[dropcap]G[/dropcap]oing into Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final, the Bruins coaching staff will be faced with a decision that they probably never envisioned having to make – to bench rookie defenseman Torey Krug, or not to bench rookie defenseman Torey Krug?
The 22-year old Krug burst onto the scene for the Bruins during their Eastern Conference Semifinals series against the Rangers, during which Krug was called up on an emergency basis to fill in for injured defensemen Dennis Seidenberg, Andrew Ference and Wade Redden.
Krug, a former two-year captain at Michigan State who chose to sign with the Bruins in 2012 after going undrafted, scored four goals in his first five playoff games against the Rangers. The kid became a star, an unlikely hero to say the least.
Despite his small stature (he stands at 5’8, 180 lbs), Krug’s skating and puck-handling abilities combined with his willingness to put the puck on net helped him quickly become an offensive force for the Bruins, especially on a power play unit desperately searching for a spark.
Krug helped the Bruins finished off the Rangers in five games and move on to face the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. By the time the Bruins defensive corps was back to full strength, Krug had proved that he deserved a spot in the top six. Matt Bartkowski, who also played quite well in the absence of Bruins starters, had become the odd-man out and became a healthy scratch
And while the Bruins managed to systematically dismantle the heavily favored Penguins in a four-game sweep, Krug cooled off – tallying just one point (an assist) during the conference finals. Fans waited for another offensive surge from the youngster, but it never came.
Despite this, he was still solid enough on both ends of the ice to make sure that nobody forgot the success he had against the Rangers. He kept the pitchforks at bay, at least until Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final.
Throughout the course of Wednesday’s Cup Final opener, Krug quickly transitioned from “blooming young star” to “inexperienced, jittery rookie” in the eyes of many Bruins fans. He finished a -2 in Game 1, on the ice for Chicago’s second goal and their triple OT game-winner.
His worst sequence came on Dave Bolland’s goal midway through the third period, the goal that sparked Chicago’s late comeback. After Adam McQuaid collected a Chicago clearing effort in the Bruins defensive zone, McQuaid fed Krug a pass by the side boards. Krug then attempted a long, cross-ice pass to a waiting Kaspars Daugavins in the neutral zone, a pass that was quickly intercepted by Andrew Shaw along the Bruins blue line.
Shaw skated it into the zone on a 3-on-2 opportunity and fed it cross-ice to a waiting Bolland, who one-timed the pass into a wide open net. Krug’s turnover was awful (he later said he was too nervous to go up the boards because of a potential too many men call) but he missed the chance to make up for it by somehow letting Shaw’s centering pass get by him. It was a very rookie-esque turn of events.
It was undoubtedly Krug’s worst performance in a Bruins uniform, and one that has forced the coaching staff to at least consider other options.
The Bruins offense has been producing without Krug on the ice over the past five games, so if the B’s feel comfortable with where the offense is at and want to tighten up on defense, Matt Bartkowski is waiting in the wings. He’s bigger and more disciplined in the defensive end and gives the Bruins a better chance to clean up in front of Tuukka Rask.
Bartkowski was a huge reason the Bruins managed to stop the bleeding against the Leafs in Game 7 of the opening round after Dennis Seidenberg went down. Despite limited playing time in the previous six games, Bartkowski was one of the Bruins best defensemen on the ice during the epic comeback.
But Bartkowski doesn’t bring the offensive prowess to the point that Krug does, and he doesn’t have the skating ability of Krug, rendering him potentially susceptible to Chicago’s fast-paced offense.
So what it basically comes down to is whether or not the Bruins view Krug as a defensive liability at this point. If so, he needs to get real comfortable with some pine because Chicago will continue to eat him up. With only two games left to give, the Bruins can’t afford to fall victim to any more mental lapses in their own zone, especially with the ‘Hawks high-powered attack. As we saw in Game 1, those mistakes will cost you games.
It’ll be interesting to see whether the Bruins give Krug a shot to redeem himself and if he can manage to do just that, or whether Bartkowski gets the call and can match up against Chicago’s quick forwards. Whatever the case, the stakes are high and the pressure is on for that final defensive spot.