consistency continued against the Islanders, as Horton pumped in two goals while Krejci added a goal (empty net) with two assists and Lucic chipped in one goal and one assist.
Nathan Horton gets the puck past Al Montoya of the New York Islanders in the third period Monday night.
It was especially important for Horton to have a multi-point game given the slow start he's had. Last week he admitted that he's not feeling 100 percent from the severe concussion he suffered in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals last spring. It's nothing physical and he's not suffering from post-concussion syndrome, he said, but he has struggled to get his legs, timing and skills back to the level he's used to.
Monday was a good start.
"It's obviously good, for him personally, to have a game like that," Lucic said. "Even last game, he didn't get any points, but he was still making good plays in order for us to step up and have a big game in Toronto. We knew it was going to come and he kept staying positive. Tonight he got in those areas and the puck was finding him. He played big tonight."
When he spoke last week, Horton was honest about his subpar play. He said he knew that once he got his timing back, things would get better. Entering Monday's game he hadn't scored since Oct. 20 and produced only one assist since then, but he said producing three points against the Islanders felt really good.
"It definitely makes you stronger," Horton said. "The tough times are not easy, but obviously tonight I felt better and it makes you feel better getting the points and feeling good out there. I still want to work on my game and keep getting better. I want to do anything I can to help my team win."
"It definitely helps me," he added. "It gives me a little bit more confidence and every player wants confidence."
It's not like Horton hasn't been trying to erase his early-season funk, and just because he finally had a decent game, he doesn't want to settle or become complacent.
"I have been trying," he said. "Things just went my way tonight. It makes you feel good, but I don't just want to have one game. I want to keep getting better, keep having fun and keep doing it every night."
Horton can't do it all by himself. He needs his linemates to play and compete at a similar level in order for the Bruins to have success. That hasn't been the case in each of the 13 games this season for that top line. In fact, Julien decided to split that threesome up last month in order to get each individual player going before reconnecting them.
"Here we are back together and once we got put back together we talked about it, amongst the three of us, about wanting to be better and getting back to the form of play we know we can be at," Horton said. "These last couple of games I feel like we've been able to step up our game."
The last two games have been solid ones for that top line. Despite being on the ice for both of New York's goals, Lucic, Krejci and Horton responded with a big third period.
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Boston entered the final 20 minutes of regulation with a 3-2 lead before Lucic and Horton scored 49 seconds apart at the 4:34 and 5:23 marks, respectively. Then Krejci added an empty-net goal at 17:12.
It's apparent the trio is finding its game and the Bruins desperately need that.
"It was a game for us, as a line, and it felt good," Horton said. "We were moving the puck and had lots of chances and that's how we're expected to play, and that's how we want to play. When we are playing like that it definitely makes it a lot more fun and it'll give us a lot more chances to help our team."
Krejci is also playing like a top-line center and now has six points in the past two games.
"Our last two games have been real strong ones," he said. "We're happy with the result, but there are some things we can still correct. We'll work on it and we'll be better the next game."
The Bruins are in the midst of a five-game homestand and it began with Monday's victory over the Islanders. Boston will host the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday.
"We need to focus, again, on a young team that has a lot of explosiveness coming in on Thursday, and a team that's off to a really good start," Julien said. "No reason for us to kind of put ourselves in cruise [control] now. We've just got to keep going and battling through it."
Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.