The era of the Bruins power play as league-wide punch line might finally be coming to an end.
It was a constipated, unsightly run last season for the Bruins. They ranked 26th in the NHL with a 14.8 percent success rate during the regular season, and they have ranked in the NHL’s bottom third of power play success percentage in three of the last four seasons. During the playoffs, the Bruins have scored on only 13.2 percent (23-of-174) power plays over the last three seasons but have still managed to get to the Stanley Cup Final twice in that period.
The Bruins are enjoying success anyway, but it boggles the mind to think what the Black and Gold might be capable of if they were cashing in on the man advantage on a regular basis. One could actually envision it in the later rounds of last year’s playoffs when Torey Krug injected a little life into Boston’s power play squad, and the B’s ended middle of the road with 11 PP goals in 63 tries for a respectable 17.5 percent success rate.
But things haven’t consistently been productive for Boston’s special teams since Marc Savard was brained by Matt Cooke four years ago.
That could all change heading into this season, however. The Bruins served notice by dropping four power-play goals on the Montreal Canadiens in their first exhibition game last week, and they’ve continued to look confident, productive and smooth on the man advantage through camp practices and subsequent games.
“I think our power plays look pretty good so far," coach Claude Julien said. "Preseason is preseason and not all the teams have their best penalty-killers out there, but I’ve liked the puck movement. I’ve liked the results . . . In every power play we seem to at least get something out of it. So hopefully that continues.”
Having the mobile, hard-shooting Krug for a full season and the signing of Jarome Iginla certainly look like they’re going to change things for the Black and Gold. Iginla provides the Bruins with that righty shooter from the left face-off circle that they’ve lacked over the last few years. Instead of Tyler Seguin or Rich Peverley going high glass with every bid from the “Stamkos spot” in the middle of the left circle, Iginla is shooting daggers at the open spots on the net.
Watching Iginla operate, it should be little surprise that he averaged 12 power-play goals per season over the 12 seasons prior to last year’s lockout season. A natural-born goal scorer is something that every power play needs, and the final touch of dropping Zdeno Chara down low near the net creates a versatile five-man PP unit that can rotate through the formation.
The 36-year-old Iginla certainly thinks he sees all the makings of an explosive power play unit.
“I think we can have a really good power play," Iginla said. "There are at least a couple of units that can get chances for both minutes that we’re out there. Loui Eriksson is great on the power play . . . great hands, crafty and can shoot. Big Zee, if he’s going to be in front of the net, I don’t know if there’s anybody that’s bigger and stronger than he is. He’s got good hands and a good reach to win puck battles in the corner, and get set up [in the offensive zone].
“You’ve got [Lucic] battling with Zee down low. Would you want to take on those two in the corner? Then Krejci and Krug are back there [at the point] setting things up. I haven’t played with a Krug a long time, but you get to see him up close, and see his confidence the way he moves the puck. I knew his one-timer because we saw that in the [Eastern Conference Finals], but [I’ve noticed] the way he moves it and how quick he is. There are a lot of tools here for a really good power play. We’re going to keep working at it.”
Iginla and Co. have made a believer out of this humble hockey writer, but strong, immediate and indisputable results in the form of regular season PP goals will go a long way toward convincing everybody else.
WELCOME BACK, FITZ
Good to see Bruins assistant director of amateur scouting Scott Fitzgerald around Ristuccia Arena this summer during development camp in July, and then again during the B’s rookie training camp in September. Fitzgerald is still getting around in a wheelchair after being involved in a major car accident last winter on Rt. 125 near Merrimack College. The Bruins actually held their pre-draft scout meetings at Spaulding Rehab in order for Fitzgerald to be involved before he was released and allowed to return home this summer.
Fitzgerald plans to hit the local rinks to take a look at some of the draft-eligible talent this winter while embarking on the slow road to recovery, and that’s good news for the Black and Gold. The experienced Bruins scout was the driving force behind Boston’s pursuit of Michigan State defenseman Torey Krug after the organization failed to select him in the 2011 draft. As the story goes, Fitzgerald was advocating strongly for selecting Krug at the end of the draft. But the Bruins had dealt their seventh-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks, and weren’t able to obtain another seventh rounder to secure Krug’s draft rights.
Instead the Bruins kept the skilled, undersized defenseman on their radar, and reaped the benefits last spring when the undrafted defenseman exploded on the scene against the New York Rangers in the second round of the playoffs. Krug was an organizational signing, of course, but Fitzgerald was his biggest champion before anybody knew if the 5-foot-9 blueliner could hack it at the NHL level.
While its beneficial for the B’s to have Fitzgerald back in the scouting game, healing fully from his multiple surgeries stemming from the accident remains priority number one.
“It’s been a tough road, but Peter [Chiarelli], Don [Sweeney], Jim [Benning] and Cam [Neely] have all been great about everything,” said Fitzgerald. “Peter told me to take the year and heal up, and that my job would be waiting for me when I was physically ready for it again. That’s all I needed to hear.”
So Fitzgerald will be a recognizable figure at local college hockey and junior hockey games in the Boston area this winter, but he’s also got a lot more free time on his hands. Fitzgerald has found the world of Twitter during his rehab and recovery, and is using that to stay up to date in all hockey world happenings.
“It’s pretty addicting,” said Fitzgerald. “But it’s also great keeping up with the hockey news.”
Pretty soon Fitzgerald will be up and at them once again gathering his fill of hockey news while sitting in the stands with the rest of the amateur scouts searching for the next NHL diamond in the rough.
