Bruins still working out the kinks on power play unit

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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.

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while thinking about and praying for the people of Manchester, England. It’s obviously an evil, cowardly act to bomb any public place, but to do it at a concert filled with women and children is the lowest of the low.

*The Capitals players are acknowledging that there’s some kind of mental block with the Stanley Cup playoffs. CSN Mid-Atlantic has all the details.

*It’s been a very odd postseason for the NHL where there are so many non-traditional teams still alive with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Fina, and the Ottawa Senators fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference Final. On that note, there is a ton of disappointment at the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre for Ottawa’s home games in the playoffs. It sounds like there are going to be empty seats tonight for a do-or-die Game 6 in Ottawa. That is an embarrassment for a Canadian city that’s supposed to pride itself on their love of hockey. Let’s hope the Senators fans have a last-minute surge to buy tickets and show some appreciation for a Senators team that’s given the Ottawa fans a totally unexpected ride through the postseason this spring. I mean, Erik Karlsson at the top of his game is worth the price of admission all by himself.  

*The Pittsburgh Penguins have the Senators on the ropes, and it’s been an impressive showing given that they’re doing it without Kris Letang.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the ownership for the St. Louis Blues giving their GM Doug Armstrong a vote of confidence.

*Another early exit from the playoffs is going to start making some players expendable on the New York Rangers roster.

*Here’s a good piece on how David Poile built the Nashville Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Give credit where it’s due: He manned up and made a big move dealing away Shea Weber straight up for PK Subban. It’s really worked for Music City as they’ve stepped to the next level.

*Speaking of Nashville’s rise this spring in a wide open Western Conference, Pekka Rinne has silenced the critics he might have had by carrying his team to the Cup Final.

*For something completely different: Boston law enforcement is on high alert after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in the UK.

 

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right.