Haggerty: Desperate times call for different looks on Bruins' power play

Haggerty: Desperate times call for different looks on Bruins' power play

WILMINGTON – It’s time for the Bruins players to get desperate with five games remaining in the season, so maybe it’s exactly the same for the coaching staff as well.

The Bruins are clutching tightly to a playoff spot with just one point separating them from the hardly hard-charging Detroit Red Wings, and they’ve lost six of their last seven games while struggling mightily to score goals. They have 16 goals in their last 10 games, and have hit the red lamp district for just 10 goals in their last six games as the losses mount.

Certainly some consideration should be made for the level of difficulty among their opponents: they dropped all three games in California against superior teams, and then dropped a back-to-back against the Panthers and Rangers. But the offense has run dry either way, and that’s been a team strength for Claude Julien and his Bruins all season long.

The same could be said for a Bruins power play that led the league over the first half of the season, but has dropped all the way to 9th in the NHL headed into Thursday night’s games. The once-vaunted power play managed to score in only five of the 14 games during the month of March, and has been 10-for-83 (12 percent success rate) since the beginning of February.

Couple that with a penalty kill that’s run hot and cold all season, and what you have is the Bruins are watching their special teams conspire against them late in the season. It was perfectly illustrated in Tuesday night’s loss to New Jersey when the Bruins allowed two PP goals, and went 0-for-2 on the man advantage while struggling mightily to finish off scoring plays.

It doesn’t take a Bruins Insider to know that now is the wrong time of season for the special teams to suddenly struggle.

“We need to count on our best players to be better, and hold ourselves accountable,” said Torey Krug. “All season-long our power play has won us a few games, and our penalty kill has won us a few games. We need to make sure they’re both on the same page right now.

“Personally being on the power play a little bit more [than penalty kill], I think we can definitely be better and that we want to be better. We have to have that drive and that determination that we’re taking care of business. Special teams play is crucial this time of year, and the [Devils loss] is the perfect example of it. Both units let us down, and it’s got to be better.”

So what to do about it?

The penalty kill simply needs to be grittier, smarter and better at executing in the defensive zone. The wide open chance for Travis Zajac from the slot that turned into New Jersey’s first PP goal was atrocious D-zone coverage, and featured Zdeno Chara spinning out and falling when he should have been collapsing on the shooter.

The second one was more of a bad bounce with all the PK skaters collapsing to the slot, and leaving a wide open passing seam for Zajac to find Reid Boucher headed toward the net.

But the real area of concern is a formerly dominant B’s power play that’s hit a power outage over the last couple of months. It’s pretty clear the PP struggles are a result of opposition’s coaching staffs making adjustments to a new Bruins power play formation this season, and some of those Boston pieces also struggling.

Opposing PK units have sagged down on Patrice Bergeron playing the bumper role in the slot, and a tentative-looking Ryan Spooner was removed in favor of Matt Beleskey prior to Spooner getting hurt against the Maple Leafs. Eriksson replaced Spooner on the half-wall and the gritty, hard-nosed Beleskey was installed in front of the net.

The Bruins coaching staff preached a change to their zone entries by mixing things up, and making certain that any puck carriers had speed and numbers when they entered the zone. Those are adjustments that have brought about modest success this month as the Bruins have scored on 16 percent of their power plays this month. But the special teams unit is still inconsistent, and still fails when the Bruins need their offense to prove power play punch.

So why not make another adjustment, and promote their leading goal-scorer, and best finisher, Brad Marchand to the top unit? Or perhaps lifting 6-foot-6 invisible winger Jimmy Hayes from the second PP unit, and inserting David Pastrnak along with his dazzling offensive skill set after sitting on the special teams’ sidelines for most of the year?

Marchand has been on the second unit this season after not even rating high enough to be on the PP last season, and is the second unit’s leading scorer with six power play strikes this season.

But wouldn’t it make sense to give Marchand more PP ice time on Boston’s top unit with the player in Patrice Bergeron that he’s enjoyed unparalleled chemistry with over the last six seasons? Isn’t that worth trying at least for a couple of games to see if that ignites what has been a frustratingly stagnant special teams group over the last few months?

Marchand would certainly be willing to give it a go, and his 35 goals scored this season scream out for time on the top power play.

“If they asked me to, I would…of course,” said Marchand. “With Loui and Spoons there, they make plays. Things happen on the PP where there are so many opportunities there that don’t go in the net. The way that those guys make plays it will go in eventually.

“I’m not concerned about it, or really looking at it. I’m just happy to be on the power play this year, so I don’t care where I am. Special teams have to come up big at this time of year. We need our power play to score, and our PK to stop other teams.”

So what did Julien have to say when presented with the novel concept of using his best finisher on the top power play unit?

He immediately kicked the question away like it was a screaming puck being directed into the corner by Tuukka Rask.

“I’m not going to answer that,” said Julien. “I’m not going to start dissecting everything that you’d like to criticize. I’m not getting into it.”

To be fair to the Bruins head coach, it’s a tense period of time with five games to go and their playoff lives very much in question at this point. The Bruins are in danger of missing the playoffs for the second straight season, which could undoubtedly sign the summer pink slips for Julien, his assistant coaches and some of the players on the roster.

