Bruins focusing on improving 5-on-5 offense this season

Bruins focusing on improving 5-on-5 offense this season

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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Who are the top 10 right wings in the NHL right now?

Who are the top 10 right wings in the NHL right now?

With another two-goal effort against the Devils Tuesday night, David Pastrnak upped his league-leading total to 19 this season — in just 21 games.

That's a 74-goal pace, a total that no player has reached since the 1992-93 season (Alexander Mogilny, Teemu Selanne).

Even if Pastrnak doesn't maintain this ridiculous pace, a 50-goal season seems all but assured, assuming he stays healthy.

But has the 23-year-old established himself as the best right wing in the game, or does he still slot in behind established talent like Patrick Kane or last season's Hart Trophy winner, Nikita Kucherov?

Joe Haggerty is kicking off a series of positional rankings by stacking up the best right wings in the NHL.

Click here for Haggerty's Top 10 right wings.>>>>>

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Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

Joe Haggerty's Talking Points from the Bruins' 5-1 win over the Devils

GOLD STAR: Matt Grzelcyk kicked off the scoring for the Bruins and finished with the first two-goal game of his NHL career in the win over the Devils. Grzelcyk had the two goals along with a plus-2 rating in 19:16 of ice time while showing exactly what he can do offensively with Torey Krug out of the lineup. The second score in the third period was a highlight-reel goal as he faked out PK Subban at the offensive blue line and then rocketed a shot under the crossbar past Mackenzie Blackwood to ice things for the Black and Gold. Grzelcyk finished with three shots on net, a hit and a blocked shot in the biggest offensive game of his career.

BLACK EYE: PK Subban looked bad against the B's. Subban finished with a minus-2, took a lazy tripping penalty in the third period that led to David Pastrnak’s insurance power-play goal and then got completely posterized by Grzelcyk on a third-period goal where he dangled right around the New Jersey D-man. Subban didn’t do much of anything at the offensive end either aside from one shot in the slot area that Tuukka Rask made a pretty routine save on. It all underscores just how much Subban’s skills have apparently eroded due to either age or injuries because he sure isn’t the same guy that he was in his younger years in Montreal.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins had a solid 2-1 lead after the first 40 minutes, but they had given up a goal late in the second period that ate away at their momentum a little bit. So, it was important for them to come out guns blazing in the third and that is exactly what they did while blowing the Devils out of the water. The Bruins scored three goals and took advantage of some sloppy mistakes from the Devils to pull away in a game that felt a lot closer than it ultimately ended up being on the scoreboard. Certainly, seeing the B’s pull away from teams in the third is a much more welcome sight than the third-period implosion we saw against Florida a week ago.  

HONORABLE MENTION: David Krejci was excellent sliding in as the top center between Brad Marchand and Pastrnak, just as he was last season when Patrice Bergeron also missed time with an injury. Krejci got the secondary assist with a great backhanded pass on Grzelcyk’s first-period goal and then he set up Pastrnak for his first-period score as well. Krejci finished with a couple of assists, a plus-3 rating and 7-for-14 on face-offs in 15:49 of ice time. Krejci is again showing exactly what he could do if he was ever centered between a pair of elite offensive wingers instead of the carousel of right wings the Bruins have provided him the past couple seasons.

BY THE NUMBERS: 19 – the number of goals for Pastrnak this season after another two-goal outburst. That leads the NHL. There have only been seven games this season for the Bruins where he hasn’t scored a goal.  

QUOTE TO NOTE:  “I don’t think we made one mistake in the third [period]. We just played winning hockey in the third.” –David Pastrnak, to NESN on the B’s pulling away from the Devils in the final 20 minutes.

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