The Bruins have the fifth-worst power-play in the NHL through 28 games this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)
Only six NHL teams had a better power play than the Bruins, who clicked at a 20.5 percent success rate, did a year ago. A season later, only four teams have scored fewer power-play goals than the Bruins, with 12, have tallied through the opening 28 games. Their percentage has hovered around the strugglesome total figures of the latter, too, as their 14.5 percent success rate ranks as the fifth-worst in the NHL.
The shortcomings of the group have been prominently displayed over the team’s last eight contests, too. The Bruins have posted an 0-for in six in those eight games, including an 0-for-2 mark Thursday night against the league-worst Avalanche, and have gone 2-for-23 overall over that stretch (8.7 percent success rate).
For a team with a top-heavy first unit — with David Backes as the net-front presence, Ryan Spooner along the half wall to the right of the net, Patrice Bergeron as the bumper, and David Krejci and Torey Krug as the roaming points — that’s not even close to good enough.
Though the group has remained (for the most part) intact from what it was a year ago (the biggest change was the offseason personnel swap that brought Backes in as a replacement for Loui Eriksson as that group’s goalie-screening deflection extraordinaire), and while the coaching staff has shown tremendous patience in attempt to simply let them all work it out, there’s no doubt that there’s a growing sense that something (read as: the personnel) simply has to change if these struggles continue.
“We need more out of them. You can only put so much trust and so much patience in a power play that has been successful but needs to get it going,” Bruins coach Claude Julien admitted of his team’s power play. “They know that now.”
With six of the Bruins’ 12 power-play goals coming from skaters on that top unit (Backes and Spooner each have two while Bergeron and Krejci have one each), the Bruins have found some productive, but they’re not working for enough. Not at the rate of a group with as much ‘new money’ — there’s $11.25 million of recently inked deals on that first unit between Backes’ $6 million salary and Krug’s new, $5.25 million per year extension — should be working for the Black-and-Gold.
“We want to make plays, we want to help our team. It’s not like we’re out there not trying to make plays or anything, but we just have to be better,” Krug said of the club’s power play struggles versus their success a year ago. “We’ve got to have better focus, crisper passes, making quick plays to the net and making things happen. I feel like right now we might just be standing there, static, just hoping that things are going to happen and we’re not making them happen. We’ve got to change our mindset, and those guys on that unit are the guys that will go to work and make sure we’re better next time for our team.”
An issue that’s plagued the Bruins’ first unit this year has been the decrease in opportunities in the bumper for Bergeron. Held to just 18 power-play shots on goal through the first 25 games of the year (and 75 minutes of power-play time on ice) versus 68 shots in 80 games a year ago (in over 236 minutes of power-play time on ice), teams have done their best to snuff out any of Bergeron’s opportunities to fire pucks on net with the regularity he did a year ago, even if it’s just by a shot or two per night.
“Last year [Bergeron] found so much success in the slot there and obviously teams are going to zero in on when you have plays and things like that, but I don’t know if we’re doing a great job enough to make the other guys threats to open up Bergy,” Krug said. “I think there’s a lot of things we can talk about. It’s on us to make quicker, better plays.”
It’s also worth noting that Backes has not necessarily replicated the success of his predecessor, the patient Eriksson, who had already tallied six power-play goals and 10 power-play points by the team’s 28th game of the season a year ago. Much of that has to do with the differences in who they are as players — Eriksson was more of a subtle, controlled presence around the front of the net and keeping plays alive behind the net, whereas Backes has been more crash-and-bang with his style — as well as Backes’ newness to the entire Bruins organization, which has to be considered with anything involving his on-ice numbers to date.
Still, the Bruins expect — and need — more.
“Everybody’s got a little share in this in how to be more successful,” Backes, who noted the team’s need to generate momentum with either goals that make teams think twice about taking penalties against the club, admitted. “We need to take it upon us to seize this opportunity that we all have on that power play that gets a lot of good looks and make good on it.”
And though it may involve changing the overall scheme of the unit, the Bruins have other options on the roster if need be, including one of either Brad Marchand or David Pastrnak, tied for the team lead in points (24), and on the team’s second unit.
Options that may finally be at their disposal tonight against the visiting Maple Leafs.
“There are some options we have prepared if [the power play] does not go well,” Julien said.