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.

Hour two of Saturday Skate as Ken Laird and Rear Admiral take a more league-wide view of things with the Bruins' 28 games into the season
Ken Laird and Rear Admiral talk about the Bruins week that was, featuring five more goals from David Pastrnak, a Thursday clunker, and the Saturday call-up of Danton Heinen with a prospect update from Mark Divver of the Providence Journal

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David Backes has three power-play points this season. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

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.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Stuck in a two-game losing streak, and hindered by disastrous 0-3 deficits less than 26 minutes into each loss, the Bruins have made two calls to I-95 in search of a jolt of life to their forward corps, with Noel Acciari and Danton Heinen summoned from the P-Bruins.

Danton Heinen has been recalled from the Providence Bruins. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Danton Heinen has been recalled from the Providence Bruins. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)

Stuck in a two-game losing streak, and hindered by disastrous 0-3 deficits less than 26 minutes into each loss, the Bruins have made two calls to I-95 in search of a jolt of life to their forward corps, with Noel Acciari and Danton Heinen summoned from the P-Bruins.

For Acciari, the return to the B’s comes after just a one-game AHL stint that he felt was needed after missing the previous 16 NHL games with a lower-body injury sustained in a Nov. 7 win over the Sabres.

Credited with an assist in a 5-3 win over the Marlies last night, Acciari’s AHL gamer wasn’t about production, but rather getting his legs back.

“I felt good, first period was just trying to get my legs back under me, but after that, I felt better” Acciari admitted of his Friday night with the P-Bruins. “I definitely needed that game just to get back into some sort of game-shape, game focus, some mentality.”

The 25-year-old Acciari will be reunited to his once familiar fourth line spot on a line with Dominic Moore and Tim Schaller.

In the case of Heinen, however, a return to the big club was earned through what’s been an impressive run with the P-Bruins.

Credited with seven goals and 13 points in 13 AHL games since his demotion, the 21-year-old has shot the puck noticeably more in the minors than he did in during his first taste of NHL hockey (31 shots in 13 AHL contests compared to six shots in seven NHL games this season), and has obviously found production in 13 points versus the goose egg he posted to begin his year in Boston.

Set to begin his night on the left side of a line with David Krejci and David Backes, and despite his recent AHL success, Bruins head coach Claude Julien wasn’t quick to put the weight of the world on Heinen’s shoulders.

“My hope is that [Heinen] can come in and play and give us some good hockey,” Julien said following the morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena. “He’s a skill player. It’s about getting some confidence in his game when he went down there, and the pace of his game has to be a little bit better. And the battles — and coming out with the puck more often on the walls.”

With Acciari and Heinen in action, Anton Blidh has been assigned to Providence after one assist, seven shots, and 13 hits in a four-game NHL sample, while Jimmy Hayes will return to the press box as a scratch for the second time in the last five games.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson
The Bruins' home ice isn't as intimidating as it used to be. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins’ home ice isn’t as intimidating as it used to be. (Robert Mayer/USA Today Sports)

Before the Bruins were shoe-horned into their current locale, they played in one of the most intimidating arenas for opposing teams on the planet. Ask any Ranger or Red Wing or Nordique from the ‘80s the last barn they wanted to go into for a big game was and most would say without thinking, “Boston Garden”.

With its smaller-than-average ice surface, boisterous crowds, and balconies that jutted out practically to the center ice logo, the Garden was like visiting a bar in a rival neighborhood where you’d just hope to escape in one piece.

Those were the days.

Today’s iteration is about as scary as a Disney movie and opposing teams essentially help themselves to the recliner and remote. It’s particularly galling when the dregs of the league are leaving town with two points and no bruises. It’s quite a turnaround from just a couple of years ago when teams knew they were in for a battle and snagging even a point was a grind.

Though the Bruins do have a 7-6 home record so far this season, opponents haven’t exactly had their hands full while visiting Boston. Part of the reason is the team lacking sandpaper in their game all too often; they’re just not hard enough to play against. Some nights, the crowd is sitting on its hands and isn’t exactly doing the team any favors (“is the team reacting to the crowd or is the crowd reacting to the team?” is the “which came first, the chicken or the egg?” of sports).