We find these truths to be self-evident: Tim Thomas quit on the Boston Bruins organization, and his teammates, for his own personal reasons, and is now always one Facebook post away from becoming a major distraction to any NHL team that decides to give the aging goaltender another shot at greatness.
But he’s also a goaltender with a 196-121 career record, a .921 career save percentage, a 2.48 goals against average and 31 career shutouts in an NHL body of work that didn’t even get started until after he turned 30 years old. He was the most dominant goaltender of the last five years while winning a pair of Vezina Trophies and a Conn Smythe during Boston’s Stanley Cup run.
Thomas is also one of the most unique, earnest and honest players in the NHL when the mood strikes him. So it could be very good for Thomas, the NHL and the Florida Panthers if the longtime veteran’s “tryout” goes well in the Sunshine State. Most in the Bruins dressing room are already assuming Thomas will make the team and be their No. 1 goaltender while batting down the hatches for Boston’s first tilt with Florida in October.
But there will also be more than a few curious eyes to see how things play out between Thomas and a Panthers team that doesn’t have Zdeno Chara, or any of the defensive structure that factored greatly into his success in Boston.
“You fully expect that Timmy is going to succeed in Florida because he’s trying to prove people wrong. He’s been doing that his whole life,” said one hockey source familiar with the considerable upside and downside to the goalie. “But it seems like they’re also bringing in Thomas as a mentor to their young goalie (Jakob Markstrom). That’s not really something Thomas is very good at. He has too much of a ‘kill or be killed’ mentality when it comes to competing, and he’ll view the young goalie as competition.”
Perhaps that is how it will play out with the 23-year-old Markstrom, or maybe a year away from the NHL with “Friends, Faith and Family” has changed Thomas, and he’s now more willing to play the role of aging veteran ready to impart his wisdom on the next generation of goaltenders.
Here’s hoping it all works out for Thomas because the NHL was a more boring place with him holed up in his underground bunker in Colorado last season.
* Amazing to think Bruins defenseman prospect Zach Trotman was the Mr. Irrelevant of the 2010 Draft when he was the final player selected with the 210th overall pick out of Lake Superior State. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder has come a long way in the last three years, and impressed Bruins officials with his play throughout rookie camp and NHL camp this month. The late bloomer was sent down to AHL training camp at the end of last week despite some high points for the Bruins, but he should also be the first defenseman called up in case of an emergency in Boston.
* Shawn Thornton, a big fan of both boxing and mixed martial arts, spent a portion of his summer helping promote the UFC’s return to Boston for a full card of fights that took place at TD Garden in the middle of the August. Thornton had a front-row seat for the bouts, and was very deferential to those fighters despite his standing as one of the toughest players in the NHL.
“I think the UFC guys are the best athletes and most well-conditioned guys in any sport,” said Thornton. “They have to be. I was watching a UFC documentary about one of the fighters [B.J. Penn] and his training regimen. The guy can go from a standing still position in a three foot pool to jumping straight out of the pool and onto the ledge in one motion. That’s crazy. I didn’t even think human beings could do something like that.”
* It was a close call for Johnny Boychuk during Tuesday night’s preseason game against the Washington Capitals at Baltimore Arena. After the Caps scored their second goal of the game, a hockey-crazed Baltimore fan tossed a giant crab onto the ice that nearly caught the Bruins defenseman square in the head. Boychuk managed to duck the crab unexpectedly thrown his way, and didn’t see another crustacean projectile for the rest of the game. If Boychuk had been thinking ahead he could have scooped up the crab, taken it to the bench and then whipped up some crab cakes for the bus ride from the arena to the chartered flight back to Hanscom Airport.
* Don’t expect the Bruins to change course and jump on any veteran players in the unemployment line like Brenden Morrow or Simon Gagne. The Bruins already have all the roster answers they’ll need to begin the regular season, and they’ll reassess what they’ve got once they get through a healthy portion of the 82 game schedule.
* Congrats to former Boston College goaltender John Muse, who picked up an invite to AHL training camp with the Providence Bruins where he’ll compete with Adam Morrison and Malcolm Subban. The 25-year-old East Falmouth native has kicked around the ECHL and AHL over the last two seasons, and had a dominant stretch with the Charlotte Checkers two years ago where he posted a 10-3-2 record with a .941 save percentage and 1.81 goals against average. But things took a step back last season when he struggled with both the Checkers (.891 save percentage) and the ECHL’s Florida Everblades (.884 save percentage). But it certainly never hurts to give a look at a two-time NCAA national champion at the Heights that was one of four goalies to pitch a shutout (of Wisconsin) in the championship game.
The 5-foot-11, 185-pound Muse will be with the P-Bruins when their training camp opens in North Smithfield on Monday morning along with a host of players released from B’s camp over the last week.
* On Saturday, Sept. 28, from 7 p.m. to midnight, the Stoneham Police Patrolman’s Association will be hosting a benefit at the Montvale Plaza for Marc Fucarile, who was the last victim of the April 15 marathon bombings to be released from the hospital.
Fucarile grew up two blocks from me in Stoneham, and was part of a tight-knit neighborhood of kids that played kick ball and had snowball fights on a regular basis.
So it’s certainly a cause that hits close to home for me.
The night will consist of food, music, comedy and raffles. Money raised will assist in Fucarile’s recovery. The association would appreciate any/all donations for this event. As a donor, your donation will be mentioned at the event to share with the participants your generosity.
Tickets for the event are $30 each, and for those unable to attend a $20 donation enters you into door raffles. Tickets are available for purchase in the lobby of the Stoneham Police Station, at 47 Central St.
Call Stoneham police officer Joseph Ponzo at 781-438-1215 x3220 or Jay Connolly at 978-804-1678 with questions.
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.