When he arrived on the Bruins’ roster equipped with his “magical passing stick,” Tomas Kaberle was welcomed as if a modern-day skating Moses showed up to lead the club’s power play back into the top 10 of the NHL rankings.
Well, right now would be a good time for the rest of Boston’s power-play performers, especially the forwards, to stop gawking at Kaberle’s slight of hand and take some initiative.
Short of a major shake-up in personnel since Kaberle’s arrival, head coach Claude Julien has done as much as he can to get the power play revved again. Wednesday the team’s man-advantage quintets even practiced 5-on-3 so they could build some confidence, the equivalent of putting the bumpers on the sides of the bowling alley. But the results still didn’t come, as Boston went 0-for-3 in the overtime loss to Buffalo Thursday night with little momentum built from its goal-less extra-man attack.
The numbers just keep getting uglier and uglier, as Boston is now 0-for-19 over its last eight games on the power play. The Boston power play ranks 20th in the NHL. They might not want to admit it, but it’s apparent the forwards think that when Kaberle — who has recorded just one assist in nine Bruins games — skates onto the ice, a power-play goal materializes.
“I just think we might get stuck trying to do the same thing instead of trying to be a little more creative and using down-low plays and high plays,” said winger Michael Ryder before Thursday’s game. “I think we just got focused on one thing and got away from what we need to do out there. Obviously we’ve got the man advantage, so we need to be a little extra creative and create your opportunities and whatever they give you.”
As we found out, the 5-on-3 practice did little to inspire anything, let alone creativity, in the Bruins’ forwards. Things won’t get much easier tonight, as the lowly New York Islanders boast a respectable 12th-ranked penalty kill (better than the Bruins at 18) that features an 82.8 success rate.
Julien knows what he wants to see. And he has witnessed it in practice. For whatever reasons, the Bruins just don’t seem able to replicate their practice performances in games.
“Our power play at the top has done a lot better since Kaberle’s come in. We’re creating some shots and we’re getting better puck movement back there. Now we’re trying to work a little bit on the lower part of the power play where we feel that we can create a little bit more down low,” said Julien, whose team is now 0-1-2 in its last three after a seven-game winning streak. “Teams are obviously focusing on us up top, and at the same time we’ve got to be a little hungrier around the net, and jamming that net, and jumping on the loose pucks. I think that’s the main thing because we’re getting scoring chances, but we’re not getting goals. There’s a reason for that. Sometimes it’s about being a little hungrier down low, it’s about maybe being a little bit better on those loose pucks and those rebounds.”
Basically, it’s time for the Bruins to start cycling the puck, it’s time for the front of the net to be more than just a once-a-day stop-off and for the defensemen to move their feet and get more active coming down along the walls and rotating positions with the forwards.
Relying just on their 5-on-5 offense will give the Bruins an above-average chance to wander to the top two in the conference. If the rest of Boston’s power-play players stop expecting Kaberle to lead them to the promised land and get the job done in unison with his actions, the Bruins are almost guaranteed to reach a perch near the top of the Eastern Conference mountain.