BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins finished 11th in scoring in the NHL last season at 3.13 goals per game and obviously had enough offense to get all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final.
They have three top-flight forwards on the "Perfection Line" with Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak all topping 30 goals for the second season in a row and boast one of the NHL’s best power plays that can overwhelm teams with lesser special teams’ groups.
But therein lies the rub.
Only Tampa Bay and Florida scored more power-play goals than the Bruins last season, who were successful 25.9 percent of the time on the man-advantage last season with the top unit of Torey Krug, Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk/David Backes accounting for most of the special teams’ offense.
That left the Bruins in the bottom third of the NHL in terms of even-strength offense with a big-time dependence on the power play.
“You’ve got to take offense where you can get it,” said Patrice Bergeron, who was third on the Bruins with nine power-play goals and had 27 PP points last season. “If you’re winning games and the power play is your source of offense then I don’t think it’s a bad thing. You’ve got to find other ways to create some more offense in other ways, but to me, it’s not a huge problem. We have the ability to find that [offense] and it’s about tweaking a few things to find that [5-on-5] offense to score goals in different ways.”
It wasn’t much an issue during the regular season where the Bruins steamrolled most teams on the power play, and it obviously never became a fatal flaw in the first three rounds of the playoffs.
Still, the Bruins ran into a roadblock in the Cup Final against a St. Louis Blues team that dominated in 5-on-5 play and managed to make it less of a special teams contest in the seven-game series. Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak were bottled up for just two goals and five points combined in the seven games and were far from living up to their line's nickname.
Certainly it’s something the B’s recognize could be much improved heading into a new season.
“You see it when you’re not scoring. It’s because you’re forcing players and you’re not getting to the inside. We got into trouble a few times, especially in the playoffs probably where we stayed to the outside,” said Bergeron. “The play dies down because other teams are retreating to the box or retreating to the house, and then they don’t give you those cross-seams [to pass] that you see sometimes earlier in the year.
“It’s moving your feet and competing around the net, and getting there and wanting to impose your will to get those rebounds. You bring it on net and if you don’t get it on the first try then there’s somebody around the net creating some havoc. It’s easy hockey and we’ve seen it so many times, but at the same time it’s pretty effective.”
With that in mind, the Bruins are using some of their training camp focus to improve their even-strength offense.
Some of it will be improved by Charlie Coyle’s presence as the third-line center from the very start of the season. There will be more diversity in the offense up front and that should mean things will be a little more spread out with a deep team that can advantage of that against opponents.
But there are also adjustments to be made across the lineup and that’s something the Bruins are working on while getting the offensive and defensive systems down pat in camp.
“I think as a team once we pare down [our roster] we’re going to be looking at ways of generating more chances 5-on-5 in the offensive zone. I think that’s our Boston Bruins focus once we get our team together a little more,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, of the systems work in camp that started with the defensive basics before branching out to the offense. “The easiest way is to sacrifice defense and we don’t want to do that, right? So, that one is out the window. That’s the first thing we discuss so we don’t see it happening.
“It’s getting our D involved more and getting active, and encouraging them to do that. It brings risk into play, but this group coming back has been together and they know what we want. So we should be able to grow it in their game as they come back and build chemistry. And shooting more. Funneling a few more pucks and some off-angle shots so everybody knows that it’s going there. It’s easier said than done. We want players to retain their creativity, so it’s a balance. But it’s something that we’ve talked about. Those are the two areas of what we could do with the forwards and with the defense, and hopefully, that translates into a little more action around the net.”
Will it actually translate into more even-strength offense for the Bruins?
The hope is that some tweaks will spark a little more offense out of a team with plenty of skill and scoring ability. But the Bruins would also greatly benefit from one more player developing into a top-six right wing capable of finishing off plays created by David Krejci on the second line.
It doesn’t appear that player is currently on Boston’s roster.
Still, at least the Bruins know that it’s an issue and are taking steps to address it early on where it could lead to improvements.
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