Boston Bruins

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.

Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

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Marchand stepping up his twitter game to hilarious effect

BOSTON – It was probably only a matter of time before it happened, but it looks like Boston’s favorite Little Ball of Hate is stepping up his game on social media.

Brad Marchand is known as much for his rabble-rousing and trash-talking on the ice as he is for massive offensive production while serving as Boston’s top scorer in each of the last few seasons. So Marchand has the perfect mixture of good humor and clout as a star NHL player, and that usually combines for a pretty powerful voice on Twitter.

Marchand has been noticeably more active on Twitter in recent days with a wide-ranging group of tweets, and the big winner is the hockey fan that gets a little more exposure to some classic Nose Face Killah wit. Some of the tweets have been as a Bruins team leader where he’s praising the talented young crop of B’s prospects that he’s watching during training camp:

Some have been about chirping the NHL for their decision to skip the Olympics this winter where Marchand most certainly would have been primed for a chance at a Gold Medal:

Some have been engaging with “fans” and dropping classic pop culture references from children’s books while showing the nasty edge that routinely drives opponents up a wall:

The Charlotte’s Web reference is a devastating classic from Marchand, a noted longtime fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Sometimes it’s just telling a quick story in a tweet that gives you an inside look at the kind of chirping that goes on when Marchand is on the ice:

A social media platform like Twitter was made for a personality like Marchand, and a stepped-up presence is good for him and good for hockey fans. So why all of a sudden is No. 63 tweeting with greater frequency over the last few days?

It sounds like it’s a combination of training camp boredom and a genuine interest in amplifying his voice on all manner of subjects.

“I’ve just been kind of lying around with nothing to do and I jumped on [twitter]…thought it was kind of funny,” said Marchand. “I thought I’d get a little more involved. I don’t know if I’m going to have enough time to do it every day, but it’s fun.”

As fun as it’s been for Marchand, it’s no doubt even more fun for the fans that might get a chance to interact with him even if it’s as the unwitting foil for one of his well-placed chirps. 

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Cassidy: Khudobin 'has a leg up' on backup competition in Bruins camp

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Cassidy: Khudobin 'has a leg up' on backup competition in Bruins camp

BOSTON – Fresh off a strong performance allowing just a single goal on 31 shots in his preseason debut, Tuukka Rask looked close to the top of his game and exactly where he needs to be with the regular season a couple of weeks away. Nearly as important as Rask’s state as the regular season nears, the Bruins coaching staff has been keeping a keen eye through camp on the all-important backup goaltender position as well. 

It’s important that the Bruins have a quality backup goalie in place as they hope to start Rask in just 55-60 games this season, and manage the slender puck-stopper in a way where they can get the best out of him from beginning to end. Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy indicated Anton Khudobin has the inside track on the backup job after finding his groove in the second half of last season, and it would appear he’s well on his way to retaining his job with a Malcolm Subban/Zane McIntyre tandem in Providence.

“Tuukka looks good, and looks good in practice and healthy. So that’s reassuring,” said Cassidy. “[Anton Khudobin] I thought played very well in his game. He had the one unfortunate goal, but I thought he was rock-solid the rest of the game. He’s in very good shape and he’s practiced well, so he’s got a leg up on the other [goalies] based on his experience.

“We know that going in, but he’s going to get pushed. Zane [McIntyre] was good in a game, and Malcolm let in a couple where he could have been more aggressive. But it was a first game, so right now they all look good. That’s a good problem to have if they all push each other, but to get direct to the point Anton has done nothing to lose that backup spot.”

At this point, it would likely be McIntyre rather than Subban that would challenge for the NHL backup job if Khudobin did stumble at all in training camp or early in the regular season as he did last year. There will be no backup controversy, however, if the 31-year-old plays like he did in stopping 20-of-22 shots in Tuesday night’s win vs. the Red Wings or as he did going 6-1-0 with a .922 save percentage after the All-Star break last season.  

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