Torey Krug celebrates his first goal of the season. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
On his 44th shot on goal of the season, Torey Krug finally scored his first goal. Dating back to last season, it was his first goal in 27 games, ending the longest drought of his young career.
If Krug were a forward, this would all be a pretty big deal. Given that he’s an offensive defensemen who has scored 26 goals over the last two season, it’s still at least noteworthy. Krug insists he wasn’t giving the drought much thought, though.
“I wasn’t really too worried about it, especially with a few more minutes being played,” Krug said. “My number one job is always defense and that’s been good so far. I can always improve, but it’s nice to get the first one.”
Krug is right, of course. Even if he is an offensive defenseman, he is still, first and foremost, a defenseman. In the past, it was easy to overlook that fact. Krug was often used in situations that catered to his strengths and shielded his question marks (he got a lot of offensive zone starts and faced mostly third and fourth lines), so his defensive game wasn’t exactly facing tough tests.
This season has been different, though. Krug hasn’t been nearly as sheltered as he has been in the past. Given the lack of true top-four defensemen on the Boston blue line, Krug has had to play a bigger role. According to war-on-ice.com, Krug has an offensive zone start percentage of 53.25 percent this year vs. 59.97 percent last year, and only Zdeno Chara has faced tougher quality of competition among Bruins defensemen. Oh, and Krug is second on the B’s in average time on ice (again behind only Chara).
Krug said he has embraced the challenge and pointed out that playing against first and second lines might actually suit his game in a way people wouldn’t necessarily notice.
“You go out there and play hockey that is more suitable to my type of game,” Krug said. “Playing against top-two line guys, they think the same way that I think. How hockey should be played ‘ it’s more fun to play that.”
Krug has been far from perfect in his expanded, tougher role. As Claude Julien pointed out after the game, Krug has had a couple rough games just like everyone else. He has a 47.59 Corsi-for percentage and minus-2.81 relative Corsi-for percentage. For comparison’s sake, he was 53.12 percent and plus-2.54 in those same categories last year.
Some dropoff in Krug’s possession numbers had to be expected as he moved up in the lineup. On their own, his numbers this year mark a bigger dropoff than anyone would like. But you also have to take into account that Krug has played mostly with Adam McQuaid this season (156 of his 258 5-on-5 minutes entering Saturday were with McQuaid).
McQuaid has never been very good in a top-four role when he’s had to move out of his third-pairing comfort zone, and this season hasn’t been much different. So it’s worth pointing out that Krug’s Corsi-for percentage has actually been over 50 percent this season when he’s been with someone other than McQuaid. (And by the way, Krug’s second-most common partner this season is Kevan Miller, who is a fairly similar player to McQuaid.)
Krug is obviously never going to say anything negative about any defensive partner, and for his part, he pointed out that playing with a more stay-at-home partner allows him to get more involved in the offense. But it’s also interesting to think about a pairing of Krug with someone who’s more skilled offensively and in transition. Krug said he thinks that could work.
“You can play with both,” Krug said. “I played a little bit with Dougie [Hamilton] last year, not much obviously. This year I’ve had some shifts with Colin Miller, who likes to push the puck up a little bit. But I like playing with [McQuaid and Kevan Miller]. They understand how it works. Move the puck up and I’m able to join. When those guys are moving the puck north and south, it allows me to jump into the play a little bit more.”
Regardless of who Krug plays with or what his possession numbers are or what kind of minutes he plays, one thing that should be there the rest of the season for Krug is his offense. Conventional wisdom would tell you that Krug hadn’t scored before Saturday because he’s playing tougher minutes and has to focus on defense more and he’s not getting as many chances.
That makes sense, but the numbers don’t really back it up. The reality is that Krug is actually taking more shots on goal this season (2.75 per game) than last season (2.63). So he’s still getting his chances. They just weren’t going in. His goal Saturday night should pave the way for more shots to start going in.