Celtics

Bruins work to improve power play

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Bruins work to improve power play

WILMINGTON, Mass. Its no big surprise the Bruins spent much of Friday mornings 30-minute practice at Ristuccia Arena working on their power play.

The Bruins are 2-for-17 in their last seven games on the man advantage and really fell short in their 1-0 shutout loss to the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night, when they failed on four occasions.

So the entire practice amounted to PP 101 for the Bruins players, and Julien continued flirting with different combos that could potentially spark the special teams unit.

One less-than-perfect circumstance at practice: Zdeno Chara was given a maintenance day on Friday. So the Bs were without their biggest power-play weapon while working on refinements, and all phases of the unit were addressed. Sloppy entries, chaotic formations in the offensive zone and a lacking work ethic have all been issues for the Black and Gold over the last couple of weeks, and are right in lockstep with the rest of the offensive struggles for Boston.

Theyre still 13th in the NHL with an 18 percent success rate this year, but theres clearly some work to do.

Were really fighting with the execution, said coach Claude Julien. I just find that what should be an easy pass is turning into a tough pass. In the New Jersey game we had a power play in the final minute of the period and I know the ice wasnt great but those D-to-D passes were going over sticks and out of the zone.

Simple passes werent there, so execution is certainly one of those things. We talk about wanting good net-front presence and shots to get through, but the biggest thing thats sticking out to me is execution. Youve got to execute those good, simple passes and make the plays under pressure.

David Krejci, Joe Corvo and Tyler Seguin all had only one power-play point in 13 games during the month of February, so there are individuals that can clearly step it up on the man advantage. The Bruins are keenly aware.

We just need to get crisper passes and work at getting our confidence back up on the PP, said Johnny Boychuk, who has actually been off the power play for the last few months.

The Bruins will be back to work getting the power play untracked with weekend games against each of the New York teams beginning at home against the Islanders on Saturday afternoon.

Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

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Celtics-Hawks preview: C' defense looks to keep up historic pace

As the wins continue to pile up for the Boston Celtics, so does the praise and adulation from others throughout the league. 

It’s a double-edged sword if you think about it. 

Acknowledging how good the Celtics are, is indeed a sign of respect. 

But it also means Boston plays every game with a large target on its back unlike any of Brad Stevens’ previous Celtics teams. 

And that means every game they play, even those like tonight’s matchup at Atlanta where they will be heavily favored, are dangerous matchups.

Because for some teams, the next best thing to competing against the champ (Golden State) is facing the team with the best record who just knocked off the champ. 

That will be one of the dynamics at work tonight when the Celtics (14-2) kick off a three-game road trip against a trio of sub-.500 teams beginning with the Hawks (3-12).

Boston has shown tremendous focus and attention to detail during their 14-game winning streak. But in that span, the Celtics have never had a trio of teams right behind each other that struggled as much as the Hawks, the Miami Heat and the Dallas Mavericks have this season. 

Not including games played on Friday, Boston’s next three opponents are a combined 11-33. 

All three of those teams would love to be the one to knock off the Celtics, the kind of victory that could significantly shift the direction of their respective franchises from their current downward spin. 

Meanwhile, the Celtics will look to continue to play with the kind of defensive temperament that has catapulted them to the top of the NBA’s defensive standings in several categories. 

“The way they’re beating teams it ain’t pretty,” a league executive texted NBC Sports Boston. “But they win. Last I checked, that’s what matters most.”

And that success has to a large degree, put a bigger bullseye on the Celtics than ever. 

“Now that we have a reputation, I think everyone is coming for us,” said Boston’s Jaylen Brown. “Now we have to come play even harder, and I think we can do that. I think we are more than capable.”

Especially if they continue to defend at a level we haven’t seen in years. 

Boston has a league-best defensive rating of 95.4. A key component in Boston’s strong play defensively has been their ability to win the battle of the boards. They come into tonight’s game with a .530 rebounding percentage which is second in the league to Portland (.539).

And that defense, while praised for how it functions collectively, it also consists of some pretty good individual defenders as well. 

Among guards averaging at least 20 minutes per game, Boston has four players ranked among the top 10 in defensive rating (Marcus Smart, 93.5 defensive rating, 2nd); Jaylen Brown (93.6, 3rd); Terry Rozier (95.0, 5th) and Kyrie Irving (96.4, 8th). 

When you look at forwards, Brown headlines a trio of forwards that includes himself, Al Horford (94.2, 3rd) and Jayson Tatum (96.1, 7th). 

Aron Baynes has the best defensive rating (90.6) among centers, followed by Horford (94.2).

“Our guys are locked in and really trying and again we can really play some pretty ugly basketball at times,” Stevens said. “But I do think that we are competing which is really good.”