If there’s part of the Bruins’ roster or aspect of their game that’s on the bottom of the list of worries, it’s the penalty kill. The Bruins ranked third overall in the NHL in PK percentage last season.
However, a change in personnel and a change on the coaching staff might affect things at the outset of the 2010-11 season.
Doug Jarvis replaced Craig Ramsay on Boston’s staff after Ramsay took the head coaching position in Atlanta. Jarvis, a star defensive forward as a player, will combine with fellow assistant Doug Houda, a former NHL defenseman, to plot most of Boston’s penalty-kill plans. While Ramsay’s schemes were widely credited for Boston’s dominance on the PK, it should be a smooth transition for Boston from one coach to the next. All coaches have different quirks and attitudes, but at the end of the day the PK is all about keeping the puck out of the zone, keeping it wide and keeping it out of the net.
The coaching change shouldn’t make much of a difference in Boston’s penalty kill, but there might be a couple personnel issues early in the season. Without the injured Marc Savard and Marco Sturm, the Boston PK is down two guys who get major minutes shorthanded. Here’s a look at how the Bruins’ PK forward pairs project to look when the season starts this weekend:
PK Pair #1
Daniel Paille-Gregory Campbell
Paille led all Bruins forwards in shorthanded ice time last season (1:59) and it was more than a coincidence that the team went from near the bottom of the league in PK percentage to near the top after he was acquired from Buffalo. Paille’s speed and instincts will be a fixture on the PK as long as he’s in the lineup. Campbell replaces Steve Begin with a similar ability to win draws and play straight-ahead, hard-nosed hockey. There should be more offensive upside with Campbell than with Begin or his PK predecessor Stephane Yelle.
PK Pair #2
David Krejci-Blake Wheeler
This pair has had overwhelming chemistry in all situations since Wheeler turned pro in 2008-09. Even though both had their struggles offensively last season, neither forward allowed his slump to hinder his ability to kill penalties. With another year of experience under their belts, Krejci and Wheeler should battle the Paille-Campbell duo for No. 1 PK status.
PK Pair #3
Patrice Bergeron-Jordan Caron
Obviously Sturm would be in this slot if healthy. Caron has been used a lot on the PK in the preseason, and head coach Claude Julien has liked the rookie’s instincts and straight-ahead approach to the game. Julien has shown in the past he’s not afraid to use a rookie on the PK, as he threw Wheeler right into the fire almost from the moment Wheeler arrived in Boston.
If Caron doesn’t work out, the Bruins could put Recchi, Brad Marchand (if he dresses) or Nathan Horton in that slot. Two of those three guys will also become part of a fourth pair when needed. Recchi killed penalties effectively last season, but Boston would love to be able to preserve his legs for other situations. Marchand has the speed and the grit to do the job. Horton averaged more than one minute of PK ice time last season with Florida, but that might be part of why the Panthers ranked 23rd on the kill last season.
On the back end, Boston should be set. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will log most of the minutes and form an outstanding shutdown pair. The Bruins are going to need Johnny Boychuk and Mark Stuart to continue their rugged play from even strength to the PK and boost their minutes in the absence of the traded Dennis Wideman. A healthy Andrew Ference averaged nearly two minutes of PK time last season and could be counted on for less total work but more quality of effort.
When it comes down to it, anything less than a top-five finish for the Bruins on the penalty kill will be a disappointment and a sign that things haven’t gone as planned in Boston.