Will the Boston Bruins' Power Play Improve in 2013-14?
In at least one respect, the Boston Bruins may find free-agent import Jarome Iginla to be an upgrade on Marc Savard, whose injury-induced absence has been the principal bane of their power play in recent years.
Just look at what The Hockey News has to say as to skills and shortcomings of the two forwards, who are both 36 years old and were born 16 days apart. Savard’s scouting report cautions that he “isn’t the fastest skater” whereas Iginla’s profile leads off by mentioning that he “has deceptive speed, great strength and a lethal shot.”
Even if Savard were healthy right now, he most likely would not be quite as explosive on offense as he was at the end of the last calendar decade. For that matter, one could safely draw the same conclusion about Iginla.
That notwithstanding, the 2013 NHL preseason has offered more than a few glimpses as to how Iginla can be the topmost of multiple factors in an improved Boston power play. There are video samples of his speed prolonging man-advantage scoring threats and/or his nimble shot polishing them off.
The first sample comes from an excursion to Montreal for his first extramural engagement wearing the Spoked-B emblem. Iginla commenced the scoring that night by utilizing a generous quantity of space that opened while he, David Krejci, Torey Krug and Milan Lucic all moved the puck and their feet.
Last week, in a home bout with Washington, Iginla catalyzed another icebreaking conversion. When his one-time slapper from the high slot ricocheted to the right of the Capitals cage, he hustled after it in yet another slab of open ice.
From there, he promptly fed point patroller Dennis Seidenberg, whose own quick release found its way home with the help of a screening Zdeno Chara.
Later that night, the former Calgary captain and current Bruins leader switched roles to a degree. Iginla stood on the porch while Chara slugged home a five-on-three point blast.
Last Friday’s exhibition finale in Saskatoon, where the Bruins and Winnipeg Jets were practically fielding their respective opening-night lineups, did not yield any highlights or statistical achievements on special teams.
However, in its account of the action, the Canadian Press made a point of stating that Chara and Iginla “displayed some good chemistry on the power play, setting up multiple scoring chances.”
That chemistry is not limited to those two players nor is it lost on those in control of the proceedings. As Lucic told Amalie Benjamin of The Boston Globe in last Wednesday’s edition, “I think the best thing is our puck movement is a lot better. I think there’s confidence in making those good passes and guys are shooting the puck when they have the opportunity as well.”
For what the preseason is worth, all of this should lend Boston buffs an encouraging validation of recent individual data.
Chara finished third on the team in 2012-13 with three power-play strikes and tied for fourth with four points in that situation. In the NHL’s last full-length, 82-game season, he led all Bruins with an 8-10-18 scoring log on the man advantage.
Similarly, in 2010-11, he tied Michael Ryder for first on the team with eight goals and was second only to Mark Recchi with 15 points. In 2009-10, his 12 power-play assists led the team and his 16 points in 80 games were second only to the 17 from Savard, who missed exactly half that season.
That ought to get the novice students in the room started on the notion of Savard’s removal precipitating Boston’s man-advantage mediocrity. His last full season in 2008-09 ended with the Bruins placing fourth on the league leaderboard, having converted 23.6 percent of their chances.
Their best finish in the four years since was in 2011-12, when a 17.2 percent success rate tied them for No. 14 overall.
Enter Iginla, who placed first or second among the Flames in at least two power-play production categories every season between 2000-01 and 2011-12. Last year saw a drop-off as he charged up merely two goals and six points in 31 appearances with Calgary, but he finished with four goals and six points in 13 games as a Penguin.
As it happens, last year’s Flames were ninth in the NHL on the man advantage with 20 percent success, the Penguins second with a 24.7 percent conversion rate. In turn, Iginla’s turnaround can be partially attributed to playing on a more prolific strike force, but some of it was surely the spiritual spark that comes with converting to a contender.
There is no reason why a similar formula could not yield the same results in Boston and spawn symbiotic relations, at least in this particular aspect of the game. That is especially assuming he can foster dependable chemistry with his presumptive linemates, Krejci and Lucic, in all situations.
In addition, the second-year professional Krug has an encouraging foundation in place as an effective puck-mover and point patroller. As Fluto Shinzawa wrote in The Boston Globe, “Opponents may overload on Iginla and open shooting lanes for Krug.”
Having the blueliner Krug in the equation also adds to the array of defensively certifiable players to place on the brim of the blue line during the man-up attack. The same could apply to other young defensemen Matt Bartkowski and Dougie Hamilton as the season rolls along.
Other options include Chara, Seidenberg and Patrice Bergeron, all of whom ought to alleviate anxiety over the specter of turnovers and/or fumbling the puck into neutral territory.
Less time spent regrouping or defending against potential shorthanded breaks means more churning on opposing property. With the confidence they have already built in that fashion during vaudeville action, the Bruins are doing nothing with their power play but affording it a chance to elevate its success stature.
A return to 2008-09 form, sitting in the top five with a conversion percentage deep into the 20s, may be a bit much to ask right away.
Much of the roster is coming off a short summer after partaking in a playoff run that stretched into the final week of June. As a result, residual wear and tear will at times be a mild hindrance across the board, power play included.
But with the gelling of several assets who will have their first start-to-finish campaign in Boston―Iginla, Krug, Loui Eriksson and even Carl Soderberg―improvement looks inevitable. Somewhere around the 19 percent or 20 percent borderline is perfectly realistic.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
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