With all the video work and scouting done today, it's hard for one team to surprise another, tactically-speaking. It's even harder when those teams are division rivals, like the Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres.
But Bruins General Manager Peter Chiarelli believes the adjustments made by coach Claude Julien and his staff is what turned the tide in Boston's favor in their six-game, first-round series win against the Sabres.
"I thought he made very good adjustments," Chiarelli said. "When it came to crunch time I thought he changed his approach, which I think is a huge testament to the coach and his staff, to be able to feel the changes that have to be done and to actually make those changes. There are always little technical changes you can do and I really felt that he changed his approach, which I think was very helpful. You have to do that in this day and age on numerous occasions, just because of the nature of the players you have now. I have to hand it to them -- they did a good job."
One of those adjustments was on the power play. The Bruins finished 23rd with the man-advantage during the regular season, connecting at just 16.8 percent. Against the Sabres -- who were second in the regular season killing penalties -- the Bruins connected six times on 23 chances, good for fourth in the playoffs at 27.3 percent. Five of their final eight goals in the series came on the power play, including the winning goal in Game 4.
"On the power play, I thought we made some good adjustments," Chiarelli said. "I thought we changed entries, which was good. You saw different types of entries. You saw the soft, high dump; you saw the quick pass to the strong-side winger and he would gain entry. You saw different entries, which I think they had to respond to and caught them off guard a little bit. And I think you saw a little more rotation from the guys on the half wall … which moved their (penalty kill) box around. You've got to give credit to the players that were on the specialty teams (and) to the coaching staff, they made some good adjustments there. We struggled all year on the power play and I really liked the way we responded. I think that threw them for a loop a little bit."
Chiarelli gave a good deal of the credit for the power play improvements to assistant coach Geoff Ward, who oversees that unit.
"Geoff is a very hard worker," Chiarelli said. "He' been grinding away at different looks. I know they practice the power play more. The group will be on beforehand without any defenders and they'll move it around. … Because you don't score doesn't mean your power play was bad. You have to look at your chances and how the chances were generated. You talk about different things, different angles of attack. You have to rely on your coach's expertise when it comes to putting the system in place. We talked about different combinations of players, what strengths those players have in those certain roles, those certain positions on the power play."
But all the talk and video sessions only can accomplish so much. When the puck drops, it's up to the players, and Chiarelli said their desire to succeed on the power play is what made that unit so much better.
"There's nothing magical," he said. "The most important thing is you're winning the battles in the offensive zone. You're obviously outnumbering them and it's incumbent you win the battles. I think you saw that battle level increase in the playoffs and that plays a large role in the success of the power play."
Contact Adam Kimelman at firstname.lastname@example.org