|You’ve come a long way, PK||12.17.08 at 1:53 am ET|
After a brutal stretch in the first month of October, the much-maligned Boston Bruins’ penalty kill limped into November feeding at the bottom of the NHL and clearly begging for a tune-up. It was a thorny source of frustration for Claude Julien and a B’s coaching staff that watched the Black and Gold finished 28th in the NHL last season with a 73 percent success rate. Julien and Co. made adjustments heading into this hockey season, but the results simply weren’t there.
The Bruins recruited better PK personnel in the in the forms of both Stephane Yelle and Patrice Bergeron this season, and many hoped that in itself would rise the Bruins up from the bottom of the NHL pile. Instead the pesky PK again degenerated into a glaring blemish this season amidst some really good things taking place on the frozen sheet, but the Bruins’ special teams pimple might have finally popped.
The coaches opted to banish the passive approach his skaters had taken to the penalty kill, and instead opted to attack the points and cut off the time and space enjoyed to either pass the puck or fire off a well-placed slapshot. The aggressive approach designed to crowd the power play points immediately began paying dividends for the Bruins, and the Boston skaters have been amongst the best penalty kill units in the league since Nov. 1. If the pressure didn’t act as the only catalyst, the Bruins also stepped up their shot-blocking efforts and filled up the passing and shooting lines to snuff out any remaining offensive opportunities.
The special teams unit has squealched 61 of 68 penalty kill opportunities for a nifty 89.7 percent success rate over their current 19 game stretch of competence.
That is simply called turning things around.
The surge in special teams play has allowed the Bruins to rise from a dreadful 77.7 percent success rate to their current 82.3 percentage, which now ranks them 11th in the entire NHL and 5th in the Eastern Conference behind only the Rangers, Sabres, Senators and Flyers.
Julien said that things actually began during last year’s postseason when the Bruins found a way to kill 30 out of 33 Montreal power play attempts during the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and became a big reason why the B’s were able to push the high-powered Habs to seven games. That’s a 90.9 percent success rate for those scoring at home, and it was the first indication that the Bruins’ skaters had the skill, know-how and good, old-fashioned hockey grit to get the job done while down a skater in the sin bin.
Add that to a goaltending tandem that’s leading the NHL with a combined .931 save percentage this season, and you have the Special Teams Success Story of the Season:
“It’s a little bit of everything,” said Julien. “There’s a commitment involved and there’s a willingness involved to pay the price. That means outworking the opposition — even if you’re on the penalty kill — it means the willingness to block shots and your goaltender has to obviously be your best penalty killer.
“Looking at the stats they’re obviously doing a good job and it’s a combination of a lot of things,” added Julien. “Maybe we were a little too passive early on and now we’re getting a little aggressive. There’s a time to be aggressive and that’s really helped a lot. Our penalty kill was an area where we finished strongly last season, and stumbled a bit this year — but we’ve found our groove again. Everything is kind of falling into place.”
Why should the penalty kill be any different than other areas for the Black and Gold during this charmed season of hockey: It’s all just kind of falling into place.
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