Marcus Kruger doesn’t typically show much emotion, but a smile crept across his face when he was asked about his goal in Friday’s 3-2 loss to the Predators.
“It felt good to get the goal,” Kruger said. “I’m not going to lie about that.”
It felt especially good for Kruger considering it was his first goal since Game 2 of the 2015 Western Conference finals. During the drought, he played 41 games and had surgery to repair a dislocated left wrist that he recovered from late last season.
Finally, Kruger was back on the board. It was a good sign for the Hawks and Kruger, who is in the first year of a three-year deal that is paying him nearly $3.1 million a year – more than double what his salary was last season. That amount of money is a lot to pay for a defense-first forward like Kruger, but Kruger said he is not feeling added pressure to increase his scoring numbers because of the new contract.
“I got the contract for the things I’ve been doing in the past,” Kruger said. “You always want to do more. I don’t think that has anything to do with contract or not. You always want to do more for your team. … Obviously I want to prove that they made the right choice in giving me that contract.”
One reason the Hawks gave Kruger that contract was his penalty-killing ability. Last season, the Hawks penalty kill was one of the worst in the league when Kruger was hurt. He helped it regain respectability.
But so far this season, the kill has been a disaster. The Hawks have allowed seven power-play goals in three games for a kill rate of just 46.1 percent.
“We’re going to have tough stretches,” Kruger said. “It hasn’t been good enough – hasn’t been close to being good. We have to battle through it and it’s going to be a process to getting it.
“A lot of it has to do with our confidence.”
But the Hawks have confidence Kruger can help them figure it out – he said the Hawks have to improve getting in the shooting lanes and blocking shots.
He remains a reliable defensive presence who can mix with any linemates on the Hawks checking line. Kruger led the Hawks in defensive zone starts a season ago and is tied for first in that statistic again this season, according to hockeyreference.com.
“Whether he’s scoring or not you know you have some predictability,” coach Joel Quenneville said. “You have him starting a lot of times in his own end. No matter who you’re playing with, and we expect some production from everybody, he gives you that reliability defensively, but it’s nice to see him score.”
The more he can score the better for the Hawks, but that’s not what the Hawks are paying him for.