In yesterday's third period, with his team up, 2-1, Bruins defenseman Shane Hnidy found himself on the wrong side of Islanders forward Bill Guerin.
Instead of being positioned between Guerin and the Boston goal, Hnidy and partner Mark Stuart were caught too far up the ice, leading to a high-definition view of the back of Guerin's uniform as the New York captain sprinted off for a partial breakaway on Manny Fernandez.
"Just praying for Manny to make the save," said Hnidy, recalling his thoughts as he hustled after Guerin. "That's what goaltenders are for, right?"
Fernandez (22 saves), calm under pressure and square to the shot, hit the deck and got his pads in front of Guerin's bid. Moments later, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler took advantage of an ill-timed jump-up by defenseman Freddy Meyer that gave the Bruins a two-on-one rush. Wheeler, taking a dish from Krejci, buried an off-wing wrister behind starter Joey MacDonald at 6:48, a goal that would become the winner in Boston's 7-2 rout before 17,565 at TD Banknorth Garden in the debut of the Bruins' new third jersey.
"What Guerin does is almost outwait the goalie a lot," said Wheeler (1-1 -2, plus-3). "You see it a lot in shootouts. He's making sick fakes with the stick, then he slips it right by you. Manny did a great job being patient there. He took the low shot away from him and we just kept moving."
It was one of five times that Krejci was on the ice for a Boston goal. The clever center (1-1 -2, plus-3 in 14:19 of ice time), fast becoming one of the most lethal No. 3 pivots in the NHL, had a new right wing riding shotgun: the scuffling Michael Ryder, who entered the game with only one goal in his last 12 appearances.
Because of Ryder's slump and Chuck Kobasew's aggressive play, Julien flip-flopped the wingers, hoping that Krejci could activate Boston's $12 million offseason acquisition. The ex-Hab responded, canning two strikes with a sharpshooter's authority.
"It seems that whoever you put Krejci with, he seems to get himself going," said Julien. "He's done a great job at that, whether it's intentional or not. [Marco Sturm] started scoring goals. Now we've got Ryder."
In the second period, Ryder snapped a 1-1 tie with his fourth goal of the season. Wheeler and Krejci kicked things off with a strong forecheck behind the net that forced defenseman Brendan Witt to commit an ugly cough-up to Ryder in the slot. Ryder settled the puck, loaded his wrister, and popped a top-shelfer over MacDonald at 15:16.
In the third period, with the Bruins claiming a 5-2 advantage, Ryder scored his first power-play goal of the season. Dennis Wideman, breaking out of his end with speed, connected with Ryder in the neutral zone. Ryder took the puck in stride, curled into the offensive zone, and roofed the puck over backup Peter Mannino (five saves on eight shots), who had replaced MacDonald after Boston's fourth goal. Mannino was making his NHL debut.
"Definitely when they want you to score and that's the role they see you in, it's always tough when you're not scoring," Ryder said. "For me, I wanted to make sure I kept going to the net and shooting pucks, and eventually they'd start going in."
In 2005-06 and 2006-07, when Ryder enjoyed consecutive 30-goal seasons, the right wing made his most noise on the power play. Over the two seasons, Ryder scored 35 of his 60 goals on the man-advantage, usually walking the puck off the left wall and going to his bread-and-butter wrister. This season, because of Julien's formation that has Savard on the right wall and Patrice Bergeron manning the left point, Ryder has been on top-unit slot duty, where he'd shot blanks in 22 straight games.
But partly because of his lack of power-play production and the recent strong play of Kobasew, Julien initially yanked Ryder off the power play yesterday for the first time this season.
Like most of his moves this season, Julien's tactic paid off. In the second period, with Islanders forward Jeff Tambellini serving a tripping penalty, Kobasew netted a power-play goal when he jammed home the rebound of P.J. Axelsson's goal-mouth bid. Then after Julien saw some life in Ryder's game, he put the sharpshooter on the No. 2 power-play unit in the third period. Naturally, Ryder powered home his only power-play chance of the day.
"The luxury we have is that other players that can play on the power play and deserve to be there aren't," Julien said. "To name a few, we've got Kobasew and Wheeler that are doing well. We've got a lot of guys that deserve to be there. We just felt that [Kobasew] had been working really hard and creating some chances. He deserved to be there. We ended up putting Ryder on at the end because we thought he was having a decent game and getting some chances. It's about reward and earning it. That part of our philosophy hasn't changed. No matter if you're winning or losing, if guys deserve it, we're going to make some room for them."
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.