The Bruins haven’t exactly been consistent this season. Their play has been uncharacteristically uneven, and even when they put together a four-game winning streak during a recent five-game homestand, there were still areas of the game you could nitpick.
One facet of the Bruins’ game that can’t be argued at this point, however, is the penalty kill. The B’s downed the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1 on Monday night in Raleigh, thanks in part to another perfect night on the PK. Boston killed off all four Hurricane power plays, and their penalty-killing streak is now up to 32 straight successful kills.
The Bruins haven’t allowed a power-play goal since Oct. 30 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, but it’s not like any Bruins fans really remember that because most of them were probably watching the Red Sox win the World Series that night. That’s how long it’s been since the B’s have allowed a PPG.
The B’s have now killed 58 of the 64 power plays they have allowed this season. When the streak started, the Bruins were ranked 28th in the league in penalty-kill success, and with their 4-for-4 showing Monday, they’re now up to second in the league. Their 87.5 percent success rate is eclipsed only by the Vancouver Canucks who have an 89 percent success rate.
This all comes after the Bruins were uncharacteristically poor on the PK to begin the season. Under Claude Julien, the Bruins have routinely been among the top PK units in the league, but after giving up four power-play tallies to New Jersey on Oct. 26 — when they gave up two power-play goals in the final minutes — the Bruins were in a bad way on the penalty kill. Or, to put it another way, they were awful.
“We were really awful on the PK [early in the season], which is really unusual for us,” goalie Tuukka Rask said after Monday night’s win. “We just wanted to go back to basics and working hard and killing one penalty at a time. It’s been working for us lately, and we’re looking to keep that going.”
How exactly have the Bruins gotten back to basics? A lot of it stems from better decision making, which goes hand in hand with better positioning. Where there weren’t Bruins players to clear pucks in front of the net early in the season, there are now multiple players. While the Bruins struggled to clear the puck out of their own zone on the PK early in the year, they have done a much better job of getting the puck out of their own end during the streak.
That was on display Monday night, most notably in the second period. The PK was forced to go to work in the second period when Johnny Boychuk was called for tripping Jiri Tlusty on a questionable call in the Boston end. Almost a minute later, Gregory Campbell appeared to do a good job of clearing his own zone by sending the puck the length of the ice. The only problem was that the 200-foot clear actually went over the glass in the Hurricanes’ end. Campbell went to the box for delay of game, and the Bruins were called on to kill off a 5-on-3.
Even facing the league’s 24h-ranked power play to begin the night, the Bruins were up against it, especially with two important penalty killers in the box.
Despite that, the penalty kill came up big once again. Tuukka Rask saved arguably his best save of the night for that PK, as he robbed Chris Terry with a big glove save. It’s probably worth noting that Zdeno Chara was on the ice for 2:31 of that stretch, including 1:55 of the two minutes Campbell served for delay of game.
Not only that, the Bruins were fundamentally strong and were able to clear pucks when they needed to on the way to kills Nos. 30 and 31 in a row, respectively.
“I think [the 5-on-3 was a turning point],” Julien said. “It could have been a tie game by the end of it. Not just killing it in our own end, but we managed to get those pucks down, I think three times in that 5-on-3, so that was pretty impressive.”
Impressive indeed. The Bruins still aren’t where they need to be when it comes to their all-around game. However, if the rest of their game can round into form with the sort of improvement that even remotely resembles the strides they’ve made on the penalty kill, the Bruins will be back among the NHL’s elite before too long.
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