When it comes to special teams as a whole, the Boston Bruins have hardly been a model of consistency over the past few years.
In terms of penalty killing, Boston has been among the league leaders for more than a few seasons now. Whether it be 5-on-4 or facing a two man advantage, the Bruins have been pretty solid in terms of limiting an opponent’s power play chances.
On the other side of the coin, the Bruins’ power play has been borderline retched at times. During last season’s Stanley Cup Finals run, the power play wasn’t exactly feared throughout the postseason. It converted on some chances, but other times it was almost mind-numbing to watch, proving to be a key reason why the team lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the final round. In 2011, the team — possibly by the hand of a higher power — won the Stanley Cup despite posting history making numbers in power play futility. They made it an entire seven game series against the Montreal Canadiens without scoring a power play goal.
Yes, its safe to say the man advantage has long been a hot-button topic with the Bruins faithful. On Saturday, though, fans saw what a quality power play unit looks like, with Boston cashing in two of their four opportunities against the Detroit Red Wings. If you’re looking for reasons on why the Bruins were so successful, you could say the biggest — pun possibly intended — reason was team captain Zdeno Chara.
Typically, Boston likes to keep their hulking defenseman on the blue line during the power play. With a slap shot clocking in at over 107 mph, Chara can both score from a distance or create rebound opportunities. However, lately the team has been placing him down low on the man advantage, and for one night it seemed to work pretty well.
On the Bruins’ first goal of the night, playoff darling Torey Krug sniped a shot from the slot that Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard didn’t seem to have a chance at. This was mainly because a 6’7″ behemoth was standing in front of him. Obviously, with Chara working to screen a goalie, rarely will said netminder get a solid look at an oncoming shot.
Later, with Boston up 3-1 in the third period, the team went on the power play again. This time, as the play seemed to fall apart, the Red Wings’ breakout was thwarted, leaving the puck in their zone. Krug found Chara streaking towards the net, and the big man dangled the puck past Howard for his first goal of the season.
Its just one game, so there’s no need to assume the Bruins’ power play is in for a resurgent year just yet. That said, the Chara experiment looked like it could have some potential. There aren’t many goalies in the NHL who can easily bump the big man out of the crease, and unless Shaquille O’Neal is planning to make his league debut as a goaltender, there aren’t any who can see over Chara either.
Still, it should be noted that this isn’t the first time Boston has tried this strategy. In 2011, when their power play was practically unwatchable, coach Claude Julien had Chara down low as a screen. It didn’t quite pay off, and as a result Chara found himself winded, which can have a negative effect for the team defensively.
However, one could also point to the fact that, at the time, the Bruins were also giving Chara a ton of minutes on a nightly basis. Julien already claimed this year the team was going to focus on trimming their captain’s ice time in an attempt to prevent late-season fatigue. Perhaps they’ll also be doing it to make sure he’s a consistently reliable piece on the power play.
We’ve seen the negative side effects of having Chara as a mock power forward in 2011, and Saturday against Detroit we saw the positives. If Boston can figure out a way to appropriately utilize Chara on the power play without making him less effective on defense, the team may finally turn the corner on what’s been multiple seasons of a man advantage fans have been balking at.