Bruins still working out the kinks on power play unit

572848.jpg

Bruins still working out the kinks on power play unit

WILMINGTON Bruins coach Claude Julien didnt visibly wince when the question arrived, but its clear the power play queries arent his very favorite.

Geez, it seems like every day the power play question comes up, lamented Julien with good-natured mock surprise when asked about it at Thursday's media session.

The questions shouldnt come as a surprise given the history of the Bs power play units over the last three years. After the Bruins managed to finish 15th in the NHL with their power play last season, the man advantage seemed to have at least moved away from being a clear-cut liability to simple mediocrity.

But then the Bruins man advantage struggled to a 2-for-23 stretch during their first round playoff loss to the Washington Capitals, and that was after somehow winning the Stanley Cup 12 months earlier with one of the worst PP units in Stanley Cup playoff history. With all that past power play baggage, the Bruins brain trust said they were stripping down the PP design over the summer and would return with a brand new plan, brand new personnel and hopefully bigger, newer, better results.

Unfortunately it hasnt gone down that way for the Black and Gold in the early going this season. The Bruins started off 0-for-11 in their first three games before Dougie Hamilton connected with Brad Marchand for a special teams goal in the second period of Wednesday nights overtime loss.

In all, Bostons misfiring PP unit is 26th in the NHL with a 7.1 percent success rate (1-for-14), and only The Kings, Flyers and Red Wings are in worse shape than the Bruins nearly a week into the regular season. The Bruins head coach equates the lack of production to the same general offensive rustiness he's seen from his team in five-on-five play. The hands aren't there for many of his players, and so it stands to reason the power play crispness wouldn't be there either.

The other day against Winnipeg our power play was better, but we didnt get the results, said Julien. I didnt think our power play was necessarily great against the Rangers, but we got a goal then. So it balances out in the long run. We had more chances in the Winnipeg game than we did against the Rangers.

It can certainly take the monkey off your back when you get the result. But weve got a long ways to go through a long season that the power play needs to be helping us out. Our results on the power play reflect the results that were getting five-on-five right now. Were not burying all the chances that weve had, but guys like Nathan Horton and Brad Marchand are starting to get results. The finish may not be there right now but it will come.

To put it in perspective the San Jose Sharks power play has already potted six power play goals on the season. Theres a very good chance the Bruins wont have six PP goals during the entire month of January, and that's a wide chasm in production.

The Marchand goal was part of a 1-for-5 night for the Bs power play unit against the Rangers, and displayed some good chemistry among the players on the second PP squad. But the first power play unit full of size, offensive skill and hockey smarts struggled mightily against the Rangers despite multiple chances, and needs to be sharper with the puck.

Julien did have one admission: he was less enamored with the work done by his PP units on Wednesday night than he was in the first two games on home ice. In the first few games both power plays were moving the puck with energy and generating scoring chances.

The top PP unit was deliberate, predictable and tentative about pulling the trigger on shots aimed at the opposing net. Prior to the season Julien said that Tyler Seguin was expected to be the power play quarterback and it made sense given all of the unique offensive skills the 20-year-old brings to the table.

But Seguin is averaging 3:39 of power play ice time coming off a four months of tearing up the Swiss League, and that has done little to rectify Bostons ongoing special teams issues. He has one assist in three games and hasn't jumped off to a blazing start offensively whether it be five-on-five or on the PP.

The problem was clear on Wednesday night: too much standing around and passing the puck without any attempts to actually make a play in the offensive zone. Some of that is a group of different Bs skaters getting used to one another on a newly configured power play unit.

There are obviously some great guys on that power play unit. Im not that familiar with them because we havent played together all that much on the power play, said Seguin. Weve got some good talent on there. I expect it to improve from what it was.

Even though we won the Cup that was probably the worst power play any team has had winning the Cup. Were already so good five-on-five that I can only imagine how good we could be if we finally have a good power play.

The new power play is designed to free Seguin up for one-timers from the left face-off circle as hes coming off the half-wall a la Steve Stamkos in Tampa, but circumstances have only allowed him to let loose with one teed up slapper over the first three games. That needs to become one of the certified weapons on the PP just like Zdeno Chara's 108-mph slap shot from the point. The Bruins now have David Krejci at the opposite point to help feed Chara and Seguin from the opposite side of the ice.

If anything there is too much unselfish play and an overabundance of deference on the Bs power play unit with players passing the puck rather than driving the net to create offensive mismatches.

Part of Seguins appeal on the half-wall is his ability to carry the puck to the net through traffic or fire accurate, dangerous shots from the face-off circle, but hes done neither of those things while routinely giving up the puck.

Its time for somebody to assert themselves on a power play thats screaming out for a skilled facilitator, and Seguin is the guy most qualified to fill that position during the NHL application process. The B's power play won't start producing on a regular basis until somebody steps up and takes control of a unit that looks far too passive right now.

Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rangers in trouble?

Wednesday, Dec. 7: Rangers in trouble?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while ready for the Chris Sale era to begin with the Red Sox in a 1975 throwback uniform at Fenway’s opening day.

*Larry Brooks says that the New York Rangers are in “deep trouble” despite all of the goals that they’re scoring, and here’s why.

*The New York Islanders are playing with fire when it comes to John Tavares potentially leaving if they can’t find a running mate for him.

*Good piece from FOH (Friend of Haggs) Marc Spector about Kris Russell defying the analytical critics with his work for the Edmonton Oilers.