But all of that might not have to happen if they can find a way to spark the sputtering power play, and make the right adjustments needed to unlock the offense for the Black and Gold.

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

AP Photo

Bruins resiliency on full display in third-period comeback vs Stars

GOLD STAR: Every once in a while Brad Marchand wills the Bruins to a win that they probably wouldn’t have otherwise had, and that happened again on Friday night with a three-point explosion for No. 63 in the final 20 minutes. Marchand finished with a goal and three points in 19:57 of ice time along with a plus-2 rating, and played a key role in the three-goal outburst that allowed the B’s to vanquish a 2-0 deficit. It was Marchand that opted not to shoot from the face-off dot with a look at the net in the closing seconds, and instead dropped it down low to David Pastrnak as he curled around the net and pushed a puck past Kari Lehtonen for the game-winner. Marchand finished with two shots on net, eight total shot attempts and a number of big plays in the third period redirecting pucks in close, kicking off shorthanded scoring plays and then setting up clutch game-winners in the final 15 seconds of the game. It’s the kind of night where Marchand played like an MVP even if he isn’t going to get much of a sniff at the Hart Trophy. 

BLACK EYE: Jamie Benn scored a shorthanded goal for the Dallas Stars, but he also jumped up in the air and clobbered Brad Marchand from behind with a completely unnecessary hit in the third period that went without a penalty being called. Instead it seemed to incense Marchand, who never gave up in the final sequence and ultimately fed a pass to David Pastrnak down low for the game-winner with just 11.1 seconds remaining in the game. Benn finished a minus-2 for Dallas while being on the ice for a pair of goals against, had a brutal 1-for-7 performance in the face-off dot and really acted like a punk on the play with Marchand in the third period. Benn is a better player than that and shouldn’t be resorting that level on a fellow star player like Marchand. 

TURNING POINT: Once again the Bruins really turned things around in the third period while outscoring the Stars by a 3-0 margin, and really flooding the Dallas net with 10 of their 36 shots on net for the night. It all started with a relentless shift from Boston’s top line where Riley Nash made a pass from his knees before taking a big hit, and then Brad Marchand redirected a David Pastrnak shot from the slot off his leg and into the net for Boston’s first goal. That first score finally allowed the Bruins to begin building some momentum, score each of the next two goals as the game slipped away from Dallas and once again proved themselves as a hockey club that one doesn’t ever doubt in the third period. 

HONORABLE MENTION: Tuukka Rask had a career-high 40 saves and turned away some really good looks from the Dallas offense while showing exactly what the Bruins can be capable of when their goaltending is on point. The only goals that beat Rask were a first period score with droves of traffic in front of the net, and a second period shorthanded score for Jamie Benn where he pulled one of those unconventional finishing moves on Rask at the very end. Rask made 11 saves on the Dallas power play alone during a trio of PP chances, and made a crucial leg pad save on Antoine Roussel in the third period that helped open things up for the goal-scoring outburst late in the game. Hopefully the strong, resounding performance from Rask answers some of the questions about some of his recent so-so performances between the pipes.   

BY THE NUMBERS: 29 – the number of goals this season for David Pastrnak as he readies to become only the ninth Bruins player to hit the 30-goal plateau in back-to-back seasons over the last 35 years of franchise history. 

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Resiliency. We didn’t want to go quietly for sure. We can live with the end result as long as we play the right way. The end result went our way again in the end, and I think that’s a credit to the guys.” –Bruce Cassidy to NESN about another comeback win for the Black and Gold.

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

AP Photo

Pastrnak scores with 12 seconds left to lift Bruins over Stars, 3-2

DALLAS - David Pastrnak broke a tie with 12 seconds left and the Boston Bruins scored three straight goals in the third period to rally past the fading Dallas Stars 3-2 on Friday night.

A scramble followed a faceoff in the Dallas end, and Brad Marchand passed to Pastrnak in front. While falling down, he put the puck past Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen.

TALKING POINTS: B's resiliency on full display vs Stars

Tuukka Rask made a season-high 40 saves for the Bruins. Marchand scored Boston's first goal and also assisted on a short-handed goal by Tim Schaller that tied it midway through the third period.

The second-place Bruins won for the first time in three games (1-0-2) to move within four points of Atlantic Division leader Tampa Bay. Boston has already clinched a playoff berth.

The Stars are winless in their last seven games (0-5-2). They remained four points behind Colorado for the second Western Conference wild card.

Dallas led 2-0 on a first-period goal by Esa Lindell and Jamie Benn's short-handed score late in the second.

In the third, Marchand tipped in a shot by Pastrnak before Schaller scored on a 2-on-1 with Marchand.

Lehtonen finished with 33 saves.

Lindell scored 2:26 into the game. Jason Dickinson tried to deflect a shot from the right point into the net but the puck went wide right. Curtis McKenzie picked it up behind the goal line and passed to Lindell high in the left faceoff circle. His wrist shot went in off Rask's right arm.

Benn missed two good scoring opportunities early in the second period, but connected at 19:22. He took a pass from Tyler Seguin at the Dallas blue line and had a breakaway when Matt Grzelcyk fell down. Benn slid a backhand under Rask.