The Bruins didn’t end their homestand they way they wanted on Saturday, as Marc Savard‘s giveaway led to Philadelphia’s game-winning goal with three seconds left in overtime, but the Bruins do have plenty to be happy about with their recent run.
Boston has earned at least a point in its last six games, collecting 10 of 12 possible points in that stretch.
In the latest installment of Bruins Shootout, we’ll take a look at some of the reasons behind the team’s strong play of late, plus a few other items that may have otherwise slipped through the cracks during the past week.
1. One key to the Bruins’ recent success has been their turnaround in the faceoff circle. Boston has struggled in that department for much of the season but dominated on draws in last week’s homestand. The Bruins won 55 percent of the faceoffs against Buffalo on Tuesday, 60 percent against the Islanders on Thursday and 58 percent against Philadelphia on Saturday. For the week, Boston won 55 percent of its draws (104-76), led by Patrice Bergeron (37-13, 74 percent) and David Krejci (27-21, 56 percent). There’s more room for improvement, as the Bruins still rank just 17th in the league for the season, but they have finally won more they’ve lost on the year at 50.2 percent.
2. When the Bruins signed Andrew Ference to a three-year, $6.75-million extension last March, both the timing and the terms caused plenty of head-scratching. The consternation that deal caused certainly didn’t lessen this past week when Marco Sturm was dealt to Los Angeles for what general manager Peter Chiarelli admitted was “nothing” in return to get the Bruins out of their self-inflicted cap problems. But while Ference may not ever be able to fully justify his cap hit, he certainly has been doing plenty to contribute this year with his steady defensive play. Playing most of the season on the top pairing with Zdeno Chara, Ference is tied for second on the team and ninth in the NHL with a plus-15, finishing with a minus rating in just five of 28 games this season. He was a minus-1 on Saturday, his first time on the negative side of the ledger in nine games.
3. Michael Ryder has enjoyed a decent bounce-back season from last year’s struggles with eight goals and 18 points in 28 games. But one thing that has continued to torment him is the shootout, where he is a team-worst 0-for-3 this year and just 4-for-25 in his career. It hasn’t helped that two of his three attempts this season have actually beaten the goalie, only to ring the post. Ryder’s far from alone, as the Bruins are 0-3 in shootouts this year. So when the Bruins held a rare practice at the Garden on Friday, they spent much of the workout on shootout drills. And Ryder’s first attempt? He beat Tuukka Rask clean, only to hear that familiar clang of iron once again.
4. That Garden practice also witnessed an unusual sight, as coach Claude Julien got in on the action a bit. Julien has long preached discipline, particularly with rookie Brad Marchand, an agitator still learning the best ways to get under opponents’ skin to draw penalties, rather than taking them himself. But Julien may have applied an unorthodox method on Friday to drive the point home when he tripped up the youngster as Marchand skated by him during a drill. “I wasn’t really looking, I didn’t know he was behind me,” said Marchand. “So he gave me a little slew foot there. I think he was trying to teach me a lesson.” There’s no confirmation that Julien was on the Jets sideline Sunday afternoon showing strength and conditioning coach Sal Alosi his technique.
Marchand, though, may not need the lessons anymore. He’s been whistled for just one penalty in the last 11 games. After taking four minors in the first seven games of the season, he’s had just three in the last 21 games.
5. Marchand is much more dangerous when other Bruins are in the box anyway. Marchand is tied with Philadelphia’s Claude Giroux for the league lead with three shorthanded goals this season. But don’t expect linemate Shawn Thornton to volunteer to give Marchand any extra chances to take the lead by himself. “I’m not going to take penalties to give him the opportunity, if that’s what you’re asking,” said Thornton when told about Marchand’s status as the league’s co-leader.
6. Jody Shelley‘s reckless shove from behind that sent Adam McQuaid crashing into the boards on Saturday should serve as more fodder for the discussion over the need for no-touch icing. I’ve always opposed changing the touch-up rule, as the race for the puck on an icing can be one of the most exciting plays in the game and is one of the few examples in all sports of pure hustle being rewarded. But those races are few are far between. Most icings are routine touch-ups with no chance for an attacking player to reach the puck first and turn it into an offensive opportunity. If eliminating those rare, albeit exciting, races can reduce injuries and eliminate the chance for another dumb play like Shelley’s, then it is something that should be considered.