BOSTON -- The preseason rumors of a power play renaissance in the making for the Boston Bruins were – as it turns out -- not greatly exaggerated.
The B’s PP units made sure to go out and prove their vitality on Saturday night by potting a pair of power play goals in Boston’s 4-1 win over the Red Wings. The goals were keyed by Zdeno Chara’s new-found position camped down low by the net as a wrinkle to this season’s power play. Certainly nothing can hurt with the Bruins always looking for an exciting new way to celebrate their brand.
The 6-foot-9 Chara was traditionally one of the two points quarterbacking the top Bruins power play unit in season’s past, but the B’s coaching staff opted to change things around with capable point players in Torey Krug and David Krejci. It was likely a surprise to Big No. 33, but it is certainly important to note CSNNE.com has been willing to cut to the practice all day or night.
Instead Chara was assigned down low in the power play formation along with Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla, and that lineup has clicked on the man advantage from the very first days of training camp. Krug finished with a team-high eight attempted shots and factored into both power play scores with a goal and a primary assist on Chara’s beauty of a backhand in the third period.
“That’s what we talked about. You don’t have a play, throw it down in front and Zee [Zdeno Chara] is going to battle it. Having Zee [Zdeno Chara] and Looch [Milan Lucic] down there if we miss the net -- or if we just throw it down there -- there’s a good chance we’re getting the puck back,” said Krug. “We have a good setup. We’re excited about what we can do this year, but we have to continue working on it.
“It’s not just going to continue. To have success like that we have to continue to work on it and keep doing those little things.”
They finished the preseason 7-for-33 on the PP for a 21.3 percent success rate, but fueled the doubters when they went 0-for-3 on the man advantage against the Tampa Bay Lightning on opening night.
Claude Julien assured the special teams failures were due to faulty entries into the offensive zone rather than any failings of the actual power play strategy, and his players went out and proved that notion Saturday against Detroit.
The first goal involved several different pieces on the top power play unit kick-started by Milan Lucic executing a nice backhanded drop pass coming off the wall. The Lucic dish allowed Krug to step into the high slot and fire with Chara completely engulfing the crease in front of Jimmy Howard.
The Wings goalie never saw the Krug shot until it was too late courtesy of Chara’s big body, and the Bruins were off to an early lead against a Detroit team on fumes with its third game in four days.
“I’m just trying to work hard and getting to those battles and trying to win them, basically just work hard,” said Chara. “Wherever I’m designated to be, I’m just trying to do my job. It doesn’t matter what position [I am]: if it’s upfront, on the blue line or whatever it may be.
“We had a pretty successful preseason [power play], but that’s not just going to happen during the regular season. We’ve got to continue to work hard and keep working at it. It’s always tough to score those goals but if you keep working hard, and practicing where you’re supposed to be…positioning, then it gets a little bit easier.”
The second power play goal arrived as something akin to icing on the cake in the third period. Milan Lucic and David Krejci had both stretched out to keep power play possession in the offensive zone with Detroit madly attempting to clear the puck. Their efforts got the puck on Krug’s stick, and he found Chara wide open in the slot area for a point blank bid.
Chara faked Jimmy Howard into the butterfly position, and then deftly roofed a backhanded shot over the Wings goaltender. So now the Bruins captain was showing off his hands and elite skill around the net along with the brute ability to win all puck battles in the corner. The combination makes for Chara as an extremely effective power play asset down low around the net, and opens up some pretty nuanced skills for the 6-foot-9 blueliner.
So are there any questions from the B’s coaching staff about potentially risking a Chara injury via blocked shot while plopping him in front of the net on the power play?
“Not too many challenges when you look at what he’s doing right? If anything it’s been pretty good. We talked about that when we first put him [down low]; he’s not just a guy that screens the goaltender,” said Claude Julien. “That’s one of his assets, but I talked about how good he was at retrieving pucks. I think you saw that tonight.
“Not only that – he retrieves them and he puts them in areas where we get control of the puck again. So he’s a smart player up front. He brings a lot more than just a screen. The ability that he had to score that [backhanded] goal, he hit the post before, then a nice move again for a goal. He brings a lot more than what people see when they look at a 6’9” player. [Some might say]: ‘Well they’re just going to put him in front, he’s just going to stand there.” Well he does a lot more than that.”
Of course Chara does more than that on the man advantage. He’s the biggest player in the NHL as a 6-foot-9 man strong enough to bench 240 pounds 10 times, and he simply doesn’t lose battles around the net as the biggest, tallest, strongest player in the league.
He has the instincts to move passes along the boards to the point players, and make certain they’re in a position to fire shots on the man advantage.
Combine that with Krug’s mobility and sizzling slap shot as a quick-moving player on the point, Jarome Iginla armed with a one-timer from the left circle whenever the PP unit can arrange it, and Lucic similarly willing to battle for puck possession in the corner. Those are all the makings of an effective power play that simply needs execution, confidence and a few more talented hands to make it the consistent threat the Bruins coaching staff always dreamed it could be.