Torey Krug flashing huge upside

BOSTON -- Entering his first full season in the NHL, Boston Bruins defenseman Torey Krug knew he would endure the normal growing pains of playing at this level.

His game wouldn't be as stellar as he would like it to be on a consistent basis, and the success he enjoyed during the Stanley Cup playoffs last spring would only serve as a learning experience. The 22-year-old has dealt with the ebbs and flows of his rookie season, and he has admittedly struggled at both ends of the ice.

After missing Friday's practice for a maintenance day, he was in the lineup Saturday and produced a three-point game to help the Bruins to 4-1 victory over the Winnipeg Jets at TD Garden.

"He was terrible -- two goals, one assist," Bruins coach Claude Julien said with a smile. "He handled himself well. He played well. When he's on top of his game offensively he makes things happen."

Until Krug's first goal of the game went in at 3 minutes, 8 seconds of the second period, he hadn't scored since Dec. 8 at Toronto, a span of 11 goalless games. His second goal of the game and 10th of the season came at 7:18 of the second period. He joins Bobby Orr, Ray Bourque and Greg Hawgood as rookie defensemen for the Bruins to score 10 goals in his first season.

Saturday's matinee was Krug's third multipoint game of the season, and he now has 10 goals and 13 assists for 23 points in 42 games. His three-point effort Saturday was a career high for a regular-season game.

Krug's assist was more impressive than his two goals against the Jets. He threaded a pass to teammate Daniel Paille, who was waiting on the off post and pumped in Boston's first goal to tie the game at 1-1 at 14:06 of the first period.

"I saw him look at me the whole way, so if he didn't pass it to me I would've been very surprised, he would have fooled me, for sure," Paille said. "That's the type of player he is, he's got that offensive ability and that offensive skill to even pass it through two or three guys. It was a good, smart play by him."

At times this season, it appeared as if Krug was struggling with his confidence, but Julien doesn't think that's been the case.

"His confidence will never lack," Julien said. "He's very assured by what he can bring. When you talk to him about parts of his game he has to improve, he acknowledges it but it certainly doesn't affect the rest of his game."

After a tough stretch in the past month, Krug felt having a game like this would help his confidence. He said it has been frustrating not being able to help offensively, and that the pressure to score has been getting to him.

"A little bit," he said. "Any time you aren't contributing the way maybe you were before it can get frustrating. All you can do is help the team win, and when you're not contributing, it's tough, but it is a good feeling when you get the first one."

His ability to skate with the puck, control the play and create quality scoring chances is evident when Krug's playing at his best. When he's able to contribute that way, he adds a certain flow to the game from both a defensive and offensive perspective.

"He makes you aware that you might try to get the puck back sooner than you think, so it definitely changes our dynamic a little bit back on defense," Paille said, "but he does so many things well offensively and he's starting to contribute defensively for us, which has been huge for our whole system, our whole team."

Earlier in the week, Krug learned that he did not earn a roster spot on Team USA for the upcoming Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Because of his inconsistent play this season, he admitted he wasn't surprised. He said his main concern was improving his game for the Bruins.

Some of the aspects he's been working on include limiting his turnovers, making better decisions with the puck and improving his overall defensive game.

"He really feels like he needs to make a play every time he's got the puck, and sometimes it's just about making the safe play and it doesn't always have to be a big play, and that's where Torey's trying to improve his game," Julien said.

Since Krug has dealt with inconsistencies this season, Julien was asked how the young defenseman has handled those situations. But the coach backed his player and spoke in a positive manner about Krug's overall game.

"We're nitpicking here. ... He's had a great year," Julien said. "He's a good player for us. We're talking about different things that we want to see him improve in and those are areas he's heard from us, but he ranks pretty high for a guy in his first year."

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask has the best vantage point and has seen Krug improve this season.

"He's been pretty solid," Rask said. "Obviously everybody goes through tough games and tough stretches. It happens to everybody, but I think for the most part he's been a great threat offensively. Defensively, he's really good and improving all the time."

For years, the Bruins' power-play unit was ineffective and did not produce the way it should have. It has improved greatly this season -- improving from 26th in efficiency in 2012-13 to sixth -- and one reason for that is Krug's presence.

"He's been a great asset to our hockey club, an asset we had been looking for for a long time," Julien said.