Kalman: Bruins’ Power Play In Need Of Rededication To Execution, Identity

By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

The Bruins got enough power-play opportunities Saturday.

What they lacked was enough precision in their execution, including their decision making, and determination to win battles when they had the personnel advantage against the Maple Leafs in a 4-1 Toronto win at TD Garden.

“For the group of guys out there that are pretty good on it – very good on it – they’re just a little bit off, the shot selection, or the puck placement for the good shot selection,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy after his team went 0-for-4, including 0-for-3 in the third period on the power play.

The Bruins power play still ranks in the top 10 in the NHL at 22 percent, but after going 1-for-8 on the weekend against Toronto it’s 2-for-21 in the past six games.

Instead of giving the Bruins a lift in the second matchup with the Maple Leafs, their own power play stuck a dagger in their hearts late in the third period. Or perhaps they were already too demoralized from wasting 1:07 of 5-on-3 power play time earlier in the period to function. Re-watching the Bruins’ power play after Tyler Bozak’s interference penalty at 10:07 of the third (when the Bruins were already down 3-1), was like watching an outtake from The Walking Dead.

They managed just one shot on goal during that last power play – a Charlie McAvoy slap shot from out high with bodies in front of the net but not nearly in the sightline of Toronto goaltender Curtis McElhinney. That power play started ominously with Patrice Bergeron easily losing a faceoff and the Maple Leafs clearing the puck. Later Brad Marchand lost a battle, David Pastrnak had a scoring chance in front but turned it into a slap pass across the slot (aren’t the Bruins paying him to be a sniper?).

Frank Vatrano and Zdeno Chara both got on the ice with the second group, but neither had a chance to get a shot off. The last power play went out with a whimper like the three before them. The Bruins’ power play got steadily worse after some prime chances on its first opportunity in the first period. They landed six power-play shots, including just one on the 5-on-3.

Cassidy is transparent about the fact that Option 1 is Pastrnak’s one-timer. He didn’t have a look for that all night. Option 2 is supposed to be Bergeron in the bumper spot. He shot high on his own attempt from that area.

“That group that starts most power plays is a big part of this team. We want to be difference-makers, all of us that are on the ice,” defenseman and first-unit quarterback Torey Krug said. “When we’re not breaking through, we’re not scoring that big goal for our team, we take a lot of the blame. We put a lot on our shoulders.”

The power-play players all seem to be pressing right now, and who could blame them? The Bruins are essentially a one-line team, and when opponents shut down Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak at 5-on-5, the Bruins’ only hope is to score on the power play. Each guy seems like he’s trying to be the savior, and sometimes guys look like they’re overcompensating for that by being too deferential (hence Pastrnak’s slap pass on one power play and his turnover high in the offensive zone when he changed his mind from shot to pass in the midst of his backswing).

There’s too much talent on the Bruins’ power play for it to be a detriment to the team’s success. And the Bruins have to rely on it too much for offense in this Ryan Spooner-less, David Krejci-less world. Both or at least one of those power-play orchestrators may be back soon, but it shouldn’t matter. The players the Bruins have on their first power play should be experienced enough to know to trust their talent, relax and put the penalty killers on at a disadvantage by making them move. If Heinen can’t handle the pressure or doesn’t have the strength to protect the puck along the half wall, Cassidy should turn to Tim Schaller whose shown better hands than he was given credit for when he signed here and could help the Bruins simplify things by just being a distributor along the wall.

The second group, without Krejci, should be a mucking group. We’ve seen some of that from Jordan Szwarz but the rest of the unit has to play with more courage. Vatrano should get a longer look now that Matt Beleskey has proven the puck is allergic to his stick. If Jake DeBrusk gets back into the lineup after a one-game healthy scratch, he should be given an opportunity to once again make his wide body work in front of the opposing goaltender.

Whatever the solutions Cassidy and his staff come up with, they better work. Injuries or not, the Bruins should be able to count on the power play to carry them.

Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.

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