They skate on the top line for a reason. It's not by accident.
The trio of David Krejci, Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic are the drivers of the Black and Gold bus, and when they all have their feet planted firmly on the pedal, the passengers behind them follow suit.
|KIL is MIA: B's need their top line to make an impact in Game 4 and beyond (via CSNNE.com)|
So when those same three players can't find their way to the wheel, dictate their rhythm, and set the pace of the game, the whole team stutters.
That has been the case through three games played vs Montreal for the KIL line. They've been largely invisible through the course of the series, only popping out from your TV screen every now and then. They aren't throwing the body around to free up space (Lucic), they aren't capitalizing on their scoring chances in close (Iginla), and they aren't setting up possession in the offensive zone with their elite puck-handling (Krejci).
Put all three together, and what you have is a line that is playing through a serious rut at the worst time possible.
The trio of players only managed four shots-on-goal combined in Game 3. Looking at the advanced stats from Extraskater.com, the three players recorded the worst corsi of the Bruins top-three lines. Iginla (52.9%) and Lucic (51.6%) were on the right side of 50, but just barely. Krejci finished at 48.6%, meaning that when Krejci was on the ice, the Habs had more shot attempts on the Bruins net than Boston had towards Carey Price, alluding to the fact that the line was unable to maintain possession of the puck. You can't generate a shot towards the net without having the puck.
For more comparative reasons, the only Bruins skaters to finish with a corsi rating below 50% were Andrej Meszaros, Kevan Miller (two defensemen) and the Merlot line of Greg Campbell, Jordan Caron and Shawn Thornton.
Iginla did get credit for Boston's second goal late in the third, with Lucic recording the secondary assist on the play, but it goes without saying that it was too little too late. Same can be said about Boston's season if the all three players don't turn their game around, and fast.
Krejci has only one assist thus far the Habs. Iginla has only the aforementioned goal. Lucic has one goal and one assist, but his lone tally came as the empty-netter at the end of Game 2. Five points combined through three games between your most explosive and dominate set of skaters is not going to win you many games.
|Lucic is checked by Alexi Emelin in Game 3 (via ESPN.com)|
Going up against fellow Czech countryman in Thomas Plekanec, Krejci has had his work cut out for him through three games played, and it's been Plekanec so far who's won the battle on the ice. Krejci got killed in the face-off circle in Game 2, going 4-14 through the night and only getting off one recorded shot on goal.
As for Iginla and Lucic, the two players need to rediscover their physicality in the corners, along the boards and at the front of the net. Iginla has ringed the post with a few of his shots, which don't show up on the stat sheet as a shot-on-goal (which is why I am more willing to look at the corsi rating rather than SOG). Ringing of the pipes can mean that Iginla may be squeezing the stick too much in trying to pick a corner on Carey Price, a result of the 26-year-old netminder playing out of his mind for most of the series.
Milan Lucic will need to remind the skaters in red sweaters tonight that they cannot take the puck without expecting a crunching hit to come. When Lucic moves his feet and builds up the steam, he can land wicked body checks that'll make players think twice before holding onto the puck a second longer next shift out. The expectation that a hard hit will draw an automatic penalty call at the Bell Centre hampered the Bruins' most physical line.
All three players have to rediscover a missing aspect of their respective play in Game 4 tonight if the Bruins are to come out on the winning side of things. Another loss to the Habs would spell an almost certain death to an incredible season much too soon.