Power switch: Horton gets call
He’ll take the place of injured Krejci
WILMINGTON — In the Bruins’ system, the player occupying the half-wall position on the power play has usually been more playmaker than sniper.
When healthy, Marc Savard was a fixture on the right-side half-boards, as the offense flowed through the pass-first center. Same for David Krejci, the clever disher who made his home on the left-side half-wall.
But with Savard and now Krejci sidelined because of concussions, the coaching staff has tapped leading gunner Nathan Horton to replace Krejci on the first power-play unit. Prior to yesterday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena, under the watch of assistant coach Geoff Ward, the new power-play unit went through its paces.
Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara manned the points. Blake Wheeler served as the goal-line man. Milan Lucic parked himself in front of the goal. Horton, who had previously been stationed on the goal line, worked the left-side half-wall in search of opportunities to uncork his lethal snap shot.
“He shoots the puck well,’’ said coach Claude Julien. “He’s one of those guys that can take that step on the half-wall and shoot the puck very well. He’s a guy that could replace David there.
“At the same time, we’ve got Wheeler on the goal line. Wheels has been pretty good, too. Our goal-line guy, at times when the puck goes up, has to go to the front of the net and create some screens.
“I think if there’s one thing Wheels has done very well and gotten better at over the years, it’s been that. He’s a pretty good big body in front of the net. We thought that was, for now, the best way to stabilize our power play and hopefully keep it pointed in the right direction.’’
The half-wall man has traditionally been the power-play quarterback. Usually, there are three passing options — down the wall to the goal-line guy, back up the point, or toward the far post if the net-front presence can stretch out the penalty-killing box.
Although Horton has played center, the right wing will most often look to shoot when he has the puck on the half-boards. Horton leads the Bruins with six goals, including three on the power play, which is clicking at 21.4 percent, ninth-best in the NHL.
With Florida in 2007-08, Horton scored 9 of his 27 goals on the power play. Horton said he played all positions on the power play in Florida.
Since then, he has practiced with the third line, which is where he’ll skate tonight in Pittsburgh alongside Tyler Seguin and Michael Ryder. Because of all three forwards’ above-average speed, the line could create scoring chances by pushing the pace and putting heat on defensemen.
“It gives him a better feel, when he comes into real games, because he’s been practicing with those lines already,’’ Julien said. “Hopefully it makes him feel more comfortable.’’
The 20-year-old Arniel was the club’s fourth-round pick in 2008. He has six goals and three assists in 12 games for Providence. As a first-year pro last season, Arniel recorded 12 goals and 16 assists in 67 games.
Arniel had a strong training camp, seeing time alongside Seguin in several games. Arniel, who brings a mix of skill and grit, could be reunited with Seguin on the No. 3 line. Arniel can play both center and wing.
Ryder was one of only two Bruins (Wheeler was the other) to appear in every game last season. Ryder has a three-game scoring streak.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.