Struggling power play 'not even close' right now for Bruins

Struggling power play 'not even close' right now for Bruins

BOSTON – The Bruins power play has been the NHL’s worst pretty much all season, but their much maligned man advantage dropped to new lows against the Rangers on Saturday night.

Some of it was about being a bit too over-aggressive and some of it was attributable to the pure speed of New York’s penalty kill that was attacking them, but the Bruins allowed a pair of unforgivable shorthanded goals in 5-2 loss to the Blueshirts. Combine a power play goal allowed to the Rangers with the two shorties given up by the struggling B’s power play unit, and it was a special teams implosion dooming the Bruins against their Eastern Conference rivals.


With each passing day that the special teams are a problem for the Black and Gold, it becomes more and more a point of frustration.

“We weren’t executing and we were missing some plays. We were overaggressive maybe on. . . we were obviously [over-aggressive] by giving up odd man rushes like that. So, we’ve got to play our position and I don’t think we did that on all the power plays tonight,” said Patrice Bergeron of a PP unit that’s 3-for-38 on the season for a grotesque 7.9 percent success rate. “We wanted to build from the Tampa game. I thought Tampa was the way we want to execute on the power play. Tonight we missed a few chances, but still we gave up two goals. It’s not even close to what we can accomplish. It’s actually hurting the team right now. It’s about us finding a way and being better.”

Things were actually pretty good for the Bruins during 5-on-5 play against the Rangers, and the first half of the first period was strong for the Black and Gold hot on the heels of their season-high three game winning streak. But things began going off the rails for the Bruins shortly after they were awarded their first power play, and Michael Grabner made a momentum-shifting play sparking an odd-man Rangers attack.

That was followed in the second period by the real back-breaking shorthanded score dropping just a couple of minutes into the middle period. Torey Krug missed on a wide open net chance that was bothered a bit by Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi, and then moments later a Patrice Bergeron shot off the glass turned into a 3-on-1 breakaway with only Krug left to try and stop things. It looked like Austin Czarnik was caught a little too deep in the offensive zone once the puck took a wilder bounced off the end board glass, and that allowed Kevin Hayes to beat Rask five hole with a shorthanded snipe that effectively punched the B’s in the gut.

In both shorthanded goals there was a bit of a bounce that went against the Bruins, but it was all about Boston’s power play groups not being prepared enough for the Rangers speed coming at them on the penalty kill.

“I think it’s coming from a good place of wanting to capitalize on the power play, and maybe leaning a little bit too far on the offensive side of things. But they’re a team that…they look for those opportunities. They look for that loose puck, and the other guy’s already taking off, and it’s two shorthanded goals for them,” said David Backes. “I think they had another two-on-one and another breakaway that Tuukka [Rask] stopped.

“So you certainly don’t want your special teams to be losing games for you, especially on the power play giving up shorties. It’s a focus area that we need to be better in as a whole group, and that needs to be something that strikes fear in an opponent when we get a power play. They need to not be taking liberties, or they need to be worried about taking penalties, because our power play is a threat to them. Right now I don’t think that’s the case, and we’ve got to turn that tide and make it so.”

So what can be done to fix things outside of trading for a puck-moving, power play quarterback like Kevin Shattenkirk of the St. Louis Blues, for example?

The Bruins have to hope that Backes will be a puck-retrieving beast in the offensive end for power plays once he knocks the rust off, and that players like Krug and Krejci begin producing at their customary levels on the man advantage. But Saturday night was also a good reminder that the Bruins need to guard against giving opponents Grade A chances while operating shorthanded, and need to balance that with the requirement they start living up to their power play potential offensively.

“It’s not realizing that you still have to defend when you don’t have the puck and you can’t get lackadaisical. I think we did that tonight,” said Claude Julien. “I don’t know if I want to call it sloppy – it definitely hurt our game tonight and our chances -- but that was probably in my mind the biggest issue for a hockey game when we talk about what happened [against the Rangers.]”

So much of success in the NHL these days is based on healthy, strong special teams units. The Bruins will have a difficult time winning if they can’t start finding ways to build positive momentum, and pop in a few power play goals, when the calls are going their way. 

