First, they failed to confine the opposition to five power plays or fewer. Both parties mustered six man-advantage segments and converted one apiece en route to a 1-1 regulation tie.
Second, upon letting the Canadiens claim the bonus point in the shootout, the Bruins failed to pick up two points in the standings.
The last time both facts held true was 23 days prior in a March 1 matinee. That day, the Bruins conceded six power plays to the Washington Capitals, who converted twice and nabbed a 4-2 decision at the TD Garden.
Between those two slips, Boston tallied 12 consecutive victories, including one apiece at Washington’s and Montreal’s expense. With limited exceptions, special teams stayed within tame boundaries over the course of that winning streak.
The Bruins spent between eight and 10 minutes on the penalty kill in only two of those dozen successive triumphs. They repelled each of Florida’s four opportunities in a 5-2 road win on March 9 and killed all five Phoenix advantages in a 2-1 home victory on March 13.
Apart from that, they generally logged six short-handed minutes or fewer. Those included a three-for-three night on the PK in an emphatic 4-1 win at Montreal’s mansion and a mutually penalty-free 3-0 blanking of the Caps.
Monday marked a regression on the discipline front. For the first time since the Olympic break, the Bruins surpassed 10 minutes in aggregate short-handed action.
The only reason they did not accrue more than 10 minutes and 22 seconds was because Alexei Emelin converted his club’s second opportunity. Emelin drew first blood on Montreal’s behalf with 11 seconds left in Kevan Miller’s cross-checking sentence.
A mere 6:39 had fallen off the game clock at that point. Miller’s infraction came at the 4:50 mark, 91 seconds after fellow defenseman Zdeno Chara finished serving two minutes for roughing Emelin.
Remarkably, the deficit remained 1-0 at the second intermission. By then, the Bruins had committed the last of their penalties and served each of those 10 minutes and 22 seconds. Johnny Boychuk’s two-minute sentence for roughing up P.K. Subban expired with 48 ticks left in the middle frame.
Had Boston spent less than a quarter of those first 40 minutes trying to ward off Montreal’s power play, it could have devoted more minutes to peppering Peter Budaj. The Habs’ goaltender was a worthy first star of the game, but his adversaries could have done more against him.
As Jeff Pini of Boston.com aptly observed, “The B’s outshot the Canadiens 22-9 when playing 5-on-5. They allowed 10 shots on Montreal’s six power plays, while also allowing three short handed shots.”
For additional evidence that discipline is Boston’s boon, look no further than this rivalry’s previous installment.
In their March 12 visit to the Bell Centre, the Bruins perked up a period earlier than they did on Monday. They shook off a pair of first-period penalties and then cracked open a 3-0 lead in the middle frame en route to a 4-1 battering of Budaj and company.
By the way, they incurred all of three short-handed segments that night, including two in a shaky first period.
Their discipline detonated with twice as much frequency in Monday night’s rematch. They took the game’s first three minors unanswered and could not strike Budaj’s mesh until 5:26 remained in regulation.
In between the two regulation strikes, the attacks on Montreal property varied in quality. One of them—on a Bruins man advantage, no less—culminated in Carl Soderberg going off for goaltender interference.
Soderberg’s infraction at 12:13 preceded penalties to Jarome Iginla at 15:56 and Boychuk at 17:12. Those three ultimately crammed a cumulative five minutes and 16 seconds of less than full strength into a span of six minutes and 59 seconds in the latter half of the middle frame.
Boston’s penalty-killers, goaltender Tuukka Rask included, warrant ample credit for compressing the wound and keeping the score 1-0 until Patrice Bergeron tipped home the host’s own power-play conversion.
But recent Bruins trends have demonstrated that it is not worth juggling with torches even if averting an inferno spawns momentum for later. Even without overt damage in the form of opposing goals, excess penalty trouble can still inflict harm in the form of time and energy loss.
That notion is not open to debate when looking at the Bruins’ recent 12-game tear and the losses that have sandwiched it. One can even throw in the Feb. 26 venture to Buffalo, the team’s return to its schedule following the Olympic break.
That night, backup goalie Chad Johnson faltered in a sloppy, seesaw 5-4 overtime loss. The host Sabres spread eight minutes and 59 seconds of power-play time over five sequences, converting once.
Since then, the Bruins have invariably won when taking less than five minors in a game. They got away with five in their aforementioned victory over Phoenix but paid a price when taking five or six versus the Sabres, Caps and Habs.
Sooner or later, they will turn in another losing effort despite minimizing their five-on-four, five-on-three and/or four-on-three disadvantages. That does not diminish the discrepancy in recent repeat matchups, particularly their last two clashes with the Canadiens.
There is more to this than the threat of power-play goals. There is the need to avoid overwhelming the younger, less experienced portion of the blue-line brigade, especially if and when veterans like Boychuk and Chara are in the sin bin.
There is the need to ease the burden on Chara, who needs less labor in preparation for the playoffs. When he suits up, fewer Boston penalties will improve the all-around leader’s odds of a more reasonable nightly workload.
Then there is the need to retain some rhythm from one net to the other. The Bruins sculpted their streak with the help of a balanced revolving door of four reliable offensive lines.
More special teams equals more friction in the effort to keep that door rolling from both a tactical and psychological perspective.
Spending 10 minutes and 22 seconds of the first 40 minutes on the penalty kill is certainly no way to sustain a four-line flow. Neither is letting minds wander in the direction of “extracurricular activity,” as the sports adage goes.
Recent results say as much and receive extra decibels from this month’s contrasting pairs of results against the Canadiens and Capitals. The less the Bruins let the opponent put one of their own in the box, the better their chances of putting the whole adversary away on the scoreboard.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via nhl.com
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