BOSTON — The Bruins have spent the last few years as one of the NHL’s best teams. They’ve been to two Stanley Cup Finals in the last three years, and they even won hockey’s holy grail in one of those years.
They are truly among the league’s best every year at this point, and they’re a perennial Stanley Cup contender. They have done all of this, at least until now, without a real effective power play.
They may have remedied that issue, however, which should be a scary thought for the rest of the league. Boston moved to 2-0 on the season with a 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, and the Bruins did so thanks in large part to two power-play goals.
The Bruins’ newfound versatility on the power play has bred their early-season success. The signs of positive growth could be seen during the preseason, and that’s only increasing as the club finds more chemistry.
Take the first power-play unit, for instance. The Bruins have a unique blend of players that allows them to put Torey Krug on one of the points, while what’s normally the first line — David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla — serve as the forwards. Krejci and Krug sit atop the zone and look to make plays, Lucic retrieves pucks and creates traffic while Iginla is always ready and willing to shoot. The fact that Iginla is a right-handed shot only adds balance.
The Bruins’ not-so-secret weapon on that PP1 unit, however, has been Zdeno Chara. The captain has taken up residency in front of the opposition net, which is mainly a product of his size. Chara’s 6-foot-9 frame takes up a lot of space, and it makes it very difficult for opposing goalies to see pucks. That was certainly the case on Krug’s goal in the first period on Saturday night.
Screenshot via NHL.com
See? Good luck making that save, especially when the shot that’s about to be released is a hellacious slap shot destined to go up underneath the crossbar.
“It’s not easy when there’s someone that’s 6-foot-9 standing in front of you,” Detroit goalie Jimmy Howard admitted after the game. “It’s something that you’ve got to figure out, and find a way to try and find the puck. But it’s extremely difficult with him in front.”
Chara’s power-play prowess isn’t exclusive to just being “the really, really big guy who stands in front of the net and tries to screen the goalie.” The big blue liner is also remarkably good with his stick. He has an incredibly long reach, which allows him to get to loose pucks especially against a shorthanded team. Not only does Chara use his size and reach to his strength, he’s also got a remarkable ability to control the puck and do what he wants with it.
“I think I talked to [Krejci] about it,” Krug said. “He was like, ‘What should I do with the puck?’ I was like, ‘I don’t know, just give it to [Chara], throw it in the corner for him.’ You know he’s going to win the battle nine out of 10 times so it’s nice to have him on our side.”
Howard also learned that the hard way on Saturday night, albeit in a different manner. Chara’s stick work was on display not with him fishing pucks out of the corner or away from the defense in front of the net, rather his stickhandling and crafty finish led to the Bruins’ fourth goal of the night. Thanks to a heads-up play by Lucic who was able to keep the puck alive in the Detroit zone, Chara took a pass from Krug, walked in and deked the goalie before lifting a backhander over Howard for the goal. It was another really impressive show of skill from someone who shouldn’t be so coordinated at that size.
“He brings a lot more than just a screen,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said. “The ability that he had to score that type of goal — he hit the post before — and he made that nice move for a goal. He brings a lot more than what you see for a 6-foot-9 player. “
The ability to move Chara down low where he showcases his versatility is actually sprung by the team’s versatility in general. The aforementioned depth on the first unit allows the Bruins to get creative. They know that Krug is reliable with the puck at the point, which is the main reason Chara is able to go low.
“We have a good setup,” Krug said. “We’re excited about what we can do this year and we have to continue working on it. It’s not just going to continue. To have success like that we have to continue to work on it and keep doing those little things. “
And if they keep it up, the power play will continue to actually be a strength for the Bruins. If that’s the case, given what they’ve done in the past without the power play, that’s going to make them scary good.