These days, where everyone is an expert and a tough critic, it’s much easier to poke holes in the Bruins’ (21-17-5) overall game rather than get specific about things that they actually do well.
Here’s the biggest positive for the B’s: their penalty kill unit is excellent.
After Sunday night’s 4-3 overtime loss at Carolina (18-15-7), the B’s are ironically tied with the Hurricanes for the top penalty kill percentage in the NHL (88.0 percent). The struggles of Boston’s power play (currently 25th in the NHL, converting at 14.5 percent) are well established at this point, but head coach Claude Julien and his team don’t get enough credit for how good they are a man (or two) down.
For most clubs, getting a power play is a welcomed thing, but for Boston it has become an issue on multiple levels. The B’s arerarely converting on the man-advantage and they have allowed five shorthanded goals, which is way too many just halfway through the regular season. There were only two penalties called in the contest on Sunday (oneon each team) but the Hurricanes nearly made Boston pay when the home team was shorthanded.
“On that power play there where we gave them two shorthanded breakaways (by Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal who intercepted pucks in the neutral zone), he (rookie goaltender Zane McIntyre) made some big saves,” said Bruins head coach Claude Julien.
In 2016-17, Boston has scored three shorthanded goals: two by center Dominic Moore (tied for the NHL lead) and one by left wing Brad Marchand. The Bruins have many other players that are very solid on the penalty kill including centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, plus defenseman Zdeno Chara, etc. There is perhaps no more back-breaking play in hockey than a shorthanded goal as Marchand showed on Saturday night in Boston’s 4-0 win at Florida (17-16-8). It was the opening goal (at 12:48 of the first period) and it put the Panthers behind the eight-ball right away – from which they never recovered. Marchand has become a top-notch penalty killer in the NHL as his 20 shorthanded goals since 2009-10 have proven (the most in the league).
Like any sport, the key to success for the Bruins is to find some balance. It will be fine if their penalty kill drops a few spots in the rankings as long as the power play perks up a bit in conjunction. Other than Anaheim (21-13-8), the Bruinsare the only club with a goal-differential of zero (105 goals scored, 105 goals allowed). That’s a good season summary for the B’s, who find themselves as a misleading second-place team in the Atlantic Division: one point ahead of Ottawa (21-14-4) who has played four fewer games and three points ahead of Toronto (18-13-8) who has also played four fewer games.
Boston is at St. Louis (21-14-5) on Tuesday (8 p.m., NESN) in former Blues captain David Backes’ (11 goals, 10 assists) first game back in his old city.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate