Julien: Bruins will keep working on powerplay

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Julien: Bruins will keep working on powerplay

BOSTON -- If the Bruins hadn't won Game 1 on Thursday night, the main topic of conversation following the game would have been the power play.

Even Claude Julien admitted such, following his team's 1-0 overtime win over the Washington Capitals at the TD Garden.

But Chris Kelly's blast from the left circle, just 1:18 into OT, sent everybody in Boston home happy, and the Bruins' 0-for-4 night on the man advantage was merely an afterthought.

It was a thought, nonetheless.

"We had a couple of good opportunities, but I think that we have to get more pucks to the net, for sure," said Bruins forward Brian Rolston after the Game 1 win. "I think that Washington did a good job though. We're in the playoffs. Everybody's blocking shots. We have to find a way to get pucks through. That's a huge thing."

In their eight minutes on the power play, the Bruins had seven shots on goal. Some perfect opportunities were squandered through bouncing pucks and whiffed attempts at one-timers, but for the most part, the Bruins just didn't find enough openings to get enough puck movement.

It's a problem that didn't begin on Thursday night. The power play was a problem for this Bruins team last postseason as well. In fact, it was the worst in the playoffs.

But still, the B's have a ring to show for it. Mainly because their penalty kill was one of the best in the postseason.

Boston's penalty kill also prevented Washington's power play from scoring on Thursday night. The Capitals finished the game 0-for-2 on the man advantage.

Obviously the Bruins want to improve their power play, but knowing that they still have a chance to win a Stanley Cup -- and a game against the Capitals -- even if it doesn't improve, is somewhat relieving.

"Well, if you don't get scored on, that always helps, right? But you want to use your man advantage to score," said Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg after Thursday's win. "We just didn't seem to get those lanes and enough movement in order to get shooting lanes. We just have to be better.

"If we have four or five power plays, you've got to score on one of them. But again, we did a good job on the penalty kill, and we just have to improve on the power play I think."

So the Bruins will get back to work on Friday. And they will work on the power play once again. But how does it improve in games?

"Sliding and having a lot of movement up top at the blue line," said Seidenberg. "Finding shooting lanes with guys in front of the net. The puck movement's got to be poised. We've got to make stick-to-stick passes and attack when it's the right time to attack. And go from there."

Those stick-to-stick passes weren't crisp and clean in Game 1, and the puck movement wasn't smooth. But a win's a win.

And while it seems a poor power play these days isn't the end of the world, it certainly will be something they'll continue to address.

"Our guys weren't seeing much tonight," said Julien. "There were some openings that we could have used. And then, we were passing the puck a little too much versus shooting it. When we made some of those passes, some of those guys should have ripped a shot right away, and instead we stopped it and we started looking for another play.

"It's unfortunate, because at practice this week, I thought our guys were moving the puck well," added Julien. "They were finding the openings that we didn't find tonight. So, we'll keep working on that, and hopefully make it a better situation. Because there's no doubt, if we don't win the game tonight, we'd be talking a lot about that being the reason we lost."

Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

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Bruins bouncing between left wings Schaller and Spooner on Krejci line

BRIGHTON, Mass. – It certainly doesn’t feel like it will go on forever this way for the Bruins, but at this point it’s essentially a case of musical left wings on the David Krejci line as it’s been for much of this season. 

Ryan Spooner has spent the majority of the season adjusting to playing the wing with Krejci, and has been just okay trying to play away from his natural center spot while using his speed and playmaking on the wing. But the speedy Spooner also spent his share of time lately on the fourth line after getting off to a slow offensive start this season with three goals and eight points along with a minus-1 rating in 23 games. 

The bouncing between the second and fourth line has undoubtedly been frustrating for the 24-year-old getting pushed off his natural position after posting 49 points in his first full year as a third line center. But Spooner has continued to toe the company line, work on keeping his confidence high for a productive offensive season and do what he needs to in an effort to get off a fourth line.

That’s opened the door for hard-nosed former Providence College standout Tim Schaller to get some top-6 forward time on the Krejci line as well, but he’s just posted a single assist in the last three games while working hard to keep up offensively with David Krejci and David Backes. The 6-foot-2, 219-pound Schaller has the grittiness to do the dirty work for that line in the corners and in front of the net, and he can certainly skate well enough for a big, energy forward. 

“To think this was going to happen, I would say ‘no’,” said Schaller when asked if he could have predicted at the start of the season that he’d be getting a look from the B’s in a top-6 role. “I’ve been able to play with whoever and whenever my whole career. I wouldn’t want to say it’s one of those things that I had expected, but I’m always ready for it. 

“We’ve been working pretty well together. I don’t know that we’ve had too many great [offensive] opportunities to capitalize on, but Backes and Krejci are good enough players that they’ll come. They’re good enough to bury on those chances, so the goals will come. I’m always going to play the same way no matter who I’m with. Those guys might have the puck on their sticks a little longer than other linemates of mine, but that will just create more space and opportunities.”

So Spooner and Schaller bring different strengths and weaknesses to the table as the B’s coaching staff searches for the right fit alongside Krejci and Backes, and Julien sounds like a coach that’s going to keep swinging back and forth between the two players. He certainly did that with Spooner during the third period in Philly, which led to an immediate goal for Krejci in the third period comeback, and toward the end of the Carolina win with the B's desperate for offense. 

Julien also didn’t rule out Matt Beleskey getting another look there as well with the Bruins having a tough time finding anybody to consistently fill Loui Eriksson’s role from last season.

“At times I don’t think that offense has been producing much because maybe it’s lacking a little bit of speed at that time, so you put Spooner back up there. But sometimes you feel like that line isn’t winning enough battles or spending enough time in the offensive zone, so you put Schaller back in there because he’s going to play a little grittier. So we’re looking there,” said Julien. “We’d love to be able to find somebody to be a consistent player there. We’ve had Matt Beleskey there and that line never really did anything. 

“[Beleskey] has been much better on the [third] line and he’s been getting more chances, so I’ve been trying to put the best scenario together, I guess. Sometimes it’s the situation and sometimes it’s the matchup [against the other team] as well. So there are different reasons for that. I’ve just got to make it work. If it’s working with [Schaller] on that night then you stick with it, and if you don’t think you’re getting enough then you move [Spooner] there and see if you can a little spark with some speed. It doesn’t mean Beleskey won’t go back there. That’s what we have right now.”

So it’s clear Julien, and the B’s coaching staff, have simply tried to find something that will work on a consistent basis with a couple of key offensive players on Boston’s second most important forward line. The one wild card in all of this: the impending return of Frank Vatrano, who has been skating for nearly two weeks as he works toward a return from foot surgery.

Vatrano was initially penciled in as the left winger alongside Krejci to start NHL camp this fall, and the Bruins were hoping he was going to build on the eight goals he scored in Boston last season in a limited role.

Vatrano could be ready to play within the next couple of weeks, and should be back in the B’s lineup prior to the early January timetable originally offered at the time of his surgery. So perhaps the 22-year-old Vatrano can end this season-long carousel of Bruins left wingers getting paraded on and off the Krejci line, and finally give the B’s greater options at left wing. 

But the Czech playmaking center could use some stability also as he looks to find the highest level of his game in a challenging year for the Black and Gold, and do it while the Bruins find the right kind of talent to skate alongside him.