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How The Bruins Broke The Slump

There is a formula for success that works for just about every facet of life you can imagine: K.I.S.S – Keep It Simple, stupid.

This principle is especially pertinent in hockey. If players start pushing too hard, gripping their sticks and getting cute with the offense then there is a good probability that their team will not score. That was essentially the problem with the Bruins for the first 52 minutes in tonight’s 4-3 come-from-behind shoot-out victory over the New York Islanders [1].

The Bruins ended up with a respectable 30 shots but it took a flurry at the end to get to that point. As of 9:50 in the third period the Bruins had 17 shots with only three in the period. Not a good combination for a team looking to overcome a 3-0 deficit. Until that point the Bruins were flat, had problems controlling the puck and thus sustaining momentum against one of the lesser-skilled teams in the NHL [2].

Ultimately it did not cost them, though it would have if they had not woken up at the 11:59 mark for the three goal flurry.

So what was the problem? Let’s take a mini hat trick to break it down —

Penalties and Power play

It is hard to mount a sustained attack when you are fighting with a man down. The first and second periods, in which the Bruins recorded seven shots each, had the Bruins visiting the penalty box five times for a total of 12 minutes. That includes a 1:37 stretch in the first of 5-on-3 play when Blake Wheeler [3] and Andrew Ference [4] where sharing a bunk in the timeout corner. Goaltender Tuuka Rask faced 16 shots in the first and the rest of the team worked hard to fight off the penalties which took the momentum out of the Bruins sails. Milan Lucic [5] and Mark Stuart [6] both spent time in the box in the second.

“First period we took a lot of penalties and that took some of the momentum away from us,” head coach Claude Julien [7] said. “Mistakes and bad decisions ended up putting us behind three to nothing.”

On the flip side of that the Bruins were 0 for 5 on the power play. The way to score goals in the NHL [8] is to take charge during the man-advantage, yet the Bruins were not able to do that tonight.

Flat -to- nonexistent foreheck

The Bruins are at their best when they are two things: 1) Pissed off and 2) aggressive on the forecheck. For the first 52 minutes of the game the Bruins were in some kind a dream land. They were not persistent up front, they lost battles to the puck (which subsequently led to the penalties) and as such by the end of the second period they were a minus-10 for the game. By the end of the game they were able to win the puck battles and ended up at plus-5.

You Miss 100-percent of the shots that you do not take

Now we are getting back to the Keep It Simple, stupid principle.

“I mean we do have a skilled team but that doesn’€™t mean that you can score all skilled goals,” Matt Hunwick said. “You know, the basic formula of getting pucks to the net, getting guys to the net for screens and rebounds is a simple formula and a lot of teams use it and it works.”

For the first 50 minutes there was a lot of “cute play” by the Bruins. Holding the puck for that extra pass, making the perfect pass through the center in front of the goalie, etc. The Bruins saw a lot of that with Marc Savard [9] and Phil Kessel [10] last year but it would be wise to eliminate that from this team’s on-ice lexicon.

When asked why players feel the need to “play cute”  Julien said. “That is a question you have to ask the players. We keep telling them the same thing . . . It certainly doesn’t work out in our favor. That much I can tell you.”

The lesson is that it is sometimes better to send to puck to the net and say a prayer than to make the extra pass and lose the puck.

The three goals to tie the game tonight all were counter to those three principles. The first goal by Savard was a bang-and-hustle play by Zdeno Chara [11] and Milan Lucic which set the center up on the right wing with plenty of space.

“Looch [Lucic] did a great job on that shift and personally he had a great game and I gave him credit, and obviously Z [Chara] jumping in there,” Savard said.

Bitz’s goal was a matter of keeping it simple and driving to the net, even if it did not look that way with his through-the-legs, half-spin throw towards the net (which, by the way, was completely unintentional).

“That is not my game and it happened to work but it is not something that I am going to make a habit of. I lost it and then managed to protect it and fired it on the net and it went in,” Bitz said.

Hunwick had this evalution,  ” He was going to the net with authority and Thorty [Thornton] had a great screen in front. It wasn’€™t fancy play by any means but any time you get the puck to the net with bodies in front you never know what can happen.

Hunwick’s goal was just a blast from the point that had eyes to the back of the net through a Michael Ryder [12] screen. But he kept it simple and was thus rewarded for it.