But the audience isn’t paid to perform, the team is. So it’s on them when they lose. The team went 17-18-6 on Causeway St. last season with too many subpar efforts and that malaise has seeped into this year.

To put it simply, the Bruins need to be much tougher to play against in their home barn than they have been for the last couple years. They need to re-establish dominance and make it uncomfortable for visitors once again. Home arenas are where you’re supposed to win but the B’s are only doing it about half the time.

There’s no magic pill to fix everything but effort and concentration on the task at hand are two things that players can control. If the Bruins can find their successful recipe from just a couple seasons ago (they went 31-7-3 in their 2013-14 Presidents’ Trophy-winning season), then they can not only stop leaving points on the board against inferior teams but also serve notice to the rest of the league that any success on their ice will come with a price. But until that happens, teams won’t be afraid coming into Boston like they used to.

Blog Author: 
Rear Admiral

Bruins winger David Pastrnak is on pace for over 50 goals this season.</span></p>
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Anton Khudobin made just 17 saves in a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

Anton Khudobin made just 17 saves in a 4-2 loss to the Avalanche. (Greg M. Cooper/USA Today Sports)

On the second leg of a traveling back-to-back, perhaps Thursday’s head-to-head with the Avalanche was your classic scheduled loss.

But that doesn’t mean that Bruins head coach Claude Julien would be OK with an effort of a schedule loss, which is exactly what the B’s put forth in a 4-2 loss to the Avs in which the Bruins didn’t skate well, didn’t defend all that well when they needed to, and didn’t get much of anything from starting goaltender Anton Khudobin.

“There was a lot of problematic things,” Julien said after the loss. “No doubt that the power play could have helped us in the first period and failed to do that. They got to be better. We needed some saves tonight, we didn’t get them, [Khudobin]’s got to be better. A lot of things here that we can be better at and take responsibility but at the same time, you got to move on here and to me it’s one of those nights that had we been smarter from the get go, we would have had a chance.”

It began in net, where Khudobin surrendered four goals on just 22 shots against, including the first three in just 24:09, to once again put the Bruins in an 0-3 hole for the second time in as many nights and even quicker than the night before.

“Yes, I agree with that,” the 30-year-old Khudobin, whose record dropped to 1-4-0 and save percentage dipped from .902 down to .888, said when told about Julien’s criticism of his game. “It’s just four goals is too much. That’s it.”

Beat cleanly on the first three goals of the night, all unassisted markers for the Avs, Khudobin was not given much to work with from a B’s offense that was silent with the exception of David Pastrnak, who scored his 17th and 18th goals of the year in defeat.

It was Pastrnak that allowed the Bruins to claw within one of the Avalanche, but it didn’t last, as Carl Soderberg put the final nail in the Bruins’ coffin with a goal scored with under three minutes left in the second period, and a rather tame third period that saw the Bruins simply run on fumes en route to the end of their six-game point streak in which they seized 10-of-12 points overall.

Still, the Bruins weren’t going to blame their seventh game in 12 days for their struggles.

“Everybody has a tough schedule. Everybody is facing, at some point of the season, some tough road trips time-wise and travel-wise,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said of any fatigue that the Black and Gold battled in the loss. “They were ready to play us and they were the better team, especially in the first 20. I think, in the second, we created a lot more chances and we cut down on their lead. We took some penalties that cost us the game and from that point, we were always chasing.”

Things should get a little easier for the B’s with a Saturday night visit from the conference-worst Maple Leafs. Then again, that’s what you could have said about Thursday’s game with the Avs, who entered play with the fewest points in the entire league.

Blog Author: 
Ty Anderson

Despite the positives that came with their ability to come back from an 0-3 the night before in Washington, Thursday’s defeat at the hands of the Avalanche served as a reminder to the Bruins that they can’t spot the opposition three goals any given night and expect to fight back