Lack of penalty killers on defense hurting Bruins vs. Senators

Lack of penalty killers on defense hurting Bruins vs. Senators

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. 

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

Injuries opening up path for Donato to show what he can do

In an ideal world the Bruins could have signed highly regarded prospect Ryan Donato to a two-year entry level contract, watched him develop his game deliberately at the AHL level and received two full years of service before the forward hit restricted free agency. 

But that doesn’t take into account the current injury situation for the Boston Bruins with a few weeks to go in the regular season, and it didn’t factor in Donato’s leverage as an NCAA player that could have chosen free agency, or going back to Harvard for his senior year, if he didn’t get what he was looking for in negotiations with the Black and Gold. Clearly it never got to anything approaching a hard ball level between the Bruins and a young player with plenty of B’s background in Donato, and now he’ll get to suit up for Boston and most likely make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets. 

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Once he plays for the Bruins that will burn the first year on his two-year entry level contract, and it will also prohibit him from heading to Providence and playing for the P-Bruins through the rest of the hockey season. It’s the exact same situation Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson found himself in last spring when it was pretty clear after one game in Boston that he wasn’t quite ready for the NHL level. 

After Donato makes his debut it will be up to him and how NHL-ready he looks when he jumps into the Boston lineup, but it’s pretty clear they need some more dynamic top-6 bodies with Patrice Bergeron, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk all out of the lineup, and Anders Bjork done for the season as well as what could have been a good reserve option at the AHL level. 

None of those players are expected to return in the next couple of games or even in the next week most likely, so there may be an opening for Donato to dazzle if he's prepared to seize the opportunity. 

“Once [Harvard’s season] was over with I had an opportunity to speak with his family advisor and with the family and with Ryan himself. We just worked through what looked like the opportunity he was looking for and we were happy to provide that,” said Bruins general manager Don Sweeney. “We have some injuries and we’re at the point in the season where every game has a lot on the line. I think his being able to go over and have success at the Olympics this year really started to jumpstart his thought process that he was ready for the next challenge.

“I think Ryan might have looked at [the injuries on the NHL roster] as an even bigger opportunity for him to go in and possibly play as early as [Monday night]. From our standpoint, we had always been committed to providing the opportunity to Ryan if and when he decided to leave school. I think the two things just kind of lined up accordingly. We definitely are cognizant that the injuries are there, and they’ve mounted a little bit here coming down the stretch. It’s a testament to the group of players that we have [that led to the Tampa] win after losing [David] Backes early in the game and guys really playing well.”

Clearly Donato was ready for the next level after dominating college hockey to the tune of 26 goals in 29 games for the Crimson this season, and serving as one of Team USA’s best players in last month’s Olympic hockey tournament. Donato has a high hockey IQ that usually comes along with being the son of an NHL player, has a nose for the net for a young player that isn’t the biggest or strongest guy on the ice and has become a dangerous sniper with his NHL-level shot and release. The question now is whether all of those skills are “plug and play” at the NHL level, or if he’s more in the mold of similar NCAA players like Anders Bjork or Danton Heinen that needed some development time at the minor league level. 

“He’s a kid that’s got a confidence about himself, a talent level, and he’s got some details that he’s going to have to work on. All young players do, more importantly the inexperience part of it, but he’s a kid that has hard skill,” said Sweeney. “So we’re looking forward to having him join our team, get immersed, and get a taste, and then it’s up to him. He’ll take it with however far he can run with it, but he is welcomed to the opportunity.

“We’re not going to put any pressure on him to say ‘You have to produce.’ It’s like every player; he’s going to be another player that the coach will have an opportunity to play in situations, and the player himself will dictate how much time and circumstances they play in. We feel that, if we get healthy, we’re going to have a deep group. He’s going to add to that group. Then it’s up to him.”

It would be unfair to expect Donato to have an impact on this Bruins team like Craig Janney did coming out of college thirty years ago, but that’s what many are going to equate it to based on the circumstances. Instead it should be looked at as another talented young player that the Bruins are going to add to their embarrassment of young hockey talent riches, and a player that could possibly help them get through a current tough stretch of injuries and attrition. If Donato does anything more than that then it’s another great story in a Boston Bruins season that’s been chock full of them from beginning to end.


Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

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Backes 'will be out for a couple of games' with right leg laceration

The late season attrition continues for the Boston Bruins as David Backes will miss some time with the laceration on his right leg caused by an errant skate blade in Saturday night’s win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. 

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It took roughly 18 stitches to close a wound that was gushing blood as Backes quickly exited the ice in the first period, and now it looks like it’s going to force him to miss a handful of games here late in the season. Bruins GM Don Sweeney confirmed that Backes isn’t “day-to-day” as they wait for nature to take its and heal a significant gash that could have been much worse for the 33-year-old power forward. 

“David Backes returned late [Saturday] night with the team. He did meet with our doctors, and they reevaluated the cut. They did some work on it. Obviously, you’ve got great medical care down in Tampa; we’re thankful for that, but our guys wanted their own hands and eyes on it,” said Sweeney. “A timetable hasn’t been set for him. 

“You can imagine it was a pretty significant cut, and now that it’s been, sort of, re-cleaned and addressed accordingly, we’ll just let nature take its course, let it heal. I don’t have a definitive timetable on that one, certainly not day to day. I would suspect he’ll be out for a couple games, and then we’ll reevaluate.”

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The biggest concern for the Bruins with a cut of that nature is the chance of infection, so that’s something the Bruins medical staff will be monitoring closely as Backes heals over the next week or two. It’s too bad for both the B’s and Backes as the Bruins forward was knocked out in the first period against both Florida and Tampa after serving a three-game suspension, and has had his share of freak injuries and illness this season with first diverticulitis that ended with colon surgery, and now the skate blade incident. 

The good news is that it doesn’t sound like Backes is in any danger of being ready for the playoffs, and that’s truly matters as the Bruins continue to win games with so many good players injured and removed from the lineup. Sweeney also gave updates on Patrice Bergeron, who may join the Bruins on their next extended road trip following Monday night’s game vs. Columbus, and Jake DeBrusk, who it doesn’t sound like is all that close to returning to the lineup with his upper body injury.