I could admittedly be accused of nit-picking — what with the Boston Bruins sitting atop the NHL with 88 points and ranking fifth in the league in power-play efficiency at 22.8 percent as I write this.
But I think one change to the Bruins’ alignment could go a long way toward their continued domination of the other 29 teams at the game’s highest level and make their offense better resemble the four-goals-a-night production machine of the first few months of the season.
It’s all about getting Patrice Bergeron off the point on the power play. It’s no coincidence that the Bruins’ man-advantage started to slump when the veteran center returned from his concussion and reclaimed his spot to the left of Zdeno Chara. And it’s also not a coincidence that Bergeron started to get his own motor running last week during the two games in New Jersey and Nashville, where he was cast as a forward with the Bruins a man up.
Among Bruins capable of playing the point, Bergeron probably ranks last in terms of his ability to one-time the puck off a cross-ice pass or get those low hard shots through the defense. And when he gets caught and has to skate backward, he can resemble a fish out of water.
But this isn’t about what Bergeron’s deficiencies are at the point. This is all about what his strengths are up front and how he can be more of a help to the Bruins’ cause. Injuries have reduced the Bruins to relying on grinders Chuck Kobasew and P.J. Axelsson up front with Marc Savard on the top power-play unit. If you move Bergeron up, suddenly your talent level overflows and opposing penalty killers have more to answer for. And while the Bruins lack for dangerous forwards for power-play duties, they have plenty of defenseman more than capable of filling the spot opposite Chara. Head coach Claude Julien likes the balance of having Chara and Dennis Wideman on separate units, so you can rule that out. But both Aaron Ward and Shane Hnidy have proven proficient at getting the job done during small stretches of the season.
So now you have Bergeron up front, and either Axelsson or Kobasew (most likely the right-shooting Kobasew) resting up for 5-0n-5 and penalty-kill situations. I believe this would greatly aid a player like Kobasew, who relies so much on playing at an energy level above those around and opposite him, he’d have that extra jump in his step to make him all the more lethal on the forecheck and in the corners.
After a year away from the game due to his first concussion, and then another month and a half because of his second concussion, Bergeron’s endured some struggles getting back in the flow. It hasn’t helped him that he’s had the extra responsibilities that come with playing the point — making sure he holds the blue line and sometimes taking the draw and then having to slide back to the edge of the zone. He’s finally finding his legs and playing his best hockey since before the injury as the team heads into two games in Florida. Removing the point-playing burden from him might just really cut him completely loose to return to his full, pre-concussion form.