WILMINGTON — It wasn’t a common sight last season, but there was at least one Bruins practice that involved the Boston defensemen corps firing pucks through bright orange traffic cones.
The traffic cones were placed near the right and left point areas in the attack zone, and the drill was designed to achieve pinpoint accuracy on the all-important power play blasts. The big gun shots from the B’s defensemen are oft-times the trigger to jolting Boston’s man advantage attack. With that in mind, there were times when a normally mighty power play lost some of it’s bite for the B’s last season when those point shots were nudged a little too far off the mark.
It wasn’t the sheer power of the long-range bids because guys like Zdeno Chara  and Dennis Wideman  have slappers capable of obliterating glass behind the net — with the assistance of some good wood, of course. But there were times when the shot would fade wide to either side, or an aggressive penalty kill would smother a shot with one brave sacrificial body.
“That’s the one thing that we lacked last year. At times we really had some trouble getting our shots through,” said B’s coach Claude Julien . “Teams are blocking shots and getting into the shooting lanes, and its getting harder to get shots off.”
Despite the intermittent bouts of wildness with their point shots, the Bruins still boasted a 23.6 percent power play success rate, and ranked fourth in the entire NHL . Only the high-powered units in Detroit, Washington and San Jose ranked higher last season.
But, despite the seeming success of their power play units last season, the Bruins organization decided to improve on an already good thing.
Enter Derek Morris . While the power play numbers from Thursday night’s opener against the Capitals should be thrown out with the bath water, there were hard evidence Saturday night that Morris will bring plenty to Boston’s man advantage. The PP itself was 4-for-8, but it was the puck movement and Grade ‘A’ chances that ultimately fired up the red lamp four times.
Morris is quick to point out he isn’t the power play’s quarterback — that job remains squarely in the skilled hands of Marc Savard  along the half-wall — but the veteran blueliner has added plenty to Boston’s top unit. He reads seams quickly in the attack zone, and has that rare ability to anticipate moments when a teammate is working himself free of penalty-killing defenders. Most important of all, he has that low line shot that seems to gather gravity as it speeds toward the scrambling goaltender.
“My first job as a defenseman if I get a hip pass, I take pride in getting my shot on net,” said Morris. “In the first game, I pulled it on a shot that would have been the second goal of the game. You go out and work on it. It’s pretty simple if Savvy makes a great pass, or somebody else makes a great play. My job is to get it down to the net.
“It’s a pride thing if you miss the net. You take that personally. Just hit the net. We’re not going to beat many goalies with that first shot; maybe that wide open seam shot where we get the goalie moving across. The power play ‘D’ is usually pretty tight in front, so I’m just looking to rip it low to the pads where [the goalie] kicks out a rebound. Most of the time they get tipped, or you’re creating frustration or a weird bounce with a good screen. Sometimes it ends up going in.”
The passing aspect was something apparent in Morris’ first few preseason games with the Bruins, but the low, hard, accurate slap shot from just inside the blue line served as a bonus. It’s well-known that Morris has a boomer with plenty of oomph behind it, but the accuracy of said blasts wasn’t quite as well-documented.
For a team that smoked plenty of pucks left, right or above the cage last season, Morris has been a strong addition capable of creating controlled chaos in front of the net with dead-on accuracy. It’s an area that Claude Julien knows plenty about after playing the position throughout his pro career, and the B’s head coach sees that rare ability in Morris to shoot pucks through minuscule, moving windows between crashing, diving bodies.
“He’s able to find those seams,” said Julien. “In those times when he can’t find a shooting lane, he sees the ice well enough where he sees guys for a tip-in situation. Even if it isn’t a shot on net, it’s the right play.”
What makes Morris so adept at snaking those shots through a wall of defenders?
“This is an area I can speak to from experience. When you get that puck at the blue line, some guys will see those lanes better than other,” said Julien. “Some guys bury their heads, or when they see a lane they’ll put their head down and shoot. In the meantime, the lane has disappeared.
“I think he has that quality of knowing where the puck is when he shoots, but also keeping that head up where he sees what he’s shooting at. Sometimes it’s about missing a guy’s leg by just a few inches, but that’s where he aimed. It’s all about keeping your head up when you’re shooting at those lanes.”
For an eight-season period of time, Morris was a double-digit power play point producer for the Flames, Avalanche and Coyotes. But that string ended last season when he was taken off Phoenix’s top power play unit amid the rest of the hockey mess in the desert. It was a curious decision given his obvious offensive gifts, and now Morris is off and running with a pair of power play assists in Saturday’s 7-2 drubbing.
“Last game it clicked because our forwards worked so hard getting to the puck out to us quick,” said Morris. “When you get the puck up quick and you make that quick D-to-D play, then you get set up. The toughest thing about the power play is simply getting set up. Once you do that, you know you’re going to have a pretty good power play.
“[The passing element] is something I’ve just always worked on since I was a kid. I try to look before you get the puck. When I was with Savvy in Calgary , he always told me you to know what you’re going to do with it before you get the puck. There may be some nights where you’re sitting there saying ‘What were you thinking’ because Savvy and I are seeing something that’s there for a millisecond. Then it might be gone. Some nights it’ll look great, and some nights we’ll be like ‘What was that?’ We’re just always trying to see the same thing.”
Amazingly, Morris is almost halfway toward the total of last season’s power play production after only two games. Given Boston’s firepower on the power play and Morris’ skill set tailor-made for the unit, there should be plenty more instances for Morris and Savard to see things just like Saturday night.