BOSTON — The Bruins had the third-best power play in the NHL with a 21.7 percent success rate last season, a massive improvement from ranking 26th in the lockout-shortened 2012-13 campaign.
Boston’s success continued in Wednesday night’s preseason home opener against the Washington Capitals when Zdeno Chara scored what would be the game-winning goal on the power play. The B’s would later add an empty-net goal from Simon Gagne to send the TD Garden crowd home happy.
Chara had been a fixture at the point on the power play for most of his Bruins career before he was switched to the front of the net for the majority of last season. The move paid huge dividends as the B’s captain led the team with 10 power-play goals and created nightmares for opposing penalty killers with his size, strength and long reach in and around the crease.
Chara’s goal Wednesday night came off a deflection of a Dougie Hamilton point shot in a similar spot to where he scored many power-play tallies a year ago.
“We were close on a few power plays. On the power play when we scored, we did really well to retrieve pucks and putting pucks to the net,” Chara said. “I am comfortable playing wherever they put me. It happened to be in front of the net tonight, I don’t know if it’s going to be like that for other games, but I have to be ready to play any position and contribute.
The Bruins haven’t practiced a ton of power-play schemes in training camp so far, and two key components of last season’s success — departed winger Jarome Iginla and unsigned defenseman Torey Krug — are not in the lineup. Bruins assistant Geoff Ward, who coached the 2013-14 power play, left the team in the summer to coach in Germany.
“We just kind of quickly went through some options this morning, but we didn?t really practice it,” Chara said. “You could tell the timing was off and it was more like we were just trying to obviously be there for each other, but it?s probably going to take more practices and getting used to each other. So yeah we didn?t probably practice enough, but that?s just the way it is in training camp. You focus on other things; it was nice to get that power play goal though.”
Wednesday’s power-play performance was far from perfect, but there have been enough encouraging signs (putting plenty of shots on net, good attacking-zone entries, etc.) through two preseason games to believe last season’s impressive success with the man advantage probably wasn’t a fluke.
— Simon Gagne was one of two players (Ryan Spooner is the other) who took part in Tuesday’s game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre as well as Wednesday’s matchup with the Capitals.
“Basically tonight, I felt a huge difference from last night. Legs were a little bit more stiff maybe from playing back-to-back games, but I think it?s normal from not playing a game in almost a year and a half,” Gagne said.
“A little rusty yesterday, but I felt better today with the puck. Vision wise, more patient with the puck, not as nervous with the puck, taking maybe a little bit more time with it before making a play. I saw a little bit of improvement today from last game. It?s not quite where I want, but at least it?s getting a little better every game and that?s my goal.”
— Jeremy Smith replaced Tuukka Rask in the Boston net to start the third period. He made 12 saves in the final frame, one of which was a highlight-reel stop with his glove.
“If (Smith) didn?t make that big save, we wouldn?t be probably sitting here talking about that,” Chara said. “That was a game changer; he was obviously in the right place at the right time and made a huge save and that decided that game.”
— Adam McQuaid played in his first game since Jan. 19 against the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran defenseman, who has battled numerous injuries over the last few years, earned the praise of B’s head coach Claude Julien.
“I think he came out and tried to make a statement there that he?s ready to play, and he wants to be here,” Julien said. “I thought he played a real strong game. I gave him high marks for his first game back, and how well he played for his first game back.”
GIFs via Twitter/@PeteBlackburn