Bruins’ Special Teams Near the Top of the League Again in 2020-21

When Torey Krug left the Boston Bruins for the St. Louis Blues via free agency in October, there were questions surrounding whether or not the Bruins power play would still be as effective this season as it was in 2019-20. Two months later, one of the Bruins’ top penalty killers, Zdeno Chara, also left in free agency after 14 years wearing the Black and Gold to join the Washington Capitals

Both special teams units took big hits with Krug’s and Chara’s departures, but through the first 11 games of the season, neither special teams unit has seen a drop-off in production.

Power Play Producing Early in the Season

Last season, only the Edmonton Oilers had a better power play than the Bruins. Krug led the way for Boston with 26 assists on the man advantage and he was one of the reasons for David Pastrnak’s team-high 28 power-play goals. The Bruins began this season not only missing Krug but also Pastrnak who was recovering from off-season hip surgery he underwent in September. Despite missing both players, the power play clicked and it has clicked since the first game of the year.

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

Nick Ritchie struggled last season following his trade from the Anaheim Ducks at the deadline in February, but he has been a big part of the power-play success this season. Using his 6-foot-2, 230-pound frame as a net-front presence, he is tied with Patrice Bergeron with four power-play goals. Despite playing just four games since returning to the lineup, Pastrnak is tied with Brad Marchand with two man-advantage goals.

Matt Grzelcyk took over Krug’s role as the defensemen on the first unit for the Bruins, but he has missed six games with multiple injuries. Charlie McAvoy replaced Grzelcyk in his absence and has three assists. In a recent game against the Capitals, however, coach Bruce Cassidy changed up the first unit and went with five forwards.

Charlie McAvoy Boston Bruins
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The move paid off with a goal against Washington and the success of the five-man power play continued against the Philadelphia Flyers when it worked with two goals in Wednesday’s victory. In four games against the Flyers this season, the Bruins are 7-for-13 on the power play, and in their 11 games, they have at least one man-advantage goal in eight of them.

Penalty Killing Has Been a Surprise

While the Bruins power play is continuing its success early in the season, their penalty killing has been just as good, if not better. They have the second-ranked unit in the league behind the Colorado Avalanche and have killed 36 of the 41 opportunities their opponents have had.

Bergeron and Marchand, the Bruins’ top two penalty-killing forwards, have been very good and they both have a shorthanded goal already this season. Marchand’s goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins marked the 11th straight season that he has had at least one shorthanded goal. He twice had a career-high of five shorthanded goals in the 2010-11 and 2013-14 seasons.

Brad Marchand Patrice Bergeron Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

Boston has got a lot of valuable penalty-killing minutes from their third and fourth lines. Sean Kuraly, Charlie Coyle, Chris Wagner, and Andres Bjork have done a nice job of getting their sticks and bodies in the passing lanes. On defense, Kevan Miller, Brandon Carlo, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jakub Zboril have kept the front of the Bruins net clear for the most part in front of goalies Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak. They have limited the opponents’ net-front presence and cleared away rebounds left by their netminders.

Special Teams Will Be Key Going Forward

The Bruins are 8-1-2 and in sole possession of first place in the MassMutual East Division. A big reason for their early success has been both special teams units. Going into the season, special teams were going to be a key to the success of the shortened season. In the loaded division that has Boston playing eight games against each opponent, special teams will go a long way in being the difference between a win and a loss on most nights.

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