The Boston Bruins had one of the top power plays in all of the NHL last season, converting at a 21.7 percent clip, good for third in the league. It was an area of strength that fizzled in the team's playoff loss to the Canadiens, but was a major source of offense during the regular season.
Last week, when the Bruins announced Joe Sacco as an assistant coach for next season, Claude Julien commented on that area of the special teams moving forward.
"We make adjustments to power plays, to our play throughout and so on and so forth," Julien said. "So just because Jarome [Iginla] is gone doesn't mean that we have to blow everything up to maybe a couple of players moving around to have the right format and that may happen along the way.
"But certainly, I think we have a good nucleus here to continue to have a good power play."
Julien is right. The Bruins will bring back nine of the 10 players who made up its two power play units, and the weapons who made each group so effective.
There were a few areas on the power play that really clicked for the Bruins' power play last season, so let's explore them.
The Krug Effect
In his rookie season, Torey Krug not only brought puck moving ability and a strong shot from the point, he added to the Bruins' personnel, allowing Zdeno Chara to come down from the blue line on the power play. While coaching surely has an effect on a team's play when on the man-advantage, if you don't have the personnel to execute, coaching can only go so far.
And with the 6-foot-9 Chara planted in front of the crease, the Bruins' power play was rather effective. The first unit for Boston's special teams crew scored 28 of its 50 power play goals.
But to take that a step further, Chara scored 10 of those goals himself, assisted on five others, and provided a screen of the goalie on seven. So Chara himself directly influenced 79 percent of his unit's production, and 44 percent of the Bruins' power play overall. But Krug was paramount to this development, allowing the Bruins to move Chara away from the point.
On this goal, the very first of the season for the Bruins on the power play, the Chara screen, paired with a Krug shot, was run to perfection.
This is the ideal shape for the Bruins' power play. Krug has the puck at his point spot, while he can go cross ice to David Krejci. Milan Lucic, who is coming off the half wall, will skate into the heart of the Red Wings' penalty kill to disrupt its shape. Chara is firmly planted in front of goalie Jimmy Howard.
Krug goes point-to-point to Krejci, while Lucic flares across the middle, forcing the defense to collapse, and drawing them away from Krug. Notice how Chara adjusts his position to stay square with Krecji, in case he decides to go to goal.
As Lucic takes the pass, he draws two Detroit players with him, creating space in the high slot for Krug to skate into. Another Wings penalty killer can't cheat off Iginla, ensuring Krug will get a good look. Iginla is key to this play, because if the defenseman rotated toward the point, Krug wouldn't have a shooting lane.
Instead, three Red Wings players get caught on one half of the ice, and practically below the dot. Lucic has plenty of space to float a pass into and allow Krug to do the rest. Chara, paying attention to the flow of play, will completely take away Howard's view.
While Howard is attempting to see around Chara, Krug has plenty of space to fire the puck into the upper corner of the net, an easy target for an offensive player of his caliber.
Reilly Smith’s backdoor play
A major key to the Bruins' power play was its ability to score from either unit. The second group featured newcomers like Carl Soderberg (well, relatively new) and Reilly Smith, who really helped provide a different look and a change of pace.
Smith occupied one point spot next to Dougie Hamilton, while Soderberg played down by the circles. Together, the pair combined to torch teams by disguising Smith as a non-factor, before exploiting open space on the weak side.
This play begins with the puck on Smith's stick, generally how the Bruins liked to start this sequence of passes. Notice how close Smith is to the blue line when he has possession. He'll feed point-to-point to Hamilton, who will then skate the puck toward center ice, forcing the defenseman to follow him. The key there is, as soon as Hamilton swings the puck back in the direction he skated, it will force Carolina to change angles, begin pursuit, and start to leave Smith on his own.
As Hamilton cycles the puck down to Loui Eriksson, Smith begins to slowly gain separation from the blue line and creep down. Meanwhile, Carolina will shift its entire penalty killing rectangle toward Eriksson's side of the ice. Before long, Smith will simply be floating on his own.
The way Carolina is set up defensively now, there's no chance Eriksson can hit Smith cutting from the back side. But if Soderberg flares toward the circle, and Eriksson cycles down toward the goal line, it completely opens up a new angle, and also forces the Hurricanes to continue to collapse toward the right side of the ice.
As the puck makes it way to Soderberg, two Hurricane defenders will get caught cheating toward him, as Smith will pop up at the top of the crease, giving his teammate an easy target.
When Julien hinted at potential power play adjustments, this could be one area he was referring to. Smith scored six goals on the man advantage last season, but five of them came on this exact play, and all before the month of February. Teams began to identify what Boston was doing a bit better, taking away that backdoor play. But a small wrinkle could keep teams on their toes, like if Hamilton pinches down to the high slot for a one-timer, or Eriksson cuts toward the middle to divert attention from Smith. It doesn't have to be a dramatic change; just something small to keep their opponents honest.
Iginla’s faux point start
One of the most beautiful things the Bruins' power play did all season was a set play off the faceoff with the top unit. It’s the kind of thing Julien drilled during practice, and implemented very sparingly during the regular season. But when it worked, the Bruins scored.
The play simply involves starting Jarome Iginla back toward the point and a bit out of the frame. From there, so long as David Krejci wins the faceoff, the wheels are in motion.
After Krejci wins the puck back to Krug, the Bruins will simply follow their pass. Krejci rotates back to occupy his point spot, while Krug skates toward the net, drawing Toronto up. Iginla will be on an island by the opposite dot, with space to walk in.
As Iginla takes the wide pass, Dion Phaneuf is tied up with Chara in front. Two Maple Leafs go out to pressure Krug, resulting in numbers for the Bruins below the circles.
And now Phaneuf is really saddled with a decision: Leave Chara all alone in front, or allow Iginla to walk in uninhibited on James Reimer? While Phaneuf takes his chances staying at the crease, he attempts to go after Iginla on the rebound, leaving the captain all alone atop the blue paint to poke in a rebound.
What bodes well for the Bruins' power play moving forward is about all of these pieces are intact. Iginla is gone, but Marchand could easily fill his role on the half wall. The nucleus, as Julien referred to, is still strong, and should still provide some special teams offense this season for Boston.