WILMINGTON, Mass. — Nathan Horton’s play of late has been filled with so much ferocity, you’d think someone just recently got around to telling him that Massachusetts, unlike Florida, collects state income tax.
However, Horton’s orneriness has been limited to the rink and not the dressing room or his life — as evidenced by his still ever-present smile and easy-going off-ice demeanor. And he thinks his more rugged approach to the game is more a product of his teammates rubbing off on him.
“I think that’s just our team style. We all play better [when we’re physical]. I’m no different,” he said after practice today at Ristuccia Arena.
While Horton was getting scoring chances throughout January and early February, he was rarely in the so-called “dirty areas” of the ice with the puck or with his linemates in a scoring position. For reasons he says he can’t quite explain, the last couple weeks have featured more battles in front of the net and along the walls than maybe he totaled throughout the season’s first four months.
With more physicality has come more production for Horton, who is riding a five-game points streak into Montreal for Tuesday night’s game. Over this last eight games, he has at least one point in seven — for 4-4-8 totals.
“I think I was [playing that way before] but I think I’m just being more physical. I’m trying to finish every check I can and it’s tough playing like that,” said Horton, who said he’s feeling injury-free despite the increase in hits and punches. “You have to get pumped up for the game and that’s the way I’ve got to play. That’s the way I want to play, and it’s more fun when you play that way anyway even if you’re not scoring. It’s more fun.”
Maybe playing on a team with not just playoff aspirations but championship goals at this time of year has helped Horton raise his all-around playing level. His new style has even led to him setting a new career-high (according to hockeyfights.com) for scraps with five. His latest was a rematch with Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams, who Horton fought way back in 2006. Horton’s previous career-high for fights in a season was three (2007-08) and he hadn’t earned a fighting major since the 2008 preseason before pulling on the Bruins sweater.
“I don’t know. It just kind of happens,” said Horton in trying to explain why he’s fighting more than ever. “And when you get more, you feel good. It just happens.”
Regardless of how things are going, Horton always seems to “feel good.” But his recent play and rough stuff is making the Bruins’ organization and fans feel much more satisfied about paying Horton for his services.