For the first few seasons under the revamped rules, that wasn?t a good thing for the Bruins, who ranked 12th on the penalty kill in 2005-06, 19th in 2006-07 and a woeful 28th in Claude Julien?s first season in Boston in 2007-08.Things turned for the better the following year as the Bruins improved to 12th in 2008-09, but there were concerns those gains would be lost with the departure of penalty killing stalwarts like P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle up front and Aaron Ward on defense.
Those fears appeared realized with some early-season struggles, but the addition of Daniel Paille in late October helped stabilize the unit and the Bruins ended up finishing third in the league with an 86.4 percent success rate, allowing a league-low 37 goals on 272 chances. The numbers were even better in the postseason, when the Bruins had the best PK in the league at 90.0 percent (5-for-50), including a perfect 19-for-19 showing against Buffalo in the opening round.
Now entering the 2010-11 season, the Bruins face new questions on the penalty kill as they once again will have to replace several key members of that PK unit. Steve Begin, who was third among Bruins forwards with an average of 1:54 short-handed ice-time last year, was not re-signed and Marco Sturm (1:19) will be out until at least November as he recovers from knee surgery. Even Trent Whitfield was a contributor while up with the big club as he averaged 1:01 on the PK, but he has been lost for the season with a ruptured Achilles. On defense, Dennis Wideman may have struggled mightily much of last season, but he still logged a ton of time (2:19 a game) on the PK and played a role in that unit?s success.
The cupboard is far from bare, however, as the Bruins boast plenty of options to fill those vacancies.
Paille will again be the cornerstone up front. His 1:59 a game short-handed led all Bruins forwards, and the PK went from one of the worst in the league before his arrival (10 goals on 33 chances, 69.7 percent) to one of the best with him in the lineup.
“I thought when we acquired Dan, he really helped shore up our penalty killing,” said Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli this summer.
Paille was helped up front by centers Patrice Bergeron (1:56) and David Krejci (1:28), while wingers Blake Wheeler (1:10) and Brad Marchand (1:04) also took regular shifts on the PK. Marc Savard managed just 1:03 a game on the penalty kill in an injury-filled year, but showed the previous season that he could be an effective penalty killer. Mark Recchi was rarely used on the PK last year (0:19) but has the experience and knowledge to play in that role if needed.
The Bruins shouldn?t have to dig that deep to find penalty killer though, as newcomer Gregory Campbell will replace Begin as both fourth-line center and one of the club?s primary penalty killers. He led all Florida forwards in short-handed ice-time last year (2:26) and is a strong defensive forward adept at blocking shots. Fellow Florida import Nathan Horton is known more for his offensive play and power-play work, but he also averaged 1:10 on the PK last year with the Panthers and could be another option up front for Julien.
On the blue line, a full season of Dennis Seidenberg (2:04 on PK with Boston, 2:39 with Florida) will help fill the void left by Wideman?s departure, and do it with a defenseman more adept at playing in his own zone as Seidenberg led the league in blocked shots last year (215).
Seidenberg will join Zdeno Chara (2:47) as a workhorse on the PK. Andrew Ference (1:54) also logged plenty of time when healthy, but the Bruins will need more from Matt Hunwick (1:15), Mark Stuart (1:11) and Johnny Boychuk (1:09). Boychuk and Hunwick showed they are capable of a heavier workload in the playoffs, averaging 3:18 and 2:27 in the postseason, respectively.
Much of Boston?s success on the penalty kill stems from their disciplined play while at even strength. The Bruins were short-handed just 272 times last season, the fifth-lowest total in the league. The Bruins have lowered their times short-handed every year since the lockout, dropping from 479 in 2005-06 to 442, 332, 306 and finally last year?s 272. That decrease reflects a growing awareness league-wide in the new standards being enforced since the lockout, but it also shows the priority placed on disciplined play in Julien?s system.
In turn, with opponents getting few power plays, the Bruins? penalty killers are more rested and better able to kill off the chances they do face.
The Bruins aren?t a team that takes a lot of risks offensively while killing penalties. They tied for 16th in the league with six short-handed goals last year, but three came on one penalty in the final home game against Carolina.
That was a first in NHL history and isn?t likely to be repeated, but it would nice to see a few more short-handed chances sprinkled in throughout the seasons. Still, if the Bruins can be as successful in preventing goals while down a man as they were last season, there will be little reason to complain.