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Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Bruins' special teams anything but

By Joe McDonald
ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins are one of the best five-on-five teams in the league, but when their special teams struggle, as both the power-play and penalty-killing units have lately, it can be a challenge to find success.

The Bruins went 0-for-3 on their power play, while the Toronto Maple Leafs converted two of their five opportunities en route to a 4-3 victory Tuesday night at TD Garden.

The Bruins' struggles have not been limited to this one game.

Tyler Bozak
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask had no chance on Tyler Bozak's power-play goal in the first period.

Since Dec. 31 -- a span of seven games -- the Bruins have allowed 10 power-play goals on 27 opportunities. Since Dec. 28 -- a span of eight games -- Boston is 1-for-23 on the power play. These are not the type of statistics that add up to success. In fact, the Bruins are 3-5-0 in their past eight games, and struggling the way they have on special teams won't get them out of the rut.

"It's almost impossible," goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "No matter how good you are 5-on-5, your PK has to be there and give your team a chance. Lately, it hasn't been there as good as it's been before. On the power play, we're getting chances but not burying those. It's tough, but you go through those struggles and it's a matter of how you recover."

The lack of success on the penalty kill is most alarming.

It seems like the Bruins have lacked attention to detail and focus, which has led to too many breakdowns on the PK. Those mistakes are uncharacteristic for Boston, and opponents recently have been capitalizing on those miscues. More often than not, the Bruins' penalty-killing unit has helped lead the team to victory because it has the ability to stifle an opponent's momentum, but that has been missing of late.

"It's not the system. The system that's in place has worked for years and it's been able to put us at the top of the league, so it's something collectively as a group we have to look at," said Gregory Campbell, one of the team's top penalty killers. "The players that are given that responsibility have to do the job."

The Bruins' PK has been a strength during Claude Julien's tenure in Boston and it has a lot to do with the players who form the penalty-killing units. Not only are these players willing to sacrifice their bodies to block a shot, they're also talented in the specialty aspects, including the ability to win faceoffs.

They're just not in sync right now.

"Too many breakdowns, but also I think we are forcing plays that we shouldn't," Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said.

The Bruins have been perfect on the penalty kill in 28 of 46 games this season. There was even a stretch of nine games in November when Boston killed off 31 consecutive penalties, and the team finished that month with a 10-3-2 record.

From a goaltending standpoint, Rask will admit he hasn't been at his best and has been fighting it a little, but the breakdowns on the PK aren't his fault. Campbell even admitted the PK has left its goaltender out to dry too many times of late.

"Lately, it's been we let in one, then we let in two or three, or even four, and it kind of snowballs," Rask said. "We've got to get rid of that. You're going to get scored on, but it's just a matter of how you're going to get scored on. You make mistakes and it's how you recover from those mistakes, and lately one hasn't been enough. It's been more than one, and we have to fix that."

On the flip side, the power play, which began the season as one of the team's strong points, also is struggling.

"Our power play has been pretty solid this year," forward Jarome Iginla said. "Unfortunately, we've kind of hit a cold streak. Special teams are very important, and we know that and we're working at it. Tonight, on the power-play side, we had some good looks, some great looks. It was the same in San Jose [during Saturday's 1-0 win], so it's been coming again and we'll keep working at it, but we believe we can get it back to where it needs to be."

The Bruins' overall game hits these types of lulls every season, and in the past, they eventually have worked their way out of it. After Tuesday's loss, Julien did not want to overanalyze or focus on the negatives. He admits to the lack of sharpness on the PK, but Julien wasn't about to point any fingers.

"I'm trying not to be overly critical versus trying to fight our way out of it," Julien said. "It's not about being negative, it's about working our way out of it."

Plenty of times in the past the Bruins have fixed what was wrong and have come out on the winning side. They proved in 2011 that a team can win a Stanley Cup even with a lackluster power play, but nothing can replace having a rock-solid penalty-killing unit.

"There's a lot of games that are won with either a power-play goal or a penalty kill being solid," Campbell said. "Again, it's an area that the individuals put in the situation have to take pride in. It's a privilege to be on the power play and the penalty kill. In my case, I'm on the penalty kill, and we just have to do a better job."