At 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at TD Garden, the Bruins dressing room had all but emptied. Torey Krug hustled out, still wearing his shin guards, socks, and pants. Ryan Spooner, Brett Connolly, Jimmy Hayes, and Alexander Khokhlachev were the only players left behind. Everybody else had crammed into the coaches’ office to attend a penalty kill meeting.
These days, it’s all hands on deck when it comes to fixing the PK.
“I feel we’re on our heels,” coach Claude Julien said of the league’s worst penalty kill (70 percent). “Right now, the confidence level isn’t there like it should be.
“That’s our job as players, as a team, as a group, as a coaching staff, to create that confidence you need to kill penalties. It takes sacrifices, whether it’s blocking shots, whether it’s being more assertive in certain areas, having better sticks. Those are areas that have to get better for us.”
It doesn’t help that Julien will be without one of his most trusted killers for the rest of the season.
Through 11 games this season, Chris Kelly did just about everything for the Bruins. He played left wing, center, and right wing. He took shifts on the third and fourth lines. He took 52 faceoffs. He averaged 2:23 of shorthanded ice time per game.
It’s unlikely there will be a 12th game in Black and Gold for Kelly this season. The do-it-all forward and alternate captain is out 6-8 months after breaking his left leg in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss to Dallas.
Max Talbot, recalled from Providence Wednesday, will have to assume some of Kelly’s responsibilities.
The Bruins considered Talbot a spare part when they placed him on waivers Oct. 5. Three weeks later, they assigned him to Providence. He played in only two games for Boston and was a healthy scratch for five.
In Providence, Talbot had four assists in three games while playing in all situations. He did well in a league he hadn’t seen in almost a decade.
“I took it as a positive experience,” Talbot said of his AHL stretch. “Obviously it’s not something you wish for. But I went down there and worked on different things. I kind of got a little bit of confidence back. I’m glad to be back to help this team.”
On Wednesday, Talbot practiced in Kelly’s spot on the fourth line alongside Joonas Kemppainen, Zac Rinaldo, and Tyler Randell. Talbot also will be Kelly’s fill-in as a penalty killer, perhaps paired with Loui Eriksson. In his two varsity games, Talbot averaged 3:25 of penalty-killing time.
Julien could use Talbot, Eriksson, Kemppainen, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Krejci as his rotation of up-front killers. If the PK continues to misfire, however, Julien will not hesitate to consider alternatives. Rinaldo has his hand up for more man-down work.
The Bruins saw something in Rinaldo when they acquired him from Philadelphia for a third-round pick. He is a punishing hitter and one of their fastest skaters. Those are two elements that are critical for PK success. Whether he’s earned his coaches’ trust for shorthanded shifts remains to be seen.
“The breakout would probably be one of the biggest things for me,” Rinaldo said. “Just taking the breakout up with speed so I can keep my speed, re-attack, and still have speed when they get in the zone. Just be relentless on the forecheck and get up the ice when we dump the puck. Instead of hanging back, I can get my speed up the ice and keep those guys in their end as opposed to letting them break out.”
Had the Bruins been stouter on the penalty kill, they might have considered a more skilled option to replace Kelly than Talbot. They have wings with scoring touch, including Khokhlachev, Frank Vatrano, and Seth Griffith. An offensive-minded fourth line would have kept the pressure on opponents.
But the Bruins’ priority is to repair the penalty kill. Their sticks have been light. Their coverage has been slack. It’s been too much of a gimme for opposing teams to push the puck down the Bruins’ throats on the power play.
So given his experience, Talbot will get first dibs on Kelly’s job.
It will not be easy. Thursday’s opponent, Washington, has the No. 9 power play (22.6 percent). Montreal, Saturday’s opponent, is No. 4 (24 percent). The Bruins conclude their three-game road swing Sunday against the Islanders, who have the third-best PP (27.6 percent).
“I feel we have the players in that dressing room to be a better penalty-killing team,” Julien said. “Right now, we just haven’t done a good enough job, even at clearing pucks. It’s a work in progress. But it’s something we plan on rectifying here.”
. . .
David Pastrnak (foot) will not play in any of the three road games. Pastrnak also didn’t play against Dallas . . . Dennis Seidenberg (back surgery) joined the team on the road trip. The defenseman will practice but he will not play in any of the games.