January 21, 2013

Penalty kill in midseason form for Bruins

By Andrew Merritt

Patrice Bergeron logged 2:27 of shorthanded ice time on Monday, helping Boston keep Winnipeg's power play off the board. (Getty Images)

BOSTON – Two games into the 2013 season, the Bruins penalty killers look like they’ve been playing together for months.

The shorthanded units were put through their paces against the Winnipeg Jets in the second game of the year, and continued to shine. Winnipeg had four power plays in the game, and came up empty, including on a crucial holding call to Zdeno Chara with 1:28 to go in overtime.

“That to me was the difference why we were able to win this game today, with some big penalty kills when we needed them, especially in overtime and late in that third period,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “So it was nice to see our special teams do well, and even the power play again hit a post so we’re still a little snakebit looking for that break. And if we can get that break, and get a goal, [we] get that monkey off our back.”

It was the second time in as many games that the penalty kill has been put to a serious test. The PK also weathered one and a half minutes of 5-on-3 against the Rangers Saturday, and certainly looks like it hasn’t been harmed by the lockout’s long layoff.

The Bruins PK units improved to 9-for-9 on the kill this year, and feasted on a Jet power play that cashed in on its first attempt of the season on Saturday against Ottawa, but has gone 0 for 10 since.

While some elements of the Bruins lineup are still working into form, the penalty killers are clearly playing like they are the 30-something games into the season they would be had the lockout never happened. In fact, it has looked so far like the PK is picking up right where it left off in 2011-12, when the Bruins were 11th in the NHL with an 83.5 percent kill rate, almost a full percentage point better than the league average.

“We’ve had a good penalty kill for a number of years now,” said defenseman Andrew Ference, who with Johnny Boychuk provided blue line coverage for the entirety of Chara’s penalty in overtime. “Our forwards probably don’t get as much credit as they deserve either. Whether it’s [Chris] Kelly or Bergeron up front, especially in those situations, they make our life really easy.

“I think there’s just that confidence going into those situations where it’s the same personnel a lot of the times, or a combination of just a couple,” Ference said. “With doing it so many times together, you kind of know where each other is going, and it’s not as nerve-racking as it should be.”

One of the reasons the PK was so effective, the Bruins said, was aggressive puck pressure, which held the Jets to just one shot on goal during their 7:23 of power play time.

“I think we were pretty aggressive, right away, right off the bat,” said Patrice Bergeron, who killed penalties for a combined 2:27, and whose shootout goal gave the Bruins their 2-1 win. “We didn’t give them time to set up and I don’t think they got the plays they wanted because we were so aggressive.”

The Bruin penalty killers also won two of three faceoffs.

All of the special teams units got a workout in Monday’s shootout win. The Boston power play also came up empty, but generated some quality chances, including Rich Peverley’s slap shot off the post with 7:17 left in the third period. All told, Boston’s power play was 0-for-2 in the game, but put three shots on Ondrej Pavelec over four minutes with the man advantage.

“On the power play, we hit the post with Peverley,” Bergeron said. “We had some chances and really moved the puck well. We took whatever was given to us, so I think there’s a lot of improvement. And the penalty kill, I think we did a great job.”

Andrew Merritt can be reached at MerrittNEHJ@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter at @A_Merritt.