How important is an elite power play on the road to winning the Stanley Cup?
It's possible to win four rounds without one.
The Boston Bruins are one of the recent examples. They won a championship in 2011 with a power play that converted at just a 11.8 percent clip over 25 postseason games. The next year, the Los Angeles Kings won their first ever Stanley Cup with a playoff power play that scored on 12.8 percent of its opportunities. The 2013 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks had a 11.4 power play percentage in the playoffs.
But if you look at the recent champions, the last six all had a top 10 power play in the regular season.
- 2022: Colorado Avalanche, 24.4 percent (7th in NHL)
- 2021: Tampa Bay Lightning, 22.2 percent (9th)
- 2020: Tampa Bay Lightning, 23.1 percent (5th)
- 2019: St. Louis Blues, 21.1 percent (10th)
- 2018: Washington Capitals, 22.5 percent (7th)
- 2017: Pittsburgh Penguins, 23.1 percent (4th)
A great team could maybe get away with having an average power play, but it's still a nice weapon to have -- one that could swing a game and an entire series if the unit is producing at a high rate.
This year's Bruins team has virtually no weaknesses. General manager Don Sweeney has built a super-talented, very deep and experienced roster. The trade deadline moves to acquire defenseman Dmitry Orlov and forwards Garnet Hathaway and Tyler Bertuzzi strengthened the group even more.
Outside of health, there's not a ton for the Bruins to focus on over the final 16 games of the regular season. The standings are basically a non-factor as Boston owns a nine-point lead in the race for the Presidents' Trophy and a 17-point advantage in the Atlantic Division.
But if there's one aspect of the Bruins' recent performance that has lots of room for improvement, it's absolutely the power play. This unit has been quite ineffective over the last six weeks.
Since Jan. 25, the Bruins have averaged the fifth-most power play ice time per game at 5:26, but they rank 31st out of 32 teams with a 10.0 power play percentage. That's six goals in 60 opportunities with the man advantage over a 19-game span. Tuesday night's loss to a bad Chicago Blackhawks team on the road was another low for the Bruins' power play. This unit went 0-for-2 in a 6-3 loss.
These struggles are new for the 2022-23 Bruins. From Opening Night through Jan. 24, the Bruins had the league's second-best power play at 27.2 percent, with only Connor McDavid's Edmonton Oilers ranked higher. The Bruins now rank No. 11 in power-play percentage.
One reason why the Bruins need to fix their power play for the playoffs is the fact that their path to the Stanley Cup Final will go through some of the league's best penalty kills.
The Carolina Hurricanes are the Bruins' most likely Eastern Conference Final opponent -- assuming Boston makes it that far. The 'Canes have the league's second-best PK. A couple of the Bruins' potential first-round opponents, including the New York Islanders (No. 8 ranked PK), Ottawa Senators (No. 5 ranked PK) and Washington Capitals (No. 7 ranked PK) kill penalties at a high rate, too. Other contenders in the East such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning have top 15 penalty kills as well.
The Bruins are also going to face some high-scoring teams if they make a deep playoff run. Nine of the top 15 teams in goals scored per game are in the East, and seven of them currently occupy a playoff spot. If the B's reach the second round, they'll play the Lightning or the Leafs, who rank second and third, respectively, on the power play. The New York Rangers and Senators also have top 10 power plays.
Playoff games are typically a bit slower, more physical and lower scoring than regular season action. But given the amount of high-scoring offenses in the East, the Bruins likely will need to score a bunch of goals to reach the Stanley Cup Final.
Could they get there without an elite power play? The short answer is yes. The Bruins have four good lines, and their 162 goals at 5-on-5 are the second-most in the league. They also have the best goalie tandem on the planet and rank No. 1 in both goals allowed and save percentage.
But it would be a huge help to the Bruins if their power play could give the team a real boost. The Colorado Avalanche won the Stanley Cup last season by scoring 4.25 goals per game in the playoffs, including an amazing 32.8 power play percentage. Colorado's power play went 6-of-18 (33 percent) against Tampa Bay in the Cup Final and won the series in six games.
The Bruins have more than enough talent on the power play to score consistently. David Pastrnak is second in the league in goals scored. Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are excellent offensive players. Charlie McAvoy is an elite puck-moving defenseman and a great skater. Dmitry Orlov has a cannon of a shot from the point. Taylor Hall, Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci are gifted offensive players, too.
There's no excuse for the Bruins to enter the playoffs with a power play producing as poorly as it has since late January. Fixing this unit and getting it back on track should be the No. 2 priority for the Bruins after health for the remainder of the regular season.