BOSTON – The Bruins ended up defeating the lowly Buffalo Sabres, 4-1, at TD Garden on Saturday night, but it was a much closer game than the score would indicate.
In fact it was the killing of a 5-on-3 Buffalo advantage for nearly two minutes in the second period that essentially gave the Bruins the lift they would need for takeoff against the Sabres. Two of their best penalty killers were in the box in Patrice Bergeron (cross-checking) and Gregory Campbell (a nasty high stick to Jamie McBain’s face that cut the Buffalo defenseman’s nose open), and coach Claude Julien was forced to get creative with his combinations.
He had Ryan Spooner taking defensive zone faceoffs against Buffalo center Steve Ott, and he was pushing Torey Krug into a forward position as a penalty killer where his speed and tenaciousness might better serve the unit.
Both did remarkably well in unfamiliar positions, and Spooner continues to show he can do more than just make plays in the offensive zone, as he did on a first period power play goal for Reilly Smith. He won 7-of-9 faceoffs in a big improvement in that category for the 22-year-old.
The kids were definitely all right when it came to killing the two-man advantage, and recognizing the key spot in the game that had to go Boston’s way.
“I think we got to a point there when [Chris] Kelly is injured, [Daniel] Paille -- another penalty killer -- is injured, then you got just Campbell and Bergeron in the box, so you’re getting a little bit thin here,” said Julien. “So we ended up – [David Warsofsky] is a pretty smart player also so we put him up front, and then we had Spoons [Spooner] ready for that. But also Spoons and Kruger, two guys that are smart and quick, up top is what we look for in that penalty kill with those two guys in the penalty box.
“They did a good job. You kind of ad-lib every once in a while and be creative, and that’s what we tried to do. I don’t think we were necessarily ready to be killing a five-on-three with two of our top [penalty-killing centers] in the penalty box, but then you have to react quickly and make that choice. Spooner was really good on draws tonight so we put him on the faceoff to kill that five-on-three. You have to be a little creative sometimes, and you have to be on your toes, and go with what your gut feeling.”
It wasn’t an ideal situation for the Bruins, but they managed to snuff out the Sabres' PP attack aside from one post hit by Ville Leino. In fact, they did the same thing in keeping Buffalo’s power play squad 0-for-6 with only four shots on net, and got a big charge out of the second period special teams’ show of strength.
“It was big. It was important for us, we’ve been five-on-three a couple games in a row now,” said Krug. “For us, just battle through it and we have great penalty killers. But Tuukka [Rask] was our best penalty killer tonight.”
The goalie is always the team’s best penalty killer, but there’s something to be said for a B’s PK unit that now ranks third in the NHL while shutting down 87.2 percent of their chances. That applies whether it’s a cobbled together unit with Krug, Spooner and Warsofsky, or the old reliable with Bergeron, Campbell and a few injured players just biding their time to get back into the lineup.