Bruins

Bruins get their special teams explosion against the Penguins

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Bruins get their special teams explosion against the Penguins

BOSTON – The Bruins had been in a self-described special teams “funk” as of late, so Thursday night’s special teams’ explosion was a welcome development indeed.

The Bruins broke a six-game power play drought (0-for-18 over that span) with three PP strikes and at the time ended up holding the high-powered Penguins power play unit without a score in Boston’s 8-4 win over the Penguins at TD Garden. The fact that they did both of those things without an integral piece in Patrice Bergeron was impressive, but it was all about executing and getting back to a simple, hard-working mindset at both ends of the ice.

All three power play goals arrived because players were crashing the net or cutting hard to the paint with our without the puck, and that’s something that had been missing a bit over the last month as the Bruins went 2-for-32 on the man advantage. They managed to outdo that in one night’s work with the three special teams’ goals against the Penguins.

“We executed better. We’ve talked about that. That’s a start, right? You make good passes and you win pucks, you’re playing in the O-zone, and you’re forcing the team to defend. So I think that’s the start of it. We made some great heads-up plays like, the [Nick] Holden play to Krejci – that’s not one you practice; that’s a broken play where you win a puck – Jake DeBrusk does a great job winning a puck,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We talked about it, I think this morning, one of the specifics was second effort. That’s a second-effort play, winning the puck, and then you allow your skill to take over, and he makes a great play.

“So that’s an example of what we had asked the players to do a little better job at, and I thought they did. We had a few passes that didn’t connect that were maybe forced, but I think that’s always going to happen when you have – what did we have, five [power plays]? But, for the most part, I thought we made better decisions with it, as well. So good for them; they got rewarded. We have plenty of skill in there. They can score, and I thought we had more urgency tonight.”

The first score was Rick Nash camped out in front of the net, waiting and ready to redirect a Torey Krug point pass through Casey DeSmith with a simple tap-in attempt. Then David Krejci kicked it into PP overdrive in the second period when Nick Holden found the Czech center cutting to the net wide open, and for his third goal of the night he was able to guide home a shot set up by a tipped Brian Gionta pass as the 5-foot-7 forward was camped out in front.

“Over the last three games we’ve talked about the drought and keeping it simple,” said Nash. “I think that when any power play struggles, you have to simplify things. Put pucks to the net and you have to get bodies to the net, and it’ll start to go in.”

That’s exactly what happened on Thursday night as the dam finally broke on the power play for the Black and Gold, and the PK managed to shut out the Penguins after allowing six power play goals in the previous five games. Now it’s a matter of the Bruins keeping it up at a time of year when special teams can be a massive difference-maker for hockey clubs looking for any edge they can find.  

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Talking Points: Torey Krug steps up the physicality, shows leadership in Bruins win

Talking Points: Torey Krug steps up the physicality, shows leadership in Bruins win

GOLD STAR: He didn’t factor in the scoring at all, but credit Torey Krug as one of the Bruins leaders that stepped up and showed some attitude in a needed win over the Penguins.

It was Krug that got into a shoving match with Patric Hornqvist in front of the bench, and then continued it with a hockey fight after they both got out of the penalty box.

Krug finished with six shot attempts and a takeaway in 16:06 of ice time, but it was really a team-wide showing of physicality and attitude that elevated the game of the Bruins and got them back into the winning flow against Pittsburgh. Krug was one of the key guys that got them there even as he was an unlikely 5-foot-8 combatant that won his bout with the sandpaper-playing Hornqvist.

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BLACK EYE: Evgeni Malkin was pretty invisible for the Penguins in this one. He was challenged early and often by Zdeno Chara in the game and that seemed to render him pretty ineffective after that point against the Bruins.

Malkin finished pointless with a minus-2 rating and had a whopping three giveaways over his 19:21 of ice time. It was a harmless little swipe at Jaroslav Halak in the first period that really started setting things off as Chara grabbed Malkin and roughed him up in the corner afterward. That started the two big-bodied players going at each other for the better part of the evening.

Most times Malkin is going to lose that battle as he did on Thursday night.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins fell down by a 1-0 score early in the game as Sidney Crosby scored in the opening minute, and that could have been a big time problem on another night. But the Bruins were determined to make this a prolonged, invested all-around effort right from the drop of the puck. They did exactly that when they fought back to tie the game, and then go ahead by a goal when Par Lindholm redirected a Karson Kuhlman pass down low.

The Bruins outshot the Penguins 12-10 in the period and overcame the early deficit with some hard-nosed, determined physical play and some digging in by their bottom two lines coming up with a couple of goals in the secondary scoring department. Once they did that they had the momentum on their side.

HONORABLE MENTION: Jaroslav Halak had been struggling a little bit of late, but he pulled together after allowing a bad goal in the first period to the Penguins.

Halak stopped 29-of-30 shots and was brilliant at the end of the second period when the Penguins went on a 2-on-none shorthanded breakaway with Halak making four different saves to keep Pittsburgh from tying up the game. He stoned Zach Aston-Reese at least four different times with point blank chances from the front of the net and never buckled even as the B’s broke down just a little bit.

Halak's performance is a good sign that he is going to backstop the B’s to some good things as he’ll be given the starting nod for a few games in a row with Rask (concussion) on the shelf right now.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the number of registered hits for Chris Wagner on the stat sheet, which is kind of ridiculous given that the fourth line winger threw at least four or five of them in a tremendously physical game against the Penguins.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “I thought tonight was a pretty good first step to getting back to who we are.” –Bruce Cassidy on the B’s overall effort in a 4-1 win over the Penguins.

NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best right wings right now?

NHL Top 10: Who are the league's best right wings right now?

Arguably the most explosive talent in the NHL resides at the right wing position where the top two players (David Pastrnak and Patrick Kane) are on pace to easily cross 40 goals and 100 points this season, and the third player is last year’s Hart Trophy winner.

There’s also the amazing young talent at the NHL’s right wing spot with players under 25 years old that include Pastrnak, Brock Boeser, Andrei Svechnikov, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Travis Konecny.

In other words, this is a stacked list that doesn’t even include Patrick Laine. These are the top-10 right wings in the NHL right now.

Click here for Joe Haggerty's full right wing rankings