Early thoughts on Boston’s power play

Boston’s penalty killers went on the offensive Thursday night, scoring twice in the Bruins’ 3-1 win over Tampa Bay. It helped overshadow another troubling night for Boston’s power play, which went scoreless in three chances. Not only did the Bruins fail to score with the man advantage, they amassed just two shots on goal and only about 20 seconds of sustained possession in the offensive zone.

In Boston’s defense, the three power plays amounted to just 3:56 of actual time with the man advantage, including the game’s final 23 seconds when the outcome was no longer in doubt. But for an elite team whose power play ranked as the league’s fifth-worst last season (14.75%), Thursday’s results were disappointing, especially after a solution-seeking offseason.

Among the solutions sought was a new role for Zdeno Chara. The Bruins tinkered during the preseason, using the 6-foot-9 Slovak defenseman as a human eclipse in front of the opposing net on the power play. He remained there against Tampa Bay in the season opener, but his impact was mitigated by the Bruins’ lack of puck possession.

The acquisitions of Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson also failed to spark the opening-night power play, although Iginla did manage one of Boston’s two shots on goal with the man advantage, a relatively harmless volley from the left half-boards.

One curiosity was the absence of Brad Marchand during the Bruins’ first power play opportunity. Boston’s leading goal-scorer from last season was parked on the bench in favor of Gregory Campbell, who skated with Patrice Bergeron and Eriksson on the second unit. The first group consisted of David Krejci centering Iginla and Milan Lucic. Marchand was reinserted with Bergeron on Boston’s second power play, jumping into a rush and producing the Bruins’ only true power-play scoring chance, a near-miss backhand attempt off a slick pass through a seam in the defense from Bergeron.

As it was last season, Boston’s power play will be an ongoing storyline, for better or worse. Clearly the Bruins boast a nice collection of offensive talent. The team’s 104 even-strength goals last season ranked sixth-best in the NHL. So squeezing just a little more out of that talent while on the power play could make all the difference for a team that once again projects to be very good at keeping the puck out of its own net.

Systematically, I’m looking forward to watching the Chara-in-front experiment. His mammoth size obviously creates a challenging matchup for defensemen and goaltenders, but there’s more to being a net-front presence than bulk. And whether he develops a scoring touch or not, his lack of foot speed and offensive instincts will put the onus of puck retrieval — so important for sustained pressure — on teammates like Iginla and Lucic, who aren’t notoriously fleet-of-foot either. But with young defensemen like Torey Krug and Dougie Hamilton looking like capable point-men, the Bruins are wise to experiment.

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