ST. LOUIS — After invoking his no-trade clause to block a deal to Philadelphia last summer, St. Louis Blues defenseman Torey Krug knew the pressure would be on him to perform this season.
So when Krug went without a point in the first 10 games, and the power-play unit he quarterbacks was last in the NHL, he had to be feeling it, right?
“To be honest with you, it wasn’t that tough for me because mentally I felt good, and I knew I was getting chances,” Krug said. “A lot of times when you’re a guy that collects assists, it depends on the guys finishing those plays. I felt like I was creating. Obviously, I could’ve taken control of the power play a little bit more. There could have been more execution.
“All the other stuff is just outside noise. So maybe not to get any points in those first few games, maybe the noise on the outside is a little bit louder, but I didn’t pay attention to that. I’m just here to do my job and just work hard and that’s what I did in practice. I’m trying to be out early and work on my game, and I think it’s translating.”
Is it ever.
With two flicks of the wrist on Tuesday, Krug assisted on goals by Jordan Kyrou and Jakub Vrana to open a 5-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Enterprise Center, the Blues’ fifth win in their last six games.
In those six games, the Blues have averaged 4.5 goals per game (third in the league in that span) on 32.7 shots per game (seventh), and right in the middle of it is Krug, who has six points (one goal, five assists).
Also in those six games, Krug is a plus-10, making him a plus-8 this season after being a minus-26 in 2022-23. While averaging 21 minutes and 17 seconds of ice time this season, he’s been on the ice for 12 even-strength goals for this season and just six against.
Krug said this is the most confident he’s felt since signing a seven-year, $45.5 million contract with the Blues in 2020.
“Yeah, I’d say on both sides of the puck, for sure,” he said. “There was a couple years there where I felt really good offensively. On the power play, I was building chemistry with some guys that are gone now. But right now, on both sides of the puck, I feel good. It’s about bottling it up and keeping it going.”
The Blues were leading Tampa Bay 1-0 on a goal by Colton Parayko in the second period Tuesday. The Lightning would outshoot them 15-8 in the period, but within a 19-second span late in the frame, Krug helped open a 3-0 lead.
First, it was a stretch pass to Kyrou.
“It’s chemistry play, no talking (on the ice),” Krug said. “We’ve talked over the years, and if he sees that I get the puck in transition, he can take off and I’ll try to get it to him. Obviously, he saw open ice and he made a great move on the breakaway.”
If you freeze the screen, Kyrou’s not even in the picture when Krug is making the long up-ice feed.
But with Tampa Bay changing lines on the sequence, Krug is able to thread a pass through the Lightning players and hit Kyrou at the offensive blue line.
Kyrou walked in all alone and beat Tampa Bay goalie Jonas Johansson for his third goal of the season.
“It’s fun to see those guys when they’re skating like that and they get rewarded,” Krug said. “When the puck goes in, you can tell their confidence goes up a little bit.”
In the Blues’ game at Colorado on Nov. 1, they were trailing just 2-1 in the third period when Krug attempted a similar pass. The Avalanche, however, picked it off and turned it into a goal for a 3-1 lead. The Blues fell 4-1.
“Sometimes those don’t go in and you have to understand you’ve got to keep making those plays and keep getting your skilled guys the puck,” Krug said. “That’s my job to give our skilled guys, our forwards, the puck cleanly so that they can make plays. If I do that over time, the puck is going to go in.”
Krug wasn’t done Tuesday against Tampa Bay. In fact, he struck again on the next shift.
Coming down the left side, Krug felt if he could get the puck to Vrana, it could likely be a goal.
“I don’t think there’s many guys in the league that score off that pass,” he said. “Obviously ‘V’ is a goal scorer. It’s in his DNA. He just found a good spot and made a heck of a shot.”
Here’s a look at the view Krug had of Vrana.
“I knew it,” Vrana said. “He saw me. I was ready for it. It was a great pass. He had his head up all the time. I just looked for that area to find the spot to be there for that pass.”
But again, Krug said if it wasn’t Vrana at the other end, he might not have made the pass.
“Yeah it’s funny, it happens so quick, but that is something I thought about,” he said. “You’ve got to give him all the credit to get it on and off his stick quickly.”
The Blues got two more goals and Jordan Binnington made all 30 saves for a shutout. They had 26 blocks, including five by Krug, which was tied for the team lead Tuesday.
“Yeah, he’s been working hard,” Binnington said. “You can see it every single day behind the scenes. He’s aggressive, he’s finding a way to make stuff happen. We love ‘Tor.’ He seems like a man on a mission. Love to be around a guy like that, right?”
Coach Craig Berube has said on several occasions that Krug is playing “highly competitive” on defense this season, and Krug agrees with that.
“For sure, D-zone denials, playing well at the blueline with good gaps and forcing teams to make good passes to beat you,” he said. “So D-zone denials and then closing quick in the D-zone. When you see guys that are bobbling pucks and their backs are turned to you, you want to close quick and don’t give them a lot of time and space and I feel like I’ve done a good job of that.”
Krug credited the Blues’ new defensive system, one that he’s played most of his career, for the confidence he’s playing with in his own end.
“If you do make a mistake, there’s another layer behind you to put out the fire,” he said. “If I do get beat, I know (Justin Faulk) is there, or our lower forward is there as well, to help in the D zone. Those added layers definitely give guys more confidence.”
But Berube also made it known publicly that the club needed more from Krug offensively.
“I didn’t know he said that,” Krug said. “Like I said, I feel like I was creating, but obviously it’s on me to create cleaner chances for guys. My job is to create offense, and that’s what I get paid to do.”
It’s been happening, however, in the last four games.
“I think he’s just making the plays through the neutral zone,” Berube said. “They’re clean, smart plays, and then offensively, he’s shooting a lot of pucks. He’s getting open looks on the blue line and shooting pucks.”
Back in September, Krug insisted that the reason he invoked his no-trade clause was because he wanted to be part of the solution. And, at the moment, he is.
Torey Krug spoke to the media today for the first time since invoking his no-trade clause to prevent a trade to Philadelphia this summer.
Here’s what he had to say … https://t.co/z9vr6ouQGI #stlblues
— Jeremy Rutherford (@jprutherford) September 27, 2023
“Very important,” Berube said. “The conversations we had with him about what went on in the summer … he was all good. He was ready to go and play for the Blues and be a big part of this team, and he’s showing it.
“He’s always been a team guy and a guy that understood or admitted that he wasn’t playing good enough. He’s not a guy that shies away from that. It shows a lot of character on his side.”
The full circle feels good, Krug admitted.
“Obviously the hockey world, it’s a crazy thing how things work out,” he said. “Right now, what are we … 15 games in? It’s going well and we’re winning hockey games, even without the power play that I’m a part of. If we can get that clicking, you feel like you’re more a part of the solution.
“Right now I’m being relied on on both ends of the ice, and it feels good to be involved. I was just trying to control what I can, and that’s with a good attitude and show up and work. It’s all about winning hockey games. Everything disappears if you win games.”
(Photo of Torey Krug passing around Nicholas Paul: Jeff Roberson / Associated Press)