Are the Boston Bruins Too Reliant on Defensemen for Power-Play Production?

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Are the Boston Bruins Too Reliant on Defensemen for Power-Play Production?
Brian Babineau/Getty Images
Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug have combined for seven power-play goals this season. But more recently, an errant pass to Krug led to a shorthanded strike against the Bruins.

On the one hand, Boston Bruins rookie defenseman and power-play point patroller Torey Krug entered Monday night’s action without having slugged home a single man-advantage conversion since Oct. 26.

On the other hand, Krug assisted on five-on-four net-front specialist Zdeno Chara’s conversion to draw a 1-1 knot en route to a regulation tie/overtime win over Carolina this past Saturday. That gives him a hand in two of Boston’s last four power-play profits and three of the last six since his third and most recent extra-man goal.

On the other hand, those six strikes have come over a lengthy span of 12 games, 24 days and 27 opportunities.

Boston has sprinkled its last four conversions over a full two weeks, eight games and 16 chances.

That lack of consistency serves to cloud the fact that two of the last three goals finally came from a forward (Patrice Bergeron Nov. 9 and Reilly Smith Nov. 18). So, too, does the fact that those connections bookended a three-game team-wide cold spell (although it did not help that the B's only garnered a single man advantage Nov. 11, 14 and 15).

In a similar vein, Krug’s costly blunder that effectively squandered a regulation decision Saturday blemished his recent power-play playmaking façade. With less than nine minutes remaining in the third period, he overskated a Milan Lucic pass to his point perch and stood no chance of catching an opportunistic Patrick Dwyer.

Dwyer deposited a shortie amidst Carolina’s second non-overlapping penalty kill within five minutes and 16 seconds. Chara’s first-period burial aside, Boston could not build on its second conversion of the week at Carolina’s expense, the other coming off Smith’s stick in Raleigh last Monday.

With a chance to augment a 2-1 lead, the Bruins spilled one opportunity after Elias Lindholm went to the sin bin for slashing at 7:08 of the third period. Of their three registered stabs within that segment, one was a head-turning near-miss by David Krejci, while the other two came via a blueliner in Johnny Boychuk.

When the Hurricanes granted Boston its fifth advantage of the day at 10:24 with a bench minor, Smith and Carl Soderberg combined for three shots on net. None of that, however, was before Dwyer’s productive counterattack, which implicitly served to perk the next unit up.

Come what may, the Bruins matched their single-game season high of five man-up sequences that they previously set Oct. 14. Yet they settled only for Chara’s team-best fourth power-play goal of 2013-14.

With Chara’s four, Krug’s three and sophomore Dougie Hamilton’s two, the Bruins have reaped nine of their 11 power-play goals from a blueliner. But both of the youngsters have been silent in that regard dating back to Nov. 2, while Chara has finished two of the team’s last four capitalizations.

When Krejci, who is still tied with Lucic for Boston’s overall lead with 17 points, could not beat Cam Ward on his swooping, upfront backhander, he prolonged a November-old power-play drought. He is still stuck on his output of five assists with the numerical advantage.

In addition, Krejci continues to lack a regular-season power-play tally since Feb. 25, 2012, a hex that entered Monday’s bout with Pittsburgh at 92 games. This comes after he had polished 15 career conversions over his first 355 outings.

Krejci’s fellow top-six center, Bergeron, has only his Nov. 9 goal against Toronto to speak of in this situation. He and the aforementioned Hamilton remain the team’s only power-play point-getters out of 10 who lack an assist in their collection.

Bergeron’s linemate, Brad Marchand, boasts 11 career power-play goals through his first three full NHL seasons, but not so much as a point this season.

Lately, production-wise, only four Bruins skaters are even within shouting distance of consistency in capitalizing on an opponent’s misdeed. The team’s last four conversions have yielded the maximum possibility of 12 points, including two apiece for Chara, Krug, Smith and Soderberg.

Steve Babineau/Getty Images

But in any and all offensive situations, the likes of Smith and Soderberg are meant to lend depth and supplement the top six to complete a full threat. They are not there to thoroughly substitute for the usual suspects for protracted, indefinite stretches.

Furthermore, while the practice of placing Chara on the doorstep is yielding results, pure homeward-bound blasts from the point have grown as scarce as leaf-laden tree branches in late November. There is also no guarantee that the grizzled, towering captain will be as effective in later months as he is now.

If the Bruins want to make the power play a newly dependable asset for the long haul, they cannot subsist solely on the good looks and finishes that Chara and the third-liners cultivate.

They can afford even less to wait until the still fairly unripe Hamilton and Krug rekindle their acetylene sticks. Because they are both second-year professionals, their confidence is nothing to hold near open flame in the form of undue pressure.

Doing so could authorize more setbacks such as Dwyer’s partial breakaway Saturday. A young defenseman misreads an instinctive pass from a more seasoned forward and a dangerous turnover ensues.

Granted, the Bruins do not want to stray to the other extreme and stop using the precocious point men altogether. That, too, would mishandle Hamilton’s and Krug’s confidence.

Still, Boston is skating deeper into the phase where it must broaden its power-play scope and seek more quantitative and qualitative power-play attacks in the depths of the opposing zone.

Instead of feeding Krug when it is not necessarily the best option at the moment, the likes of Lucic ought to take direct responsibility for the puck more often.

Lucic is, after all, leading the Bruins overall with nine goals this season and pumped home seven power-play goals in 2011-12. And, not unlike Chara, he has enough size and strength to make a menace of himself in front of the net if he really wanted to.

Whether it is watching for deliberate or spontaneous rebounds, bracing for deflections or old-fashioned puck movement down low, the Bruins need more variety for more power-play rewards.

 

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com and are through games of Sunday, Nov. 24.

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