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Banged up B's 'look forward to the challenge' vs Tampa team they're chasing

TAMPA BAY – It certainly might not be the shape they envisioned themselves being in when these late season games arrived against the President’s Trophy favorites in Tampa Bay, but the Bruins are bracing for a showdown with the high-powered Lightning either way. 

The Bruins stand just four points behind the Bolts with one game in hand, and mathematically they absolutely have a shot of catching and surpassing the Lightning for the NHL’s top spot with three games remaining against them in the season’s final month. But realistically it’s got to be considered a long shot at this point with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Charlie McAvoy and Jake DeBrusk all out for Saturday night’s meeting with Tampa, and Bergeron and McAvoy expected to potentially miss all three of their divisional scraps. 

Coming off a 3-0 shutout loss at the hands of the Florida Panthers and at the end of a week-long, four-game road trip, the Bruins know they’re going to need to tighten things up against a Lightning team they can’t match firepower with in their weakened state. 

“I think we’ve done a pretty good job of just playing the game in front of us, and not getting too far ahead, too high or too low. We’ve got the best team in the National Hockey League, arguably, at home and rested [in front of us],” said Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “We look forward to the challenge. They’re a high-scoring team, so we talked about that with our goaltenders and our ‘D’ today. We better be ‘on’ because they’ll be coming. Our forwards are going to have to help out in that area and make sure we’re reloading well, and keep getting pucks at the net. 

“We didn’t finish [against Florida] but it wasn’t because of lack of effort or lack of pucks at the net. That part of our game is trending pretty well offensively. I think you’re going to have score to a certain extent against this team because you’re not going to shut them down completely. That’s our game plan for whoever is going to be in the lineup. They’ve got to be ready for it because that’s how it works, and that’s how it’s worked all year long for us. We need the guys in there to do their part and do it well.”

Certainly the Bruins could still do some offensive damage with Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak still intact on their top line, and David Krejci and Rick Nash also still developing their chemistry on the second line. Torey Krug also came through feeling healthy at practice on Friday after soaking up 26 plus minutes of ice time in the loss to Florida, so they’ll also have some puck-moving and offensive pop on the back end as well.

But it may come down to the Chara-less defense and Tuukka Rask to step up and go into shutdown mode against the Lightning if they’re looking to really push up on the Lightning, and make this a horse race for the Atlantic Division down the stretch. Not to mention, it would be a psychological swing for both teams if the Bruins could take down a rested, relatively healthy Tampa Bay hockey club with their undermanned, injury-ravaged bunch. 

That in and of itself should be plenty of motivation for a Bruins team that’s got their sights and set on bigger and better things this spring with the Lightning expected to be one of the big obstacles standing in their way.


Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Tavares or Seguin?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while jacked and pumped about that Infinity War trailer. Wow. 


*Credit here for something outside the box and clear hockey satire while looking far into the NHL’s crystal ball where the new expansion team is called the Seattle Slippery Seals, and Brad Marchand is the head of the NHLPA. That is quite a twist at the end of the movie right there. 


*The Hockey Central crew debates whether they would want John Tavares or Tyler Seguin as a player to build their team around. Seguin is having a solid year (with the end of his contract coming into view), but I’m going with Tavares all day long. I think he’s more of a competitor and a reliable player along with an equitable level of talent, and that counts for quite a bit in team-building. 


*It’s good to see the PHWA decide to make public the ballots of all NHL Awards starting at the end of this season. It’s something I voted in favor of and already did annually as I think transparency is something we always ask for from those we cover, so it should never be something we shy away from. 


*The Flyers have hit the skids again after pushing themselves into playoff view. This has been such a streak team over the last couple of years. 


*Pro Hockey Talk says that the Montreal Canadiens need to take a long look into the mirror before they move on from this season. I couldn’t agree more. 


*For something completely different: I feel badly for my kids that Toys R us is liquidating as a company, and the stores will be closing. It’s getting to the point where there will be no more brick and mortar toy stores for kids to visit, and that’s something from my youth experience that they’re going to miss out on. Frankly, it’s kind of sad.