There’s so much panic about the Bruins’ inability to turn power plays into offensive production, I fully expect that the next idea suggested will be for Boston to decline the penalties.
Without a doubt the Bruins will have a tougher time hanging onto their playoff spot, and almost no chance at winning a postseason series, if they don’t kick it in gear on the man-advantage. That they’ve suffered through eight straight games without a power-play goal (0-for-22) and are at 16.9 percent efficiency on the season (worse when you only look at games Marc Savard has missed) is one of a multitude of disappointments this hope-crushing Bruins club has exacted on its brass and fan base.
But there’s no need to think too far outside the box to cure what ails Boston’s man-up offense. In fact, it’s time to really simplify things as far as personnel and also return to an adage that head coach Claude Julien often voices but rarely uses – rewarding ice time for performance and production.
First off, Patrice Bergeron does well as a point man. However, his shot hardly strikes fear in the hearts of oncoming shot-blockers, and he doesn’t even use it enough to find out if he can fire some heat. Minus Savard, the Bruins have their full arsenal of weapons and there should be enough defensemen capable of manning the points on this roster. Zdeno Chara, Dennis Seidenberg and Johnny Boychuk have all shown a propensity for getting shots through and on goal. Dennis Wideman, while suffering through a season from hell, is supposed to be a point-producer, so if you take him off the power play he becomes mostly useless to the cause. So some combination of those four players would give the Bruins enough positive puck movement to mix things up, plus free up Bergeron to create offense along the walls and around the net. Not to mention, Bergeron’s ability to be responsible and cover up the points effectively gives more leeway for the blueliners to pinch and cut to the net backdoor, the way Chara loves to do.
Up front, there have been cries for more net-front presence – mostly centered around Chara’s gigantic frame. Those that are begging for Chara to just stand in front are undervaluing his contribution as a multi-angle threat that’s as capable of scoring from the perimeter as from in front as part of a set play. The Chara-to-the-front crew also overlook the most obvious answer for Bostons’ lack of someone to block out the sun from in front of the crease – Milan Lucic. We saw the monstrous Lucic in front at the end of Thursday night’s loss when Boston was skating 6-on-4 in pursuit of a couple late goals. Alas, he got at least one tip toward the net and was obviously making life more difficult for Antero Niittymaki on a couple other Bruins scoring chances. Most famously these days, Detroit’s Tomas Holmstrom and Chicago’s Dustin Byfuglien are planted in front of their teams’ power plays. We seen plenty of players like them over the years make hay on the power play. Players Lucic’s size make it tough for goalies to see and open up more room for other players to score some dirty goals by taking up the attention of the defenders. Now that Lucic is backing skating like his old self and making things happen 5-on-5, there’s no reason not to give him more chances to shine.
And that leads me to the other part of the whole power-play ice time dilemma. Miro Satan hasn’t been on the man-advantage full-time since joining the Bruins. Still, you’d think he might’ve lucked into a goal or two on the power play in his 29 games in black and gold. He hasn’t.
Blake Wheeler has the body to be a net-front presence, but an allergy to spending more than a split second in the slot. He might grow out of that as he develops, but that won’t help Boston right now. Wheeler has spent half the year on the power play and has scored just three extra-man goals, just one since Jan. 7.
I don’t even know if it’s worth the energy to broach Michael Ryder, who obviously has a contractual clause (or compromising photos of someone in power with the Bruins) to keep a permanent position in the power-play mix. He spent about a game and a half watching the power play in the early portion of the season, but other than that Julien has rolled out his favorite winger for pretty much every other man-advantage shift. The result? Just six power-play goals all season, and one in the last 14 games when the Bruins have needed him to produce the most. Replacing the finesse play of Ryder, Wheeler and Satan – or at least one or two of the three – with Lucic and a move up front by Bergeron would give the Bruins, who lacking a natural goal-scorer, a chance to pick up some more hard-nosed garbage goals.
As great as Savard is as orchestrating on the power play, there’s no reason why the Bruins should resemble a rec-league squad out there on the power play without him. Boston doesn’t have to re-invent the game to get on track, it just needs to revert to basics and utilize the players who have more potential for success.