BOSTON – Claims from this blog that the Bruins never execute in games what they practice are no longer valid.
After devoting a portion of their two days of rigorous practice to their power play – and specifically getting the defensemen to move up and put more heat on the penalty-killers – Boston tonight produced its first 5-on-4 goal in more than a month on a play the team actually rehearsed yesterday.
Zdeno Chara’s goal after a backdoor cut through the left circle 8:17 into the second period proved to be the game-winner in a 4-1 victory over New Jersey at TD Garden.
Boston’s movement was exceptional on the man-advantage all night. On the goal, Milan Lucic made a cross-ice pass while David Krejci cut from the bottom of the circle to the high slot to pull the defenders away from Chara. The captain then buried a shot before goaltender Martin Brodeur could slide over in time.
“That’s what we have to do. We don’t have just one play, we have more plays and we’re going to be set, and go from there,” said defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who like his power-play partner Chara was more active getting to the bottom of the circles and firing pucks toward the goal. “Keep practicing, it’s not like if we scored today it’s going to happen in the next game. We have to keep practicing on off days and get better every day.”
Head coach Claude Julien and his power-play guru Geoff Ward have taken heat for the all the things they haven’t had their pupils do during the club’s recent 2-for-34 slump since Kaberle arrived Feb. 18. They’ve been trying everything under the sun, and devoting both practice and pre-practice time to ironing out the power play’s problems for months.
Now those two guys and the entire staff deserve credit for the wrinkles they put in to get things going again.
Recognizing that the Bruins’ forwards were still not creating enough odd-man chances down low and the point men were becoming stagnant and gun shy, the coaches forced everyone to rotate around and the defensemen wound up in positions where they couldn’t do anything but shoot. Chara finished the night with four shots on net, Kaberle just one. But Kaberle also had four attempts blocked, as he did all he could to get the puck to the front.
A 1-for-5 night does not mean the Bruins are now a power-play juggernaut. However, 20 percent is what an average NHL power play should click at. And while the group with Chara, Kaberle, David Krejci, Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic scored the only power-play goal, the other quintet – Dennis Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron on the points with Mark Recchi, Tyler Seguin and Michael Ryder up front – put some heat on the Devils as well.
“We try to not be standing still because it creates some 2-on-1 situations, 3-on-2s, something like that. But at that point, it didn’t matter who was going to put it in the net. I was happy it finally went in and hopefully that’s going to get us going,” said Krejci, who managed just two shots on net but also uncharacteristically fired a shot wide from the blue line.
If Krejci and Kaberle can start making teams pay for sagging off and expecting them to pass, Boston might be able to climb back into the top half of the power-play rankings. It’ll also help if Chara continues to make himself a nuisance from the blue line and closer to the goal, and if everyone digs for every loose puck and rebound. Seguin’s vision and shot look like they could be threatening weapons for the man-advantage as much as Lucic and Horton’s size and Seidenberg’s “heavy” shot.
There’s always been emphasis on movement and quick, confident passes from the coaching staff to the power-play performers. Now it looks like the Bruins might’ve found the right mix of plays and players to turn that activity into goals.
“It’s nice when the power play is moving the puck and we see each other and there’s no hesitation and obviously we got rewarded with a big goal,” said Chara. “And it’s one of those things that even before, we created some chances, we had good quality chances to score goals, but it didn’t go our way. Today we finally got a goal, and again we probably could’ve got one or two more goals; we were just a little out of position on the rebounds. Hopefully it’s a good start and it starts producing for us.”
A balanced, streaky offense that has managed to rank in the top 10 in goals per game most of the season without a potent power play could become extremely dangerous for Bruins’ opponents down the stretch if Chara’s hopes continue to come true and the power play turns reliable.