The Bruins snapped the puck around their power-play formation at Wednesday’s practice at TD Garden. All five skaters quickly directed it to each other. It looked easy.
That was because there were no penalty-killers in front of them. They were going against air.
Then a coach shot another puck down the ice, as a gang of four PKers hopped the boards. When the power play made the retrieval and re-entered the zone, they faced playoff-like pressure.
The Bruins are trying to fix the No. 1 issue that ails them: a power play that has fallen from top-three in the league to middle-of-the-pack.
They ranked 15th in power-play success as of Wednesday, converting on 21.6 percent of their opportunities. They have scored a PPG in 19 of their last 42 games, and never more than one.
Contrast that with their first 32 games, up until Dec. 23 in New Jersey. They scored a power-play goal in 25 of their first 32, including multiple PPGs in 10 of those games.
As it was in 2011 — when they won a Stanley Cup with a malfunctioning man-advantage — the Bruins haven’t needed a killer power play to win. But it sure would help in the postseason.
Defenseman Brandon Carlo, an excellent penalty killer, sees a lot of teams using a 1-3 formation against Boston, rather than a traditional box or diamond. That means the Bruins’ best shooters — David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, who set up on the flanks — are being covered tightly, as is Patrice Bergeron in the slot.
“If we can get pucks behind them a little bit more and get battles, and create more zone time, that would be helpful,” Carlo said. “A little more grit in those areas to get pucks back and then set up opportunities.”
Quick and sustained puck movement to tire out penalty killers is part of the prescription. But not the way the Bruins have done it.
“Usually once you get that good strike, because you’ve moved it around, they’re out of position and the puck recoveries become easier,” coach Jim Montgomery said. “Right now it seems we move it, move it, shot — and they win the puck recovery because we haven’t moved them out of position. So it’s a balance.”
Montgomery sees encouraging signs of players shooting to score rather than just looking to pass. The next step, one he hopes to see beginning Thursday against Columbus, is rapid-fire shooting.
Lauko finds a fit
Jakub Lauko was involved in a hard crash Sunday in Carolina. The impact was “shocking,” he said, when he tangled with defenseman Jalen Chatfield and slammed into the end boards.
The 23-year-old sat out Tuesday’s game but felt good enough to practice Wednesday in a noncontact jersey. Montgomery called him a possibility to play Thursday. Fo
r the first time, the rookie is feeling that the group missed him.
This is the most consistent NHL deployment for Lauko, who spent nearly three months in the minors at midseason. He has suited up for six of the last seven games. He feels more involved with the group, more confident with the puck, sharper in his details.
“It’s more getting used to the guys,” Lauko said. “It’s spending time with them. When you’re up and down, up and down, coming from staying down in Prov, you come in and feel the pressure to perform. You need to make an impact right away. When you’re here longer, you’re more comfortable.”
“You see that in his play quite a bit,” Montgomery said. “There’s been at times some drop-off, but here he’s been consistent. We’re seeing a difference mentally, just how he carries himself. How confident he is being an NHL player, being around his teammates, being around his coaches. We see a difference.”
Kuntar signs on
The Bruins signed third-round draft pick Trevor Kuntar to a two-year entry-level deal. The contract begins next season, leaving open the possibility the 21-year-old forward could join Providence on an amateur tryout agreement this spring.
Kuntar, selected 89th overall in 2020, spent three years at Boston College, scoring 28 goals and 59 points in 93 games.
The Williamsville, N.Y. product — whose father, Les, was a goalie in the Flyers organization with Montgomery — played three seasons with Youngstown of the USHL.
Gold is the choice
The Bruins named Evan Gold, their chief of the salary cap, general manager of Providence. Gold, 43, had been acting in that role, along with assistance from Jamie Langenbrunner, since John Ferguson Jr. left the organization in 2021. Gold has been director of legal affairs for the Bruins since 2015, and assistant GM since 2019 … Montgomery said defenseman Derek Forbort, out since a March 16 shot block in Winnipeg, is able to ride a bike and maintain his conditioning. Forbort could possibly return before the postseason, but the coach, as is his custom, did not nail that down. “His timeline is looking good,” Montgomery said … Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno practiced in noncontact jerseys.
Matt Porter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter: @mattyports.