May 4, 2012

Neely: Power play ineptitude bit Bruins in the butt

By Jesse Connolly

In reality, there are myriad reasons why the Boston Bruins were demoted from defending champions to playoff spectators on April 25 by the Washington Capitals. 

Bruins president Cam Neely served as the honorary banner captain prior to Game 3 of the Stanley Cup finals at TD Garden last year. (Getty Images)

The B’s looked like one tired bunch, and some admitted on breakup day that mental fatigue was also an issue. The Capitals newfound shot-blocking prowess was suffocating. And at the end of the day, the Bruins’ best players simply were not their best players.

But if you had to point to one defining moment, it came with 2:26 left in regulation in Game 7. Jason Chimera went to the box for holding, giving Boston the chance to score the go-ahead and likely series-clinching goal in the final minutes. But instead of the two-minute man advantage being a golden opportunity, it was just another chance to showcase what has been the club’s weakest element over the past two postseasons.

The Bruins defied the odds during the playoffs last spring, overcoming a mind-numbingly fruitless power play to advance to the finals against Vancouver. It was there that their numbers on the man advantage were lifted to an almost-respectable success rate, but Boston still finished their 25-game Cup run with a power play that clicked at 11.4 percent. Only two others teams – both of which were bounced in the first round (Rangers, Penguins) – were worse.

“Well, we got away with it last year as everybody knows,” team president Cam Neely said on Thursday. “This year, it kind of bit us in the butt. We really need to have a philosophical difference of how we look at the power play. I don’t just look at the percentage of the power play, I look at when we get power plays, what the score of the game is, what time of the game is – that’s important. Maybe more so important than what the actual percentage of the power play is.”

Boston finished their abbreviated playoff run 2-for-23 on the power play. On their final chance, with the game and a ticket to the second round there for the taking, the B’s could muster squat until Brian Rolston fired a stoppable shot from just inside the blue line with roughly 20 ticks left on the man advantage.

Neely made it sound as though he believes a change in strategy is what will help the Bruins turn things around, but the Hall of Fame winger didn’t call out assistant coaches Geoff Ward – who is primarily responsible for crafting the B’s power-play attack -- or Doug Jarvis, who was also brought in to help Boston in that regard prior to the 2010-11 season.

“I think we have the personnel that we can improve on the power play,” he said. “You know, there’s some things we’ll certainly discuss in the offseason about what we can do differently with the power play – you know I think it’s an area that absolutely needs improvement and we will improve on it.”

Jesse Connolly can be reached at jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter at @JesseNEHJ.