Bruins’ plan is to become more goal-oriented

By Fluto Shinzawa
Globe Staff / April 17, 2010

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BUFFALO — On the deciding goal in Thursday’s second period, Tim Kennedy triggered the scoring sequence by cutting into the high slot with the puck. Defenseman Craig Rivet, joining the rush on the right side, made himself available for Kennedy’s pass at the right circle.

Patrick Kaleta knew exactly what to do: thunder his way to the front of the net, gain position on defenseman Johnny Boychuk, and plant his 5-foot-11-inch, 198-pound frame in front of Tuukka Rask’s sightlines.

“My job was that I was the middle guy, so I drove to the net and tried to get a good screen on Rask,’’ Kaleta said. “Luckily I did a decent job there. Credit to [Rivet] for a rocket there and putting it where it needs to be placed.’’

At the other end, the Bruins thumped Ryan Miller with 39 pucks in the 2-1 Game 1 loss. But as the Bruins have done throughout this season, they tucked too few of those pucks past an enemy goalie.

“We’ve had a few of those this year,’’ coach Claude Julien said after yesterday’s practice at HSBC Arena. “When you lose a game, you lose a game. It’s as simple as that. I don’t think you hammer yourself over the head because you had 39 shots. We can certainly do some things better. Hopefully that will happen [today]. You’ve also got to build on the positives from the last game. They played hard. One thing was missing: maybe a few more goals.’’

It is, as Julien put it simply, same old, same old. During the regular season, the Bruins scored 2.39 goals per game, fewest in the NHL. In Game 1, amid playoff intensity and the specter of arguably the best goalie on the planet, the Boston offense remained a shadow of the 2008-09 version (second best in the league).

The only time the Bruins beat Miller was on the power play (1 for 2, three total shots). In the second period, with Toni Lydman in the penalty box, the No. 1 unit took 46 seconds to find the back of the net.

In the second-to-last regular-season game, the Bruins altered both power-play units. For most of the season, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have been on different units. But the coaching staff put both righthanded centermen together on the No. 1 PP, with Mark Recchi as the net-front man and Zdeno Chara and Matt Hunwick patrolling the points. They kept the same formation in Game 1, and the Bruins moved the puck crisply, leading to Recchi’s rebound goal.

“I was happy with it,’’ said Bergeron. “We moved the puck, had good shots, good screens. That goal was big.’’

It was one of the few times, however, the Bruins put repeated pucks on goal. As usual, the Bruins didn’t have many second chances, nor did they have enough men in front to disrupt Miller.

“It’s up to everybody,’’ Julien said. “I don’t think there’s any player on our roster that has on his résumé, ‘I don’t go to the front of the net.’ I think it’s one of those things where everybody has to pay the price. If you’re the guy in front, you stand there and do the job. That’s the part of the game that everybody has to understand, especially in the playoffs. Those are the little things that make a big difference when everybody is ready to pay the price and do whatever he needs to do.’’

It’s a chore that’s easier said than done. The Sabres, led by first-year strongman Tyler Myers and Rivet, the stay-at-home defenseman with the Aaron Ward-type game, have made it one of their priorities to hold their ground, clear out the Bruins, and make sure their goalie has clear looks at pucks.

In response, the Bruins must drive to the net and claim ownership of the real estate in front of Miller.

“They’re doing a good job of boxing us out,’’ Bergeron said. “But we need to find a way to battle and once we get there, to stay there. When you get your ice, you can’t lose it. You’ve got to stay there. I thought we had some good screens at times, but they’re blocking shots, also. We just need to find a way to get pucks through. And when we do have rebounds and chances in front, we’ve got to bury them.’’

This afternoon, the Bruins will have a straightforward game plan. Send all available bodies to the front of the net. Continue to hammer pucks on Miller. See if a puck can carom off a leg. Force Miller to make second and third stops on the same flurry.

“Net-front presence is so huge,’’ Julien said. “It’s something we have to do better. As Miller said, ‘I saw a lot of first shots.’ That right there is an indication that we weren’t as good in that area. We’ve got to get a little better there. We want our D to support the attack. It was one of those nights where we didn’t do it as well as we did in the last couple weeks.’’

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