WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It was easy for outsiders to look at the Bruins' penalty kill at the outset of the season and diagnose why on Oct. 19 the club was ranked 26th in that department.
Savvy veterans P.J. Axelsson and Stephane Yelle had left the organization and created a void that at the time seemed impossible to fill. However, Boston soon solved the problem with both the addition of Daniel Paille and a set rotation of forwards that could create chemistry with each other.
When the Bruins woke up this morning, they were ranked second in the league with a success rate of 86.1 percent. Boston has killed 70 of 75 opposing power plays (a 93.3 percent success rate) since Oct. 20.
"I think guys are picking good times to be aggressive, jump on the guy when maybe he has his back turned or he bobbles the puck," defenseman Mark Stuart said. "We're doing a good job of seizing those opportunities, and basically guys are just winning more battles."
Despite the addition of Steve Begin during the offseason and the return of Marco Sturm from injury, the Bruins were using around eight or nine forwards to kill penalties during the season's first few weeks. After Paille arrived from Buffalo, coach Claude Julien started tightening up his personnel pool to about six players and the players started to jell. Even the absence of center Marc Savard didn't hinder the Bruins' improvement on the PK.
"Probably the first month, the first few games, we were chasing the puck. We were not on the same page, and right now everybody's on the same page. If a player goes hard, everybody has to go. And that's what we're doing right now," Begin said.
Obviously, the defensemen have played a part of the Bruins' unbelievable success rate since Oct. 20. And the consistently stifling goaltending the Bruins lacked in the season's first month has made a huge difference. But what about the arrival of Paille?
"It helped. You don't want to take any credit away from the guy because he's done a great job penalty killing, but I don't think you want to throw all the credit his way either. One guy doesn't make your penalty kill move up that much," Julien said. "It's a combination. There are at least six, seven guys up front penalty killing. Most of our D's have been killing as well. So it's just a group combination.
"And give credit to the coaching staff, too. [Assistant coach Craig Ramsay] has been working with [assistant Doug Houda] in that area, and they do a good job of giving guys a really clear direction on what we need to do and they take it to heart. When our penalty kill runs around a little bit, that's as vocal as you'll hear 'Rammer' on the bench I think."
There was no sign of Dennis Wideman or Derek Morris during practice Tuesday for the second straight day. But after the formal session, Wideman took the ice with strength and conditioning coach John Whitesides. Julien said there's a chance both players could practice Wednesday. The team's annual shopping trip to buy holiday gifts for children's hospitals was scheduled to include just a handful of players Tuesday. But Patrice Bergeron said that even though it's not a mandatory full-team event, pretty much the entire squad was headed to Target. The gifts will be distributed later this month.