While watching Game 3 it became apparent: The Bruins cannot afford for Zdeno Chara or Kevan Miller to take a penalty.
Not in a “you never want to be shorthanded” kind of way. In an “even against a power play as mediocre as the Senators’, if you take one of those guys off the ice and then play down a man, you’re going to give up a goal” kind of way.
And really, that’s what’s happened thus far in the series. The Senators have had 10 power plays over the first round’s three games. Of the eight that have come on penalties to players other than Chara and Miller, they are 2-for-8, good for a 25 percent success rate that is already an improvement on their 23rd-ranked 17 percent mark in the regular season.
Yet when Chara or Miller takes a penalty, it goes way up. The veteran blueliners have taken one penalty apiece thus far, and both have resulted in Ottawa goals (Chara’s Game 2 penalty had expired before Ottawa scored the game-winner, but Dion Phaneuf’s goal came on the same possession 12 seconds later).
On Monday, it was a Miller penalty in the second period that hurt the B’s, with Mike Hoffman scoring 1:44 after Miller was sent off for interference.
Take a look at the Bruins’ roster right now and none of this should come as a surprise. The Bruins’ injuries on defense have left Bruce Cassidy clinging to those two players for dear life. It’s bad enough having only two defenders on whom he can lean; when you take one away the situation becomes even less navigable.
Chara led the Bruins in shorthanded time on ice this season with 3:46 a night. He was one of four regulars to average 2:00 on the PK. Another was Miller, who averaged 2:00 exactly. The other two? Brandon Carlo (2:36) and Adam McQuaid (2:23), both of whom are out with injuries and neither of whom are expected back by Game 4.
So Cassidy has tried his options, yet none of them have been ideal or, for that matter, successful. For Chara’s Game 2 delay of game penalty, Miller killed the entire thing, with Joe Morrow and John-Michael Liles serving as his parters.
Similar thing with Miller’s Game 3 penalty. Cassidy went with Chara for the entire 1:44, starting with Morrow and finishing with Cross.
The Bruins can get away with Chara and Miller anchoring pairings on regular PK shifts, though they shouldn’t bank on it. Yet it’s clear that when one of those guys goes off, Cassidy feels he doesn’t have much of a choice. He’s probably right.
So what’s the solution? It’s not to have two of your most important players begin playing passive out of fear of taking a penalty. The ideal fix would be to get certain guys back; Colin Miller returning would not solve the PK issue.
That leaves them with this: Find another guy to add to the rotation. Tony Amonte suggested Charlie McAvoy on Monday, noting that the 19-year-old righty has killed penalties at every level to this point. I wonder about that given that he didn’t do much with Zack Smith in front of the net in the seconds leading up to Chris Wideman’s even-strength goal in the third period of Game 2.
Yet it might be worth a shot. Morrow and Cross have been OK for the situations in which they’ve been put, yet they’re only being trusted out there on the PK if they’re with an overly depended upon (and thus overworked at points) Chara or Miller.
Special teams figured to be important in this series, yet when we discussed them last week, we only harped on the Bruins scoring power play goals to make up for any 1-3-1 even-strength challenges.
Then again, no one was counting on the slew of injuries that has befallen the Bruins. They’ve meant a series win would be even more impressive, but they’ve hurt the team in even-strength, the power play and, especially, the penalty kill.