Bruins’ Power Play Concerning Entering Playoffs

With an overtime win over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday (March 30), the Boston Bruins have clinched their fourth Presidents’ Trophy in franchise history. The season has been nothing short of spectacular for the Original Six club, and as we enter the final weeks of the regular season, it’s hard to find any glaring weaknesses in their game. However, since January, the Bruins have struggled to convert on their power-play chances leaving the team and fans searching for answers.

Bruins’ Power-Play Concerns Begin in January

Coinciding with the new calendar year, the Bruins’ power-play struggles began on Jan. 1. Before the New Year, they converted on 27.6 percent of their power-play chances. Through 36 games, they had scored 37 goals on 134 power-play opportunities. However, things have gone in a different direction for the club since, as they have scored just 20 power-play markers on 126 chances. While clipping along at a much lower 15.6 percent success rate, the power play has even gone on to cost them games as recently as March 28 against the Nashville Predators, when they went 0-5 with the man advantage in an eventual 2-1 loss.

One key difference starting in January was the loss of Jake Debrusk, who was injured in the 2023 NHL Winter Classic against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Up to the time of his injury, Debrusk was on pace to shatter all his previous career-high totals, including power-play goals, which he had chipped in five through 36 games while playing on the Bruins’ top unit. However, the speedy forward went on to miss the next 17 games, and at the same time, the Bruins’ power play began to look much less threatening to the opposition. Since returning to the lineup, he has only potted one power-play goal in 21 games.

Jake DeBrusk Boston Bruins
Jake DeBrusk, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Bruins’ leading scorer, David Pastrnak, had 10 power-play goals in the 36 games before Jan 1. In the games to follow, he has scored seven power-play goals in 39 games, a slight drop off in production but not enough to explain the vast overall decline in the Bruins’ conversion rate.

Why Is the Bruins’ Power Play Struggling?

So, if it’s not due to Debrusk’s departure in early January and Pastrnak is still scoring on the power play at a reasonable rate, then why have we seen such a drop off in the Bruin’s power-play success over the last half of the season?

Predictability. Predictability has to be a factor for the significant drop in production with the man advantage. The Bruins have two main plays with their top unit, one being to set up Pastrnak from “Ovechkin’s office” for his patented and Ovechkin-like one-timer, and the other is to move the puck down low and look for Patrice Bergeron in the bumper position. At times it seems like the Bruins are forcing these plays when there is a quality shot available for the taking. Opponents have become increasingly aware of Pastrnak’s one-timer, and goaltenders expect the big blast from the left circle.

David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins
David Pastrnak, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The lack of production from the Bruins’ second unit also plays a factor in their power-play woes. Although David Krejci has also played on the top unit, he has only four power-play goals this season. Pavel Zacha has just two, while injured forwards Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno have combined for six power-play markers. Hall’s absence removes a considerable threat from the Bruins’ second unit. However, he also plays a big part in the Bruins’ entries with his ability to carry the puck, with speed, through the neutral zone.

How the Bruins Can Fix Their Power Play Woes

Head coach Jim Montgomery is no slouch when managing special teams. The Bruins’ first-year bench boss previously was in charge of the St. Louis Blues’ power play when he was an assistant coach with the club. With Montgomery running the Blues’ power play, they ranked sixth in 2020-21 and third in the 2021-22 season. With the talent he has at his disposal, it is just a matter of time before the Bruins see more positive results with the man advantage.

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Montgomery has already shuffled the deck in their most recent game against the Blue Jackets by moving Pastrnak to the second unit with Krejci, Zacha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Charlie McAvoy. The results were noticeable as Bertuzzi notched a power-play goal in the contest, and McAvoy had a blast of his own disallowed due to the officials losing sight of the puck and blowing the whistle before it crossed the goal line.

While separating Pastrnak from his usual spot alongside Bergeron and Marchand gives both units different looks, there are a couple of simple options for the Bruins to make their power play more threatening. First, McAvoy needs to unload his shot more frequently. Adding the threat of a one-timer coming from the Bruins defenceman will keep their opponents guessing and, at the same time, open up more space to go back to Pastrnak on the left side. The right-handed McAvoy has an underrated blast from the point, and if used more frequently, he could be finding the back of the net regularly.

Another option for the Bruins is for Marchand to take more shots himself, as he has also been looking to thread the needle more often than not this season. Marchand has an elite shot, and by adding another threat from the right side of the ice, the Bruins will have the upper hand on keeping the other team guessing. The bottom line is that the Bruins need to eliminate the current predictability of their power play, and when they do that, more ice will be open for them to bury the puck.

Taylor Hall Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Lastly, getting a healthy Hall re-inserted into the lineup will be a boost for the Bruins. Although he is not the superior offensive player he has once shown in the past, as previously mentioned, his speed is an invaluable asset for gaining entry into the offensive zone. While Dmitry Orlov hasn’t looked out of place on the power play, with Hall back, the Bruins would have the option of playing four forwards on each of their two power-play units, with Hampus Lindholm and McAvoy being the lone defenceman on each unit.

Will the Bruins’ Power Play Be the Cause Of Their Downfall

When wondering if the power play could cost them their chance at a championship this spring, one just has to look back at the Bruins’ 2011 Stanley Cup run, where they scored just five power-play goals through the first three rounds before scoring five more in the Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks.

While a potent power play is a huge advantage come playoff time, the Bruins have shown they are deep enough that they don’t necessarily need to win games based on their power-play performance. The club also possesses the best penalty killing in the NHL; however, in a tightly contested playoff game where the difference could be simply converting that one-timer with the man advantage, the Bruins’ best bet is to solve their power play woes sooner than later.

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