*Scary scene with the New Jersey Devils and Vancouver Canucks where Taylor Hall knocked out Philip Larsen with a hit, and then touched a brawl where the unconscious Larsen was kicked in the head a couple of times.

*Here’s some very good news about former B’s forward Craig Cunningham, who has begun communicating with his AHL teammates through Facetime calls and is alert, joking and sounding like somebody that’s starting to make a slow recovery from whatever mysterious thing caused him to collapse prior to a Roadrunners game.

*Flyers D-man Shayne Gostisbehere has made such a splash with the Broad Street Bullies that he’s got a “Ghost Bear” beer named after him.

*For something completely different: The first trailer for "Spider Man: Homecoming" is going to be shown during Jimmy Kimmel, and it’s looking pretty cool in this snippet.

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

Bruins hope OT win was sign of things to come offensively

BOSTON -- For a team where offense has been a major problem area this season, lighting the lamp four times against the Florida Panthers on Monday night was a welcomed sight for the Bruins indeed.

The Bruins won it in dazzling fashion with a 4-3 overtime win on a David Pastrnak rush to the net after he totally undressed D-man Mike Matheson on his way to the painted area, and then skill took over for him easily beating Roberto Luongo with a skate-off goal.

That was the game-breaker doing his thing and finishing with a pair of goals in victory, and continuing to push a pace that has the 20-year-old right wing on track for more than 40 goals this season.

That would give the Bruins just their fourth 40-goal scorer in the last 25 years of franchise history (Glen Murray in 2002-03, Bill Guerin in 2001-02 and Cam Neely in 1993-94), and mark one of the bigger reasons behind an expected offensive surge that may just be coming for a Black and Gold group currently ranked 23rd in the league in offense.

They just hope that the four strikes vs. Florida is indeed a harbinger of things to come for the rest of the season after serving as just the eighth time in just 26 games this season that they scored more than two goals.

“[There have been] a lot of tight games and low-scoring games, you’re right. It’s good, but as a goalie, I’m not happy when I let in three goals, ever. But it’s great to see that scoring support,” said Tuukka Rask. “When you get four goals, you expect to win, and a lot of times when we get three, I expect to win. It’s great to see [an uptick in scoring].”

So what is there to be optimistic about from a B’s offensive perspective aside from Pastrnak blowing up for a couple more goals to keep pace among the NHL league leaders with Sidney Crosby and Patrick Laine?

Well, the Bruins are starting to see results from crashing to the front of the net, attacking in the offensive zone and finally finishing off plays after serving as one of the best puck possession teams in the league over the first few months.

Just look at how the goals were scored, and how the Bruins are working in closer to the net rather than settling for perimeter plays.

The first goal on Monday night was a result of Tim Schaller crashing down the slot area for a perfectly executed one-timer feed from David Krejci. Similarly David Pastrnak was hanging around in front of the net in the second period when a no-look, spinning Brad Marchand dish from behind the net came his way, and he wasn’t going to miss from that range against Roberto Luongo. Then David Backes parked his big body in front of the Florida net in the third period, and redirected a Ryan Spooner shot up and over Luongo for the score that got the Bruins into overtime.

It’s one of a couple of goals scored by Backes down low recently, and his third goal in the last five games as he heats up with his playmaking center in Krejci. The 32-year-old Backes now has seven goals on the season and is on pace for 26 goals after a bit of a slow start, and the offense is coming for that line as they still search for balance in their two-way hockey play.

“A few more guys are feeling [better] about their games, and know that we’re capable of putting a crooked number up like that. It bodes well moving forward,” said Backes. “But you can’t think that we’re going to relax after the effort that we put in. We’ve got to skill to those dirty areas and still get those second and third chances, and not take anything off during those opportunities. It’s got to go to the back of the net.

“With the way Tuukka has played, and our defense has been stingy and our penalty kill has been on, four goals should be a win for our team. It hasn’t always been easy for us this year. It’s been a process, but I think you’re starting to see the things that you need to see in order for us to score goals. We’re going to the front of the net and getting extended offensive zone time, and then you find a few guys like Pasta in the slot. That’s a good recipe for us.”

Then there’s Ryan Spooner, who enjoyed his best game of the season on Monday night and set up the B’s third goal of the game with his speed and creativity. It was noticeable watching Spooner play with his unbridled skating speed and creative playmaking, and it made a discernible difference in Boston’s overall offensive attack against Florida. It’s something that Claude Julien is hoping to see more of moving forward from Spooner after recent trade rumors really seemed to spark the 23-year-old center, and also knocked some of the inconsistency from a player that’s extremely dangerous offensively when he’s “on.”

“It’s obvious that if Ryan wants to give us those kinds of games, then we have lots of time for him. When he doesn’t we just can’t afford to give him that kind of ice time,” said Julien. “There are games where he hasn’t been as involved, and it’s obvious and apparent to everybody that when he’s not getting involved then he’s not helping our team. When he is playing the way he did yesterday, we can certainly use that player more than not. We’d love to see him get consistent with those kinds of games.”

So while it’s clear the Bruins aren’t completely out of the woods offensively and there are still players like Patrice Bergeron sitting below their usual offensive numbers, it’s also been a little mystifying to watch Boston struggle so much offensively given their talent level.

The Black and Gold fully realized that potential in taking a tough divisional game from Florida on Monday night, and they hope it’s something to build on as the schedule doesn’t let up at all in the coming weeks.