It came down to one simple difference in the Bruins' tightly wrapped 1-0 defeat at the hands of the Rangers Sunday afternoon at Madison Square Garden.
The B’s outshot the Rangers by a 29-23 count and outhit New York by a thumping 41-28 margin on a day when Boston normally might have been satisfied with plenty of the things accomplished on the frozen sheet. There was ample grit and discipline up and down the roster, but the “want to” quotient wasn’t the problem.
It took a few weeks, but the Bruins have finally locked into their structured, systematic defensive style of play, and that’s been apparent since their skaters returned from a two-game road trip with a broken-down Milan Lucic and a busted-up Marc Savard.
The B’s have allowed only 11 goals in those six games with both key contributors out of the lineup, but that hasn’t even been close to the issue at hand as Boston continues to hover at the .500 mark. The issue has been that the Big Bad B’s have scored only 13 goals during that same six-game span, and have suffered through an ugly 1-for-17 outage on the power play since Savard aggravated a broken bone in his left foot.
Apparently, Boston’s playmaking center took the 1.21 jigowatts of power-play electricity and unpredictability with him when he was fitted for the protective boot on his left foot. The power-play difficulties highlighted the difference between the two Eastern Conference rivals on a day when the two hockey teams played to a 1-0 final score for the fifth time in their last nine meetings. (Recap.) It’s clear the presence of natural-born scorer Marian Gaborik on the Rangers roster was the one and only difference between two evenly matched teams pushing for two points.
The Rangers were a team that scratched and clawed their way through last season with a popgun offense augmented by an airtight defense and superb goaltending. That lack of a dominant offensive force is exactly what proved to be New York’s undoing during last season’s playoff run, and that forced general manager Glen Sather’s hand in vastly overpaying for the fragile-but-elite skill set that the not-so-affectionately nicknamed Maid Marian brings to the ice with him.
Gaborik rose to the occasion on Sunday, however, and finished off a one-timer from the high slot with less than five minutes to play in the second period. The score was Gaborik’s 11th goal of the season and proved to be only scoring for either team.
The B’s took five cracks at the power play and outshot the Rangers by more than a 2-1 margin in the third period but simply couldn’t slide anything past well-coiffed goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. Mark Recchi had Boston’s best chances in the closing minutes of the third period when he attempted to scoop a backhanded rebound inside the right post, but Lundqvist made the quick grab with his glove hand and defused the threat.
Recchi had another Grade A opportunity later in the period when Patrice Bergeron fed him a tasty drop-down pass from behind the net, and the 41-year-old winger fired a shot directly into the bread basket of the New York goaltender.
It’s become increasingly apparent through the six games without Savard and Lucic that the Bruins A) are having a much more difficult time scoring in 5-on-5 situations than they did last season and B) are becoming epically impotent on the power play. It’s really not that much of a surprise given that Boston simply doesn’t have a go-to offensive guy when it comes to the goal-scoring department.
There isn’t a single B’s player who ranks in the top 100 of shots attempted in the NHL through the first month-plus of action, and their highest volume shooter is defenseman Zdeno Chara with 34 shots — which attests to the distinct lack of aggression and assertiveness by the forwards as a group thus far.
Last season Phil Kessel ranked in the NHL’s top 50 players with 232 shots on goal and averaged nearly 3.5 shots per game. While the former Bruins winger didn’t bury every shot and sometimes telegraphed his patented curl-and-drag move, he still leveled dangerous wristers at the net and put constant pressure on the opposition’s defense while squeezing off testing bids.
Contributions from players such as Marco Sturm, Michael Ryder, and Blake Wheeler — along with David Krejci — should be greater than the current sum for the struggling Bruins offense, but there’s a limit to just how much can be expected from this season’s roster of skaters without an elite trigger man.
The B’s have had to work awfully hard for any offense they’ve received this season, and that’s going to continue. It’s been glaring over the last handful of games as Boston has finally reached a comfortable place with their team defense and goaltending.
More goal-scoring answers aren’t likely to emanate from anyone currently within the B’s roster. It may be that the offensive situation will keep suffering through fits and starts unless Peter Chiarelli works some wheeler-dealer magic with Boston’s bevy of draft picks prior to the March 3 trade deadline. It remains to be seen if goal-scoring is this team’s potentially fatal flaw, but there have been unmistakable warning signs through the first baker’s dozen of hockey games for the Black and Gold this fall.
Here are two other things we learned in Sunday afternoon’s 1-0 loss to the Rangers.
THE POWER PLAY IS A SERIOUS ISSUE FOR THE BRUINS
The Bruins had the second-best power play in the entire Eastern Conference last season with a 23.6 percent success rate, and ranked behind only the high-wattage Washington Capitals in terms of the man advantage. How things have changed.
The B’s are battling to be half as effective this season on their special teams and sit at a 12.2 percent success rate on the power play after their first 13 games, which is good for a pathetic 28th in the NHL this season. The Bruins went 0-for-5 on Sunday afternoon against the Rangers and lost an immeasurable amount of momentum when they couldn’t score on successive power plays in the third period against a scrambling New York outfit.
Here are some other scary numbers to chew over with the Bruins power play:
- The Bruins are currently on an 0-for-14 stretch with their power play that began in their shootout loss to the Philadelphia Flyers.
- The B’s power play is 1-for-17 since Savard went down with the broken left foot, and it’s been quite apparent that the team is severely missing the services of its power-play quarterback.
- Subtract a 4-for-8 power play performance against the Carolina Hurricanes in Boston’s second game of the season, and the B’s power play loses nearly all of its juice and is a piddling 2-for-41 on the man advantage. That’s a 4.8 percent success rate on the power play.
The B’s were experiencing troubles in just about every area of the PP, and it may be time for B’s coach Claude Julien finally begins to fine-tune things. The B’s began toying with the idea of utilizing Matt Hunwick on the power play units. The puck-moving defenseman added some life to Boston’s flagging power play unit last season. Also, it might be time to place David Krejci along the half-wall on Boston’s top power-play unit and place Patrice Bergeron closer to the net along with Marco Sturm and Mark Recchi on the team’s No. 1 PP unit.
NOT ALL OF BOSTON’S SPECIAL TEAMS ARE BAD
While both the power-play and penalty-kill units began the season struggling mightily, Boston’s killers have finally found a winning formula over the last two weeks. In fact, the Boston penalty kill crew hasn’t allowed a power play goal since Oct. 17 against the Phoenix Coyotes, and has killed off 13 consecutive penalty opportunities over its last six games.
Julien tweaked the units and inserted both Daniel Paille and Brad Marchand onto the penalty-kill scene, a move that added some speed and grit to the group. The B’s coach also shortened his penalty kill crews and is now tossing out the players that jelled into a unit over the last few weeks. Zdeno Chara and Derek Morris continue to soak up the most short-handed minutes while Patrice Bergeron and Steve Begin also figured largely into Julien’s penalty killing combinations.
The next step is for the penalty kill unit to get a little more dangerous in challenging on short-handed offensive opportunities. If they did so, if would help take some pressure off in power-play and 5-on-5 situations.