Since being benched for the final 4:34 of regulation and overtime in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Capitals December 28, Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug has been on a mission to reshape his game and how his is defined on the ice. In a recent one-on-one interview with CLNSMedia.com, Krug discussed how he’s done just that and earned the trust of head coach Bruce Cassidy and his teammates in crucial situations, becoming a better two-way defenseman and silencing the naysayers.
During the second half of this season, Krug – who has always been known for his offensive prowess – has proven to Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins brass and most importantly to the numerous naysayers, that he is more than just an offensive defenseman. The guy who burst onto the NHL scene with four goals and two assists over 15 games during the Bruins’ run to the 2013 Stanley Cup Final, is now, five years later, not only depended on to create offense and produce points, but to shut down some of the top players in the NHL.
This season Krug tied a career high of 14 goals and set a career high in assists while recording 59 points. Krug however isn’t really interested in discussing his offensive accomplishments these days.
“People just assumed I was a power play specialist who could only produce offense and play against other teams fourth lines,” Krug recalled. “I’ve worked really hard though over the years to become that top four guy that plays 200 feet and now I’m being trusted to play against other teams’ top lines. It’s been a long journey but I still have a couple checkmarks to go.”
Following that benching against the Caps back on December 28, Cassidy didn’t mince words as to why he decided benching one of his offensive weapons for 3-on-3 overtime and the shootout was necessary.
“I don’t know if it happens overnight in terms of if it’s a confidence issue,” Cassidy said. “I see a guy who needs to use his feet more, and I don’t think it’s different than a lot of defensemen we’ve talked about over this year, last year. So at the end of the day, that’s why he didn’t play, but at the same token it’s about making players better.”
As he always does, Cassidy made sure to note that he wasn’t singling out Krug or laying the blame solely on him but simply telling it like it is to make sure player and coach were on the same page.
“It’s not personal. It’s about what we need certain individuals to do to be better and get their game where it needs to be. When he is skating and assertive, he is killing plays with his stick and his brain and his feet, then he’s a good player, because he’s good in transition. He can be effective for us.”
Krug clearly took those critiques to heart and took it upon himself to be a more complete player. After finding his game in January and February, Krug ramped up the offense with 21 points in 20 games but more importantly found himself on the ice against the likes of Lightning superstar Steven Stamkos or Jets budding star Mark Sheifele. During this first round series with the Maple Leafs he’s been assigned to shut down Toronto’s top players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri. He, like the rest of the team did, struggled in Game 3 as he was on the ice for three of the Leafs’ four goals, but based on comments by Cassidy after Game 1, the coach won’t have any issues going back to him in a shutdown role if needed. Krug’s defensive game has drastically improved and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.
“The easy answer to that and obviously the things that come to mind are power play acumen, offensive ability, quick transition and forwards are going to like playing with him because he can move the puck up and get them some pucks in good spots,” Cassidy said when asked about Krug’s game this season. Offensive blue line work, he’s a guy that’s going to get it on net and around the net and create offense.
The thing that I’ve seen in Torey since the middle of the year and more late in the year that pleased me, was when our top D went out, whether it was Charlie [McAvoy] or ‘Z’ [Chara], he stepped up against top lines,” Cassidy pointed out. [Sasha] Barkov’s line, Stamkos’ line, whatever line it was, he got more responsibility and responded well. A hard game, a more sound defensive game first and then worry about offense.”
Krug’s desire to continually improve his defensive game and to play against elite forwards has impressed Cassidy.
“It’s good to know that he has that and wants it, because we’ll give him more. ‘Z’ is our guy; but every night it’s difficult and there’s a lot nights, you’ve got two or three lines – this is a great example, Toronto – so he’s gonna have to play,” Cassidy said. “Look at [Game 1], I said ‘you’re gonna have to play against [Nazem] Kadri and [Mitch] Marner – well whoa! Those guys aren’t bad ya know – or [Auston] Matthews and he stepped up to the challenge. That’s what we want out of him.
I think we saw some of that in the middle of the year and second half of the year and him taking that challenge of ‘hey! I’m not just a power play guy; I can play against other teams’ good players and shut them down. W need that throughout the lineup and that’s what Torey wants his legacy to be, he wants to be known as a two-way guy and not just an offensive guy and he’s worked hard at it.”
Krug is embracing the role and while he doesn’t want to see anymore of his teammates get injured, he will take advantage of whatever new opportunities come his way. When it was pointed out to him that he had tied and broken some Bruins records – like becoming the first Boston defenseman since Ray Bourque (1994-99) to reach the 40-point plateau in three straight seasons – Krug was honored but he was more proud of the way he has become a trusted player in shutdown situations.
“To be honest, I take more pride in being that defensive defenseman guy, just because there’s so many people that say that I can’t do it. The points and everything, all that stuff’s going to come because of the power play and playing with Bergy’s [Patrice Bergeron] line, I take a lot of pride in that as well, but being that defensive guy and being put out in every situation, I get more excited in that these days.
Jumping over in a shorthanded situation, I get really excited for that now too. It’s been a lot of fun! You get excited about certain matchups. Whether you’re lining up against Stamkos or out in Winnipeg with [Blake] Wheeler or Sheifele, a couple bigger guys, it’s just a different test every night. I take pride in being that guy and want to be that guy every night.”
Following the Bruins’ 4-2 Game 3 loss, Krug was already thinking like that guy.
“If we have guys reloading, it allows our defense to pinch and keep pucks alive,” Krug said. “At times last night, specifically myself, you pinch and all of a sudden you don’t have a guy reloading. They’re off on a two-on-one and it’s in the back of our net. Sometimes it makes you second-guess yourself. You just have to make sure we’re doing it together. When one guy goes, we all go.”
Krug has earned the trust to get the chance to apply all of that in Game 4 as the Bruins will try and bring the series back to Boston up 3-1 and with a chance to clinch in front of another raucous TD Garden crowd in Game 5 Saturday night.