No matter what transpires in their matchup on Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, the man advantage is in a good spot.
Naturally, a team deploys two power play units. Both have weapons. Both try to generate momentum for the club.
There’s a five-man unit in Black & Gold, though, that has been so on target that they’ve been eating up most of the team’s power play minutes — and that’s not a discredit to their other teammates.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Torey Krug, Loui Eriksson and Ryan Spooner have spent a combined 76:24 on the power play through their first five games.
Boston’s PP has scored seven goals on its 18 opportunities, with all of them coming from Bergeron (3), Eriksson (2) and Krejci (2).
The collective five-man unit of Bergeron, Krejci, Krug, Eriksson and Spooner has put up 18 points.
Aside from Pastrnak being in Spooner’s place on one of the goals, and one goal being scored by Bergeron as a power play was expiring (hence, a five-man unit ready for five-on-five play was already on the ice), those five members have been on fire.
“Obviously, you always go out there on the power play and try to score a goal; you’re disappointed if you don’t,” said Krejci, whose five power play points (two goals, three assists) are tied for the League lead. He has nine points (four goals, five assists) total on the season.
“Obviously the power play is doing well, but if you don’t go out there and you don’t expect to score, then you shouldn’t be out there at all.”
It’s that confidence that is keeping the power play in stride.
“We’re passing the puck well, passing on the tape, taking our shots, creating some rebounds, so it’s been working lately,” said Krejci, who mans the point with Krug.
“It’s been great with him,” said Krug, who has notched five of his six assists on the power play, good for the League lead. “I think we kind of went through a little bit of a lull there last year, we didn’t have a set unit, guys were filling in different pieces and I think to just come back this season — I know he’s healthy and everything, so it’s nice to have him back, because he makes a lot of plays and he gives the other guys a lot of room.”
The duo’s movement at the points, in the slot and along the boards keeps teams’ penalty kills constantly guessing, even when the opponents are well prepared from their coaches’ pre-scouts.
“[Assistant Coach] Joe [Sacco’s] been great for us, letting us know what’s going to be available against certain teams,” said Krug. “And the great thing about our power play is we have a lot of great thinkers and guys that think the game well and we’re all contributing — and sometimes one guy sees something that another guy can’t see.”
“So it’s about just communicating and I think we all talk a lot — Bergy’s great at that obviously, being one of our leaders — and so it’s just nice to have a lot of guys that communicate well and can see a lot of things.”
When examining the Bruins’ power play goals, a few elements stand out the most: the fluid movement, shot taking and ability to retrieve rebounds.
“We’ve been shooting the puck a lot,” said Spooner. “We’ve been getting the puck up top which for sure helps out a lot, so I think as a group, we support each other well. It seems to be working.”
Watching the Bruins’ power play makes you wish they doled out more than two assists per goal.
Only one goal — Bergeron’s late one in the third period against Arizona that sealed a 5-3 win — came off the rush. All others were the benefactors of hard work and time spent wearing down the opponent’s penalty killers — by rotating pucks down low to out high and side to side, getting shots through, battling around the net and setting up screens.
It’s hard to pin-point just one or two members of the unit, but there’s no doubt that the combination of Krug and Krejci has been a catalyst.
“For me, it’s important to make sure I take my shots when I get them, so when I’m out there, I’m thinking to shoot every single time,” said Krug, who no doubt would like to see one of his shots go in, but is happy to contribute by being the set-up man.
“And then when you do that, it kind of sets the penalty kill up for those open seams later on that gives you those assists, so it’s about making sure I have a shot mentality and then everything else falls in place.”
Krejci has taken that approach as well — maybe even more so than years past. His strong start to the season has carried over to the man advantage.
“You know, every time, you don’t want to get too high or too low, so kind of trying to stay the same way the whole time and keep improving,” said Krejci, trying to stay even-keeled. “Even though the puck’s going in the net, there’s still some stuff we’ve got to work on, so obviously yeah, the confidence is high, but obviously not too high or not too low.”
“It’s been going in the net for us, but it doesn’t mean we’re doing everything right,” he said. “We like what we see, but we can’t just sleep on it and think that from now on, pucks are going to be going in the net. We’ve just got to keep working hard, out-work the PKers and keep battling.”
“Forwards are doing a really good job winning the battles along the boards and me and Torey, we kind of shoot the puck and it’s been going in the net lately.”
One of their biggest strengths has been their ability to feel pressure coming, and quickly relieve it.
Bergeron, the “bumper” usually set up around the hash marks, puts himself in a position for quick touch passes and if he can, sets up for his sweet spot shot from the inside of the right circle.
“He’s really good at being under pressure, Spoons knows he can rely on him,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said of Bergeron.
“Even David, from the back end — and he really gets in good positions there where he’s able to get that puck in the middle and sometimes just relieve the pressure that’s being put on our power play, especially when other teams are aggressive. He becomes really, really important for us, and I think he’s mastered that position very well. I think it’s a great spot for him.”
Spooner plays a similar pressure-relieving role in his spot on the half wall. Eriksson primarily sets up for screens and tips, while also using the space behind the net. His hand-eye coordination plays a key role in front.
One of the unit’s goals against Arizona shows off another one of their assets: puck control.
At the outset, Krejci fired a shot from the slot, allowing the group in front to work for rebounds. One was fished out to Krug, who relieved pressure with a Spooner give-and-go before firing his own shot that created more loose change in front. Spooner dished out the puck to Eriksson, who fed Krug up top. The lone defenseman on the unit took a couple of strides to open up the penalty kill even more, and hit Krejci in the left circle for a one-timer that hit the back of the net. All the while, Bergeron floated in the slot and kept his stick active to distract the penalty killers.
“When teams don’t respect the bumper…they’re more worried about other areas, and that becomes a threat, and if they respect that, then there’s other places that it opens up,” said Julien. “So our guys have done a good job at identifying that, whether from our pre-scout, coaches, to the players on the ice, seeing that those options are open.”
“We’re not trying to force plays right now,” said Bergeron. “And up top, guys are finding ways to get the puck on net and we’re trying to collapse and try to find it, so we need to do some more of that and just keep taking what’s open.”
Every pregame skate and practice, the power play units run through their set plays and flows without defenders. They get used to the movements. They become instinctual.
But in games, they can’t always rely on that. Sometimes plays work. Sometimes they don’t. Mostly, they rely on their chemistry.
There may a point when the unit becomes stale, or hits a slump. The other unit — made up primarily of Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, Jimmy Hayes and a rotation of Matt Beleskey, David Pastrnak, Brett Connolly and Brad Marchand — may be called upon to generate chemistry and produce.
As for now, the Bruins hope they can keep using their man-up situation as a clear-cut advantage.
“Right now, I think there’s also a lot of confidence,” said Julien. “We’re in that place with that one, and we continue to work with the other one that, again, has a lot of new faces on it, and hopefully our power play continues to be a weapon for us.”