You know the Boston Bruins’ penalty kill is on a roll when you get this response to a question from affable power-play exterminator extraordinare Stephane Yelle.
“I don’t like to talk about it really. We’ll leave it at that,” said Yelle after the Bruins down the New York Rangers Saturday, 1-0 — a game that included two penalty kills to run the Bruins’ success rate to 14-for-14 over the last four games.
It’s hard to believe that at this time last year the Bruins entered the postseason having finished the regular season with the 28th-ranked penalty kill in the league. Although they killed off three of 33 Montreal power plays in the playoffs, there was no telling how Boston would turn things around this year.
But now Boston is ranked eight in penalty kill percentage (83 percent) and the Bruins have killed off 22 of their last 22 shorthanded situations over the last seven games.
“I just think when you get rolling and get in a groove and guys are working hard for each other and shortening shifts and getting on pucks and your goaltender’s your best penalty kill — we’ve had everything,” said center Marc Savard. “We made a good climb and I think even though we’re at the top of the league this year, we wanted to make sure our special teams were top 10 and we’ve accomplished that thus far.”
Winger P.J. Axelsson pointed to the man behind the killers for a lot of the credit for Boston’s quantum leap in its kill rate.
“That happens sometimes during the season, it’s up and down. But it’s a good thing. We’re a little bit more desperate, so it’s good,” said the Swedish winger, a stalwart of the penalty kill for years.
“At the same time, Timmy’s (Thomas) playing really well. A goalie is usually your No. 1 penalty-killer. But I mean everyone is buying in and doing the right things. If you don’t have four guys, plus Timmy doing it …”
Beyond Thomas and Manny Fernandez’s play in the crease and the whole “buying in” theory, there’s also the fact that head coach Claude Julien has been able to roll four lines all season. That keeps players like Savard and Axelsson fresh and keeps fourth-liners like Yelle in the flow of the game. The addition of rookie Blake Wheeler, the maturity of center David Krejci and defensemen Mark Stuart and Dennis Wideman, the continued dominance of veteran blueliners Aaron Ward and Zdeno Chara, and the return to full health of Patrice Bergeron have all combined to aid the cause as well.
The Bruins have only allowed more than one power play goal in a game nine times. And in those contests their record is a pedestrian 3-4-2. Luckily, the club’s PK typically provides enough superb play to make it worth talking about — even if Yelle doesn’t want to risk jinxing the success with words.