The power play has been the Achilles' heel of the Boston Bruins for years.
The downturn of the power play can be traced to March 10, 2010—the day Matt Cooke's elbow was delivered to Marc Savard's chin, which basically ended the star center's career.
Since that time, the Bruins have struggled badly on the power play. While the Bruins have been one of the best teams in the league when playing five-on-five or short-handed, they have often looked like they have no idea what they are doing when they have a man advantage.
It's been quite fascinating, because the Bruins have broken the NHL's long-time model of needing to have great special teams if a team is going to be successful.
You may remember that the power play appeared to be at its nadir during the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins season ended with a remarkable 4-0 triumph at Vancouver in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup Final.
However, of the 16 teams that made the playoffs, the Bruins ranked 14th in power-play success. They did not score a power-play goal during their first-round victory over the Montreal Canadiens, and they were successful on just 11.0 percent of their power-play opportunities during their postseason run.
The struggles continued in 2011-12 and again last year. The Bruins had the 15th-ranked power play in the 2012 playoffs, and their poor showing had much to do with their first-round defeat at the hands of the Washington Capitals.
In the 2013 regular season, Bruins ranked 26th in power-play success, but they jumped all the way to eighth in the postseason. Suddenly, the Bruins' long-dormant power play had some success in the biggest games of the year.
There was a reason for that. After the Bruins blue-line crew suffered some injuries, they brought up Torey Krug from their AHL affiliate in Providence.
Krug did not have superstar credentials, as he was an undrafted free agent, who was 5'9" and 182 pounds, out of Michigan State. He could have easily been overwhelmed by his circumstances.
But he was not the least bit cowed. Instead, he asserted himself, and that came to the forefront on the power play.
Krug may be on the short side, but he is an explosive skater who can handle the puck well. He also has a hard, accurate shot, and he can get it away in an instant.
Those talents made him an ideal player to have lead the power play. Head coach Claude Julien gave him an opportunity, and Krug immediately took advantage. He scored three power-play goals in the conference semifinal series against the New York Rangers (and one non-power play goal), and the Bruins became a threat with the man advantage.
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That showing opened Julien's eyes, and Krug has been the key performer on the power play this season. Instead of languishing near the bottom of the league, the Bruins rank 19th on the power play this year, connecting on 18.2 percent of their opportunities.
That percentage has been climbing, particularly when the Bruins play Eastern Conference opponents. Boston's power play has connected on six of its last 21 attempts (30.5 percent) against teams from its own conference.
Krug's presence at the point has allowed them to put the 6'9" Zdeno Chara down low where he can screen goaltenders and keep them from concentrating on the shot coming at them.
Krug and Chara are the team's leading scorers with the man advantage, as both players have three power-play goals. Dougie Hamilton also has two power-play markers, meaning that defensemen have scored eight of the 10 Bruins power-play goals. Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith are the only non-defenseman to light the lamp with the man advantage.
The Bruins defense has been far more active than it has been in past years, and it is paying off on the power play. If they can get more production from the top two forward lines, the Bruins may have a power play that ranks with the better teams in the league.
They are not there yet, but they are moving in the right direction.
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