There were moments in the first 40 minutes of the Boston Bruins’ 6-2 win Monday over the New York Islanders when the Spoked Ones looked like they truly had recaptured their Stanley Cup form.
They were opportunistic. Ninety-two seconds in, Jordan Caron intercepted a sloppy Milan Jurcina pass, and threw it to net. Evgeni Nabokov lost the puck at his feet, and Benoit Pouliot pushed it into the goal for his first point as a Bruin.
They were nifty. Patrice Bergeron took care of that with a tape-to-taper to Tyler Seguin through Big Dig-like traffic. Seguin converted on the attempt with ease.
They even scored on the power play. Nathan Horton earned the tally, scooping the rebound from Zdeno Chara’s point shot, moving backhand to fore, and blistering a wrister by Nabokov.
But there were subtle reminders of what Boston has been through the first weeks of the 2011-12 season.
The win bumped Boston out of a tie with New York for last place in the Eastern Conference. While the advancement in the standings is a good thing for Boston, the fact that the Bruins are climbing from the basement right after a league championship is startling.
The reasons for those early struggles have been well documented, and chief among them was shaky play from David Krejci’s line, with Horton and Milan Lucic at his wings.
Aside from the power-play tally, the threesome did little of note through the first two periods. While Bergeron, Seguin, and Brad Marchand found holes in New York’s porous defense, Krejci’s line struggled with possession and lapsed in the defensive zone.
The juxtaposition between the units was sharp. Through 40 minutes, Bergeron’s line amassed nine shots on goal with a combined plus-three rating. The group was robbed repeatedly by Nabokov’s replacement, Al Montoya, in the second period. If not for Montoya’s play, the damage could’ve been catastrophic for New York –– that unit was even more dangerous than their nine shots on goal suggests.
Then there was Krejci’s line. The group had five shots on goal, including Horton’s power-play conversion, which is nothing to sneeze at. But the unit was a combined minus-six, and if anything, looked shakier than the numbers might suggest.
The unit’s passes seemed to be inches off every time. At one point, Krejci saucered a pass to Lucic from the right wall to the slot. There wasn’t a white jersey near either player, and yet the frisbee pass zipped right over Lucic’s stick.
The next shift, Krejci slid a pass from behind the net to Horton, only the power forward’s tape was a few inches away from were the puck passed by.
It was like that most of the night, until the third period.
New life jolted into the group’s legs, especially Horton’s. The winger set up Lucic for a goal that put Boston up 4-2 on a play Lucic started. The Vancouver native corralled a sloppy pass from Krejci near his own blue line, and charged down the left wall. He led Horton into the zone with a pass that spun around one defender, then blew past the other toward the left post.
Horton hit him perfectly in stride, leaving Montoya zero chance for a save.
“[Horton] showed a lot of patience waiting for me to get back in the play and get open there,” Lucic said. “When he gets it on my stick like that with an open net, it’s an easy goal. That’s a great play by him. He was on tonight.
Later in the same shift, Horton struck for the second time. The second-year Bruin posted himself in Montoya’s grill, and deflected a point shot from Joe Corvo into the goalie’s leg pads. Horton chased down the rebound, spun, and rifled the shot by a downed Montoya to put Boston up 5-2.
Islander coach Jack Capuano pulled Montoya with about three minutes left, and Krejci converted on an empty net chance of moderate difficulty, blazing past a pair of Isle defenders before backhanding an off-angle shot in for the 6-2 advantage.
The group finished a combined plus-three. Horton picked up an assist with his two goals, while Krejci finished 1-2 – 3 and Lucic 1-1 – 1.
Most notably, their third period performance was little short of brilliant. The chances continued to flow after Horton’s second goal, as the unit shined defensively and in the neutral zone, allowing their offensive talents to take flight inside New York’s blue line.
“I think we’ve addressed a lot of the problems and the mistakes we were making,” Lucic said. “A lot of it came form our neutral zone play, our defensive zone play and just in our effort and puck distribution to . . . make a good decision with it has been much better.”
In particular, Horton is rediscovering his form as a top-line winger. He talked last week at length about his struggles rebounding from a concussion suffered during the Cup finals. It took a while for his game to return, and now, it appears it has. And as goes Horton, so to goes his line.
“I have been trying,” Horton said. “Things just kind of went my way tonight. Like I said, it makes you feel good [to get points]. I don’t want to just have one game. I want to keep getting better and keeping doing that every night.”