BRIGHTON, Mass – Boston, the Bruins have a special teams problem.
In some ways, it’s probably indicative of the overall inconsistency that the Bruins have exhibited the past few weeks after a long stretch of dominance, but in others, both the power play and penalty kill have really hit the skids recently.
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After being top 10 for most of the season in both categories, the Bruins have dropped to 18th in the NHL on the power play (19.6 percent success rate) and 13th on the penalty kill (82.3 percent success rate) to this point in the season.
The Bruins are a woeful 2-for-34 on the PP in the past 11 games and have gone six consecutive games without a power-play goal headed into their Thursday night showdown with the Penguins. Some of the present struggles can clearly be attributable to the turnover in personnel with Ryan Spooner traded and Patrice Bergeron out for at least the next few weeks.
“Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] is out, Spoons [Ryan Spooner] got traded, so two guys that were on that first unit [are out]. So, we’re going to have to mix and match here." said defenseman Charlie McAvoy. "Not that it was going great before that, but it’s something that we’re going to have to find a way because practice time is limited. All those things are limited, so maybe watch more film and get on the same page chemistry-wise with our units. My unit especially, I want to make better plays. I don’t feel like I’m making the best plays that I could.
“We want to have success, we’re gripping the stick and it’s frustrating but we know that when we’re playing simple and we’re making plays, strong, high-percentage plays, that we score goals. We have seen it all year long, so we got to get back to simple plays on our power play and we’ll have success. It’s a work in progress but we’ll be fine.”
But it goes deeper than that on the power play. Zone entries have been a mess, the Bruins aren’t winning enough battles to sustain possession in the attack zone and the grit factor just isn’t there in front of the net. All of those things need to change if the power play is going to live up to its name and potentially help the Bruins produce a little more offense with one of their big guns missing in Bergeron.
“It’s disappointing that the power play, with our skill, that we can’t generate a little more [offense],” said Bruce Cassidy, who has also described it as “a funk” that the PP is working through. “The penalty kill, right now, is getting exposed, so we’ll look at that. But it’s been very consistent all year, so we’re hoping it’s just one of those blips we can get through very quickly. The power play stretched on a little longer. The good thing is, we’re a very good 5-on-5 team. That’s why we’re able to stay in games and win some of these when you lose the special-team battle.
“You don’t usually win, especially when you lose it by two, so good for the 5-on-5 [units]. That’s important going forward. Those types of teams will keep you in games [when] games get called a little tighter. But there’s no doubt we’ve got to correct some of that because it’s a big difference-maker. We’ll work on it. Like you said, the practice time is minimal, but we’ve got to find time for it."
The penalty-kill problems have been a much more recent development, with the Bruins allowing six power-play goals in their past five games. The coaching staff is hoping that is a little more of a blip on the radar, but again Bergeron’s absence plays a big role in the PK not enjoying nearly as much effectiveness.
The good news at both ends is that newly acquired winger Rick Nash is an accomplished performer on both special-teams units and Tommy Wingels will also add to the hard-working approach on the penalty kill. Losing Spooner on the half-wall has opened things up for both Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak working on their forehands in the PP formation with Nash in front of the net. Cassidy may give that a few games after replacing the injured Bergeron with David Backes in the bumper position. It can’t be any worse than it’s already been for the better part of the month.
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Perhaps Cassidy will eventually tinker with McAvoy a little more on that top PP unit as well given his talent level and ability to create offensively, but the bottom line is that the “back to basics” approach needs to improve around the nets at both ends of the ice. Once again that happens then the Bruins should again start climbing up the special-teams standings and stabilizing an area that’s been a problem now for weeks.
With their best player missing for at least the next few weeks, a special-teams resurgence is one of the things that might just help them get by until No. 37 is ready for his return.