BOSTON – The Boston Bruins' power play has been a target of much derision during the past few seasons, regardless of how well the team has done.
With a new look this season, the Bruins might've finally found a man advantage that will lead to positive results.
The Bruins scored twice on the power play Saturday night, both times with Zdeno Chara in front of the net, and defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 at TD Garden in the first regular-season game between the teams as Atlantic Division foes.
Boston improved to 2-0-0 on the season. Detroit is now 2-1-0.
The Bruins' new power-play alignment features Chara planting his 6-foot-9 frame in front of the opposing goal on one of the units. Chara scored one of the power-play goals against the Red Wings and helped Torey Krug score the other.
"No one can move him," Krug said about his team's captain. "So they kind of just leave him to himself. And the goalie has to deal with him and it takes his eyes away. So it's nice to for us to have that."
Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard finished with 33 saves on 37 shots, but had difficulty dealing with Chara.
"It's not easy when there's someone that's 6-foot-9 standing in front of you," Howard said. "It's something that you've got to figure out, and find a way to try and find the puck. But it's extremely difficult with him in front."
The Bruins' power play ranked 26th in the League in 2013 and 15th the prior season. But the addition of Krug and Dougie Hamilton allowed coach Claude Julien to ask Chara if he would be willing to try to stake out some space in the slot. With Krug and center David Krejci manning the points, Chara has joined Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla at the forward positions.
The Bruins were 0-for-3 on the power play Thursday in their opening-night win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Krug, a Michigan native, ended that mini drought when got the Bruins on the scoreboard first during the game's first power play.
Krug's slap shot from the high slot went through two screens, including one from Chara, before it eluded Howard at 9:11 of the first period. The goal was Krug's first in the regular season after he scored four in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Chara scored the Bruins' second power-play goal of the game at 12:17 of the third period. After a Bruins takeaway, Krug found a streaking Chara headed toward the net. Chara caught the puck and then roofed a backhand for a 4-1 lead. That goal and several other plays shows that Chara can do more than just screen the goaltender. He can also use his strength.
"I think I talked to [Krejci] about it. He was like, ‘what should I do with the puck?' And I was like, ‘I don't know, just give it to [Chara],'" Krug said. "Throw it in the corner to him. He's going to win the battle nine out of 10 times. So, it's nice having him on our side."
Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask finished with 25 saves. The Bruins killed off Detroit's two power plays and the Red Wings are now 0-for-8 with the man advantage through their first three games.
"[Our power play] didn't have much today. I think in the other two games we at least created a lot of chances, but the puck hasn't gone in. Today wasn't good," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
Despite their fast start, the Bruins weren't able to shake the Red Wings until the second period. They maintained a 1-0 lead throughout much of the first while severely outshooting Detroit. The Red Wings went one stretch of 7:54 without a shot before Justin Abdelkader had an in-close chance that Rask deflected away with his pad.
Detroit capitalized on some tough play in the neutral zone and a fortuitous oversight by the officials to pull even at 1-1 before the period ended. During a Bruins rush prior to the tying goal, the puck appeared (and replays proved) to leave the playing surface and hit a player on the Detroit bench. The whistle didn't blow and with 3:11 remaining before the first intermission, Zetterberg's shot from the left faceoff dot tied the game. Zetterberg got the puck off a long rebound off an Abdelkader shot.
The Bruins wasted little time regaining the lead after the start of the second period. Brad Marchand kept the puck on a 2-on-2 and beat Howard with a wrist shot from just above the right dot to the far post 36 seconds into the period for a 2-1 lead. The Bruins had a scare at the 3:30 mark of the period, when Marchand went down in a heap after a collision with Abdelkader. Marchand skated off under his own power and returned to the game a few minutes later.
Jordan Caron extended the Bruins' lead to 3-1 at 7:58 of the second period. After some strong work along the wall by the Bruins, Adam McQuaid sent the puck from the right point to the slot, where Reilly Smith set up Caron for a one-timer from the bottom of the right circle.
Although the Bruins' power play has shown marked improvement, even dating back to the preseason games, Krug said Boston can't get complacent.
"There's so many things that we have to continue to work on to get better," the rookie said. "It's a process; it doesn't just happen. We have to work on it, continue work on it, even if we have success, we can't stop practicing it. So it's something we've got to continue to work at and hopefully each game we can bring something to the table."