January 25, 2011

Bruins blanking shines spotlight on Horton's lengthy cold streak

by Jesse Connolly

Bruins winger Nathan Horton. (Getty)

Looking back, it's hard to blame Bruins fans for rejoicing on Nov. 18 at TD Garden. In a 4-0 win over the visiting Panthers, Nathan Horton racked up three assists to give himself 18 points in his first 17 games in Black and Gold.

 The 17,565 on hand that night reveled in the moment, as Horton stuck it to his former squad. While nothing preposterous as a "Thank you, Wideman" chant broke out --in reference to the supposed pylon offensively gifted but occasionally mistake-prone blueliner they were convinced had netted them their new savior -- the questions were obvious.

 Why in God's name would Florida, regardless of how disinterested Horton was in continuing his career there, ever fathom shipping him out of town? How many potential great years of Horton's elite talent had gone to waste in the Sunshine State?

 Bypassing their pencils and various other writing utensils, B's fans were ready to carve the trade that sent both Horton and Gregory Campbell to Boston in stone as one of the most lopsided swaps in recent NHL history.

 Considering how the last 30 games have gone, however, those same fans might be in need of a sandblaster. During that span, Horton has just ten points, having put just four pucks into the opposition's net. He currently finds himself mired in a stretch that has seen him score just once in 19 games.

 It's hardly a tall task to come up with excuses for the 25-year-old winger's prolonged slump.

 His rotating cast of linemates have also endured prolonged struggles, highlighted by David Krejci, Milan Lucic and once-again concussed center Marc Savard. He's been battling an undisclosed injury, one that cost him two games earlier this month. And, from time-to-time, No. 18 has just been downright unlucky or flat-out robbed in his numerous bids to get off the schnide.

 But excuses only carry you so far. Facts are facts. Nathan Horton is being paid a hefty sum of money to score goals and is failing to do so.

 "I think right now we need some guys to step up and start scoring some goals for us, and not be relying on the same people all the time," B's coach Claude Julien said after the team's 2-0 loss to the Kings on Monday night, one in which his team rarely tested LA's netminder, Jon Quick.

 While determining where Julien's finger was figuratively pointing with that comment is hard to nail down, as Krejci has gone without a goal in 15-straight contests and Blake Wheeler currently has just one tally in his last 13 games. Horton's cold-streak, however, still takes the cake.

 "I felt that we need guys to step up and start to score," Julien added. "Guys that are known for that. Tonight was one of those nights when we really needed those guys to come up big for us and there wasn't much."

 In the setback at the Staples Center -- his fourth-straight game with a minus-1 rating after leading the team in plus-minus for a prolonged stretch to start the season -- Horton put just a single puck on net.

 For the former No. 3 overall pick, the shots and the effort -- for the most part -- have been there. Anyone who thinks Horton doesn't want to break out of this funk is simply delusional. But, it's nights like Monday that make many wonder when it will come to an end.

 Another area worth examining for the Bruins winger is his hit total. Never a physical force down in Florida, Horton has already eclipsed his total of 34 hits last season, as he currently sits on 37 through his first 47 games.

 However, the statisticians on hand at the Garden have either been astronomically generous, or those on hand at other barns are blatant cheapskates when it comes to crediting a player with a hit.

 In 24 home games, Horton has 29 hits, leaving him with just eight in the 23 tilts outside of TD Garden.

 Bias issues aside, the fact remains that Horton's contributions to the team are minimal when he's not finding the back of the net. He's hardly a hitting machine. He averages a blocked shot every six-or-so games. He's spent a grand total of one minute and fifty seconds on the penalty kill.

 Not a single one of those limitations -- if you feel it's okay to justifiably call them that -- would matter if Horton can get back to putting up points on a consistent basis.

 "At one point you can get away with it for so long," Julien said, referring to some of his go-to players not contributing offensively.

 "But there's been some guys that have been dry for a while that we need to step up."

 By now, given Julien's somewhat-demanding words and the abundance of media attention Horton's (and the rest of his fellow "dry" guys) struggles have received, the 6-foot-2 winger is assuredly aware of what's expected of him here in Boston.

Until the next time he makes a splash on the score-sheet, however, that win back in November over the Panthers will only seem more and more like a distant memory.