After seven seasons behind the bench with the Boston Bruins, it was announced on Wednesday that assistant coach Geoff Ward has taken a position as a head coach in the German Ice Hockey League (Deutsche Eishockey Liga). Ward has been a staple on the coaching staff of Claude Julien at both the NHL and AHL level, dating back to Julien’s tenure with the Montreal Canadiens.
In Boston, Ward worked primarily with the power play and helped turn an abysmal unit into a very effective weapon. During the regular season the Bruins had the third best man advantage in the league, with a 21.7 percent efficiency. This season marked the first time in the Julien-Ward era that the team had an above average power play, finishing well out of the top 10 in the league since 2007. While Ward had finally figured out how to utilize all of Boston’s tools and put the puck in the net on the power play, his departure finds the Bruins at a transition point in their power play structure.
What made Boston so successful this year on the man advantage was the utilization of a fourth forward quarterbacking the power play from the blue line and a big body in front to crash the net and pick up loose pucks on rebounds. In particular, David Krejci using his top tier passing abilities from the blue line, and Zdeno Chara working in front of the net generated the best opportunities for the Bruins this season.
It was a stark contrast to past Bruins’ power play setups, as Ward and the team utilized a very generic box-and-one format. The Bruins would work the puck for long stretches of time on the exterior of the offensive zone before attempting to thread the needle for a perfect pass. In the past three seasons before 2013-2014, including the 2011 Stanley Cup championship year, the Bruins finished 20th, 15th and 26th, respectively, on power play efficiency. Using the generic power play strategy did not work for Ward and Boston, and now the team has turned the corner.
The Bruins are expected to return most, if not all of their usual power play members. The next man at the helm of the unit can take a page out of Ward’s later notebook and use the cross-zone pass to Boston’s advantage. The Bruins were most effective when they would overload a side of the offensive zone and utilize a backdoor pass across the goal mouth for a scoring opportunity. Using this strategy, combined with a big screen in front of the opposing goaltender worked best for Boston, and would do well for the team next season in Ward’s absence.
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