Zdeno Chara stands, stick ready, body working. He fights for space, his elbow moving around the torso of an opposing defenseman, a little bump pushing his 6-foot-9-inch frame and 255 pounds into better position.
This, for now, is the face of the Bruins’ new-look power play, a big body in a big spot for a team that has struggled significantly on what should be an advantage. Their power play rated poorly — a tie for 25th — in the NHL in 2012-13.
The team has succeeded despite its power play, not because of it, and that’s long been something that the Bruins would like to change. Since the 2009-10 season, the Bruins have finished no higher than tied for 14th on the power play, scoring on 14.8 percent in 2012-13, 17.2 percent in 2011-12, 16.2 percent in 2010-11, and 16.6 percent in 2009-10.
But now they might be on to something.
The Bruins scored two more power-play goals in Monday night’s exhibition win over Washington, both by the hand of Chara — one on a redirect from the net front on a Dennis Seidenberg shot, one from the point on a five-on-three. That’s nine preseason power-play goals in five games. (For the record, the Bruins had 18 power-play goals all of last season.)
It should be pointed out, of course, that the Bruins are not always facing opponents’ top penalty-killing units. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that they’re having unusual success and keeping it simpler than in previous years, something that seems to have helped.
“Obviously 1/8the power play’s3/8 been pretty good for us in the preseason,” Milan Lucic said. “I think we just need to stay sharp and keep working on it in practice.
“I think the best thing is our puck movement is a lot better. I think there’s confidence in making those good passes and guys are shooting the puck when they have the opportunity as well.”
That isn’t due entirely to Chara, of course. There’s a newcomer whose power-play skill has been a significant feature of his game. Of Jarome Iginla’s 530 career goals in the NHL, 165 have come on the man advantage. He has scored at least 10 power-play goals in 10 of his 16 seasons.
And that’s not even taking into account the abilities of fellow newcomer Loui Eriksson, who should be taking shifts with the second power-play group.
Iginla will likely be on the first unit, along with Torey Krug, David Krejci, Chara, and Lucic. It should be a dynamic fivesome, with Krug having proven in the playoffs that he can man the point, freeing up Chara for net-front duty.
Once there, he is tough to move, tough to see around, and certainly tough to play against.
“Z’s not just in front to screen, Z’s in there for more than that,” coach Claude Julien said. “People don’t see him as a quick skater, but he’s got the long reach in retrieving those loose pucks; he’s very good at it as well.
“With that long reach, he can either poke it back to the half-walls or he can get it himself.
“I think there’s a lot more qualities in Zdeno in front than people think. And I know people see the size of him for a screen, but he does more things than that to be valuable in front.”
It has shown. Of course, it’s early, and there is the possibility that putting Chara in front will increase his likelihood of injury. So there are caveats.
But while it won’t always go the way it did in the Bruins’ first preseason game — they scored four goals on six man-advantage opportunities against the Canadiens — almost anything would be an improvement over last season.
“We are just getting used to it,” Chara said. “It’s not always working the way we want, but that’s the way it is sometimes. We aren’t always getting the perfect looks, but at times we have to keep it simpler and always work hard. It doesn’t matter who we have over there, we just have to keep outworking those four guys.”
There has been puck movement. There have been well-directed shots from the point. There have been redirects that have found their way past that goal line and onto the scoreboard.
A major part of that has been Chara, who has said that he doesn’t mind being stationed in front of the net. He also doesn’t mind being back at the point. He — like everyone else on the Bruins bench — just wants to see some results from the hard work on the power play.
“He was in front with a lot of chaos going on and a lot of loose pucks, so he creates some havoc in front of there,” Julien said of Chara’s performance against the Capitals on Monday. “You’re going to see him at the point at times and on that five-on-three, you saw what his shot can do as well from back there.
“So we continue to look at that, and we may start with that and may switch during the season; 82 games is a long year, so nothing is carved in stone.”
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