It’s almost too much to ask that the Boston Bruins’ special teams keep up the torrid pace the club established in the four-game sweep of Montreal in the second round of the 2009 Stanley Cup playoffs and beyond.
While the penalty kill was a perfect 8-for-8, the power play clicked at a 25-percent clip (4-for-16) — bested only be Detroit to this point of the postseason. History has proven that teams that thrive on special teams enjoy playoff success. But it’s more than just the players executing, there’s also a coaching chess match that a team has to win.
“Every team is going to adjust differently,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien after Saturday’s practice. “You saw us last year adjust against Montreal. And I thought we did a great job, where all season long they really took it to us on their power play. You get a chance to adjust and then next game you watch the clips and make some other adjustments and you hope to improve.
“And on the other hand, when you’re the power-play team, like us, we know they’re going to take away some of those options. It’s important to keep different options open. Even on the bench, through the course of the game, you can see they’re taking away something. So we ask our guys to exploit another area of our power play that we can use.”
In Julien’s case, he helped the Bruins dominate the Habs by making subtle alterations. In Game 1, he used three different players on the point opposite Dennis Wideman on the top unit. Late in the game, Phil Kessel replaced Michael Ryder up front on the first unit and assisted on the game-winning goal. Over the course of the series, we saw more of Zdeno Chara making back-door cuts and the wings making cross-seam passes. Regardless of the Bruins’ next-round opponent, Boston is going to have to continue to develop more options and set plays and maybe even shuffle personnel.
“Penalty-killers always make adjustments and then it’s up to us to make adjustments on top of that,” said winger Mark Recchi, a force in the slot area for the club’s first power-play unit.
If the Bruins continue to play with the same level of discipline they did in the first round, the penalty kill will be unsolvable. With enough depth to roll no fewer than three pairs of forwards and his entire D corps, Julien never has to worry about weary penalty-killers — especially when the Bruins are shorthanded less often than Silent Bob speaks.
“It’s 10 times easier,” said defenseman Aaron Ward when asked if it’s easier or harder to kill penalties when the shorthanded situations are so few and far between. “Part of success for a power play is when you start to get that flow, when you get a feel for it. If you’re only getting out there once or twice, it does have a mental factor on you because you have to maximize your opportunities.”
The absence of defenseman Andrei Markov made it easier for the Bruins to concentrate on keeping Montreal winger Alex Kovalev in check. Going forward, they won’t have that luxury because all their possible opponents have more depth to compensate for such a loss. But more talent and a longer series might not be enough for an opponent to beat the Bruins with power-play goals.
“I also think that our penalty kill, we’re so aggressive and so effective, there’s a confidence level out there that we’re getting sticks in the way and we were stifling them in the neutral zone,” Ward said. “That’s demoralizing as a power play to know you can’t even get through the neutral zone.”
So the Bruins have a chance to continue the tradition of dominating on special teams and making a length playoff run.