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Being shorthanded no longer a problem for Bruins

Penalty kill has come on strong

Bruins center Ryan Spooner (right) celebrated his third-period goal against Buffalo with Matt Beleskey (39) Friday night.USA Today Sports

It didn't really make any sense at the start of the season: The Bruins' penalty kill was abysmal, down at the bottom of the league, a strange place to find a team coached by Claude Julien.

The coach was telling his players not to focus on where the team was ranked, because it was going to be a tough slog to rise near the top.

Except the Bruins have. Boston now stands sixth in the league on the penalty kill, with an 84.0 percent success rate after going five-for-five in Saturday night's 3-2 victory over Toronto.

It was also notable on Friday night, when the Bruins killed three consecutive penalties in the second period against the Sabres, keeping the score tied long enough for Boston's third-period outburst.

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The Bruins have killed their last 16 penalties, going back to their Jan. 5 loss to the Capitals. More than that, though, the Bruins have killed 80 of their last 85 (94.1 percent), as they have risen higher and higher in the NHL. That run started midway through November and has shown no signs of stopping.

"I think the biggest thing is when we take a penalty now it's not like, 'OK, we've got to get through this and it seems like a daunting task,' " said Landon Ferraro, whose arrival coincided with the dramatic turnaround of the team's penalty kill.

"We know we can do it. It's just, 'OK, we've got a couple minutes here, we've got to be a little sharper than normal. Just get through it and get moving again. Don't lose any momentum.' Our PK has done a good job to where we can build momentum off of it."

But it didn't seem like the Bruins would ever get to this point. They were struggling even before they lost Chris Kelly for the season Nov. 3. Kelly was one of their penalty-killing stalwarts, one of the players who had helped the Bruins to the