Bruins’ penalty kill steals spotlight in win over Rangers

Matt Kalman
February 16, 2020 - 6:58 pm

During the marathon that is the NHL season, it’s easy to overlook even the most obvious things.

Sure the Bruins’ season, which has them atop the NHL standings after a 3-1 win at the New York Rangers on Sunday, has been defined by David Pastrnak’s assault on the NHL goal-scoring race, the play of him and his linemates Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, and the spectacular goaltending of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, there have been other parts of the Bruins’ game that have been spectacular without getting their due.

Case in point: the Bruins’ penalty kill.

Entering the Rangers game, Boston was second in the league in penalty-kill percentage (84.3 percent). It hadn’t allowed a goal in the past two games and had been 21-for-24 (87.5 percent) in February.

Well, when you allowed one goal in five opportunities to the Rangers, technically you’re having an off night because your efficiency rate is going to decrease. But the Bruins’ killers had anything but an “off nights” at Madison Square Garden, as they mostly suffocated the Rangers and stopped them from even gaining momentum from their power play through Boston’s ninth win in the past 10 games.

Of course, it starts with Halak, who stopped four of five New York power-play shots, with only Mike Zibanejad’s wrist shot from the blue line through at least three bodies to get past him in the third period. That was New York’s only power-play shot through two third-period power plays.

Through the first two periods, the Rangers had six minutes of man-advantage time and managed just four shots on net. New York had just two shots on net during a double-minor to David Krejci. The Bruins’ killers outplayed them throughout that time, matching them with four shots on net and outscoring them thanks to Charlie Coyle’s shorthanded goal that extended Boston’s lead to 2-0 with 1:18 to go. Similarly the Rangers didn’t land a shot on net for the 1:15 that goaltender Alexandar Georgiev was pulled for an extra attacker in the third period.

Zdeno Chara, as he usually does, led the Bruins with 5:08 of shorthanded ice time. But Brandon Carlo (4:54), Charlie McAvoy (3:53) and Jeremy Lauzon (3:39) put in their share of hard work as well. Sean Kuraly (4:06) led the Bruins’ brigade of penalty-killing forwards.

Like the Bruins’ overall play, the penalty kill has endured some rough patches over the course of the season. Every team’s going to go through slumps in every aspect of its game. Minimizing those tough times is key, and the Bruins have done just that on the penalty kill.

And when you can kill penalties the way the Bruins do, it lends itself to being better defensively. Bruins players can take more risks if they know a penalty won’t ruin Boston’s chances. Torey Krug had to take a penalty on tripping penalty on Zibanejad to cut off a 2-on-2 Rangers rush. The Rangers center score after that one, but Boston had already done its part of stifle New York through the first 40 minutes of the game.

Marchand came to Bergeron’s defense in the second period and was called for crosschecking Rangers defenseman Ryan Lindgren, who’d been shoving Bergeron. Marchand inexplicably got the only penalty – considering Pavel Buchnevich the crosschecked Marchand in the back – but with a strong penalty kill in his camp, Marchand could risk the penalty in order to defend his linemate with less worry than players on teams that dread going on the kill.

The Bruins’ power play has been highly ranked all year and went into Sunday’s game second in the league. The penalty kill might get overshadowed, but it’s not any less impressive and it’s going to be just as vital to Boston’s chances down the stretch and into the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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