WILMINGTON, Mass. – If hard work and grit are what has been missing from the Bruins’ power play, then head coach Claude Julien and his staff might have just come up with the perfect solution.
Center Gregory Campbell and winger Brad Marchand spent the special-teams portions of today’s practice at Ristuccia Arena on the opposite side of the puck than usual, as the expert penalty-killers joined a new-look second power-play unit with Michael Ryder also up front, and Steven Kampfer and Dennis Seidenberg on the back end.
The other quintet featured Mark Recchi at the left point opposite Zdeno Chara and David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron (before he left to get stitches on his chin) up front. Nathan Horton filled in for Bergeron after the center left the premises.
“I think what you saw is something that you might see. … Maybe we need a little bit more grit. Maybe we need a little more shots from the back end. So we’re going to try to work with that,” Julien, whose team faces Montreal and its fifth-ranked penalty kill tomorrow night, said after today’s practice.
The Bruins obviously need to be more creative with their power-play alignments, and this switch just might do the trick. Boston enters tonight’s action ranked 20th (16.8 percent) in power play efficiency, and the recent numbers have been ugly. The Bruins have gone five games without a power-play goal (0-for-12) and have just one power-play goal in their last seven games (1-for-19).
I’ve often said that a solution to the team’s power-play woes would be to reward the guys that win the battles most often and draw the most penalties from the opposition. That’s where Campbell and Marchand come in. While Marchand was a fixture on the power play down with the Providence (AHL) farm club the last few years, Campbell was used sparingly on the man-advantage by Florida. Although he has centered the fourth line all season, Campbell has shown the hands to score seven goals. And Marchand earned a promotion from the fourth line to the second with his sniping, which has produced 14 goals this season.
Neither has been in the power-play meetings this season except when the entire team has been included.
That’s probably why 30 minutes before the entire team took the ice, the 10 power-play players and two goaltenders were on the ice for extra work. While one group worked at one end under assistant coach Geoff Ward, the other was barked at by Julien and assistant Doug Jarvis. Halfway through the half hour the groups switched.
Although there are some subtleties of the breakout that Marchand and Campbell have to learn, they can mostly transfer over their 5-on-5 style of play to the extra-man game.
“It’ll be fun. It’s obviously a new challenge,” said Marchand. “I think maybe they just want two people to go out there, recover some pucks and take it whenever we can to the net. So we’re going to keep it really simple out there; we’re not going to try to force plays. We’re just going to throw all the pucks we can at the net.”
Said Campbell: “I don’t think there’s a magic formula for me going out there. My job is to recover that puck, to battle for possession and create net-presence. That’s all I can try to bring to the power play.”
As surprising as it might be to see Campbell and Marchand getting power-play time, it’s also a bit unusual to see Recchi stationed so far from the opposing net. The future Hall-of-Fame winger, who played at the point briefly in the early portion of this season, has made his living in the trenches at and around the top of the crease. But Julien and his staff want to sure up other areas that have failed the power play.
“On that power play, we’ve got [Lucic] in front. I think [Lucic] has done a decent job in front,” said Julien “Where we feel we’ve had some issues has been really taking the puck off the wall at the blue line and making plays under pressure. And Mark has been one of those guys, the few times we’ve used him there, he’s been pretty good in that area. So, again, if we don’t try it we’ll never know. And we’re really trying to make our power play be more successful. So when it doesn’t work you’ve got to make changes.”
If you ask me, it’s about time the Bruins came up with an outside-the-box plan to fix their power play. Marching out Horton, Johnny Boychuk and Blake Wheeler a million times, but in different alignments, doesn’t make a lot of sense when they’ve been given numerous opportunities to reward the coaching staff for its faith and failed to produce.
Even if this experiment goes awry (Recchi chasing down a 2-on-1 against could be dangerous), at least the staff is earning its pay with some innovation.