BOSTON -- Slowly but surely, the much-maligned Bruins power play has been building up respectability while chipping in goals here and there through the season’s first month. Saturday’s 3-1 win over the Leafs powered by man-advantage goals might finally have served as the power play's coming out party for this season and beyond.
The revamped power play handed the Bruins everything they would need at TD Garden with power-play strikes in the first and third periods, providing them with their second multi-power-play goal game of the season.
Both PP units scored in the victory against the hockey club Boston vanquished in the first round of the playoffs last spring, and that vaulted the B’s into the NHL’s top half of most successful power play teams (19.1 percent). That’s a far cry from the powerless PP units from the last few years that sucked untold amounts of energy and momentum right out of the Bruins. Never a team of elite goal-scorers, the Bruins simply never consistently produced. They ranked 26th in the PP last season while scoring on 14.8 percent of their chances.
Their recent tales of power play woe are legend going back to the measly 10 goals scored on 88 PP chances three years ago when the Bruins won the Cup.
Combined with a Bruins penalty kill unit that snuffed out three penalties in the win over the Leafs -- and has shut down 18 consecutive power play possessions -- Boston boasted the kind of special teams other clubs would kill for. (No pun intended.)
“I felt our special teams were obviously the difference tonight," coach Claude Julien said. "Penalty kill was extremely good; winning battles and getting pucks down the other end, and even when they had the possession in our own end we were always in the shooting lane. We didn’t give them much there. Our power play scored two big goals, and that was huge as well.
“It was one of those nights where you really relied on your special teams a lot and they got you a win.”
So how have they gone about creating this effective, new power play?
The Bruins opened up the game with a powerful first 20 minutes, and that was capped off by a power-play goal from what’s become a potentially dominant first PP unit.
David Krejci won an offensive zone face-off against Jay McClement that immediately bounced off the boards to Torey Krug with his head up at the right point.
With two PK skaters heading right toward Krug to pressure the 22-year-old defenseman, the skilled rookie instead flipped a saucer pass to Jarome Iginla cutting backdoor. Iginla was robbed on a rush to the post by James Reimer, but the puck bounced right back to the B’s right winger as his momentum carried him past the net.
Iginla quickly changed strategies ad shuffled a drop pass to Zdeno Chara in the slot while the 6-foot-9 defenseman battled with Carl Gunnarson and Dion Phaneuf for position in front of the net.
Showing off hands that belie his mammoth size and defensive reputation, Chara -- who had one of his best games of this early season -- popped off a shot into the open net.
That was Boston’s only goal of the game until the fateful third period came around with the game on the line.
The Bruins were essentially handed a four-minute PP after James van Riemsdyk smacked Johnny Boychuk in the chops with a cross-check. Boychuk was cut open with a smashed upper lip, and the Leafs were gashed after holding the momentum for nearly the entire second period.
It was Patrice Bergeron that fired the puck into an open net after quick passing from Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg got him a chance right in front. Dougie Hamilton had made a nifty play to keep the puck in the offensive zone just before the interior passing that gave No. 37 the golden scoring chance for the game-winner.
Bergeron’s PP was actually the first power play goal scored by a Bruins forward this season in their 16th game, but that speaks to how well Chara, Krug and Hamilton have things humming on special teams.
Believe it or not, the Bruins are getting to the point where both PP units are featuring different strengths, and actually pushing each other for more offense.
“I know, it’s good. It’s something that we’ve worked on for a few years now and now it seems to be clicking," said Bergeron. "Obviously that helps the team a lot. That’s something that we’ve talked a lot about, and that we needed to be better at. So far it’s been good. We’ve got to keep building on that and the PK is the same thing. We’ve got to keep playing well there and the special teams are always a key to get some points.”
How could it not be a key?
Chara is an immovable object that’s perhaps one of the few players capable of battling down low for position in front of the opposing goaltender no matter who he’s battling down low, and Krug is an offensive spark that continues to pile up power-play points. Iginla brought over his gaudy career power-play numbers and proficiency, and he hasn’t even registered a power-play goal for the Bruins yet this season.
Those subtle changes and additions have already made a huge difference to offensive zone time for the B’s man advantage, and they’re now starting to push the production into respectable areas. More than not costing the Bruins momentum in games, the power play proved again on Saturday night that it can win points.
Now the Bruins power play unit just needs to keep learning and growing with the players that have turned it into a weapon this season. In time, the team will see exactly how good that unit can be in a year of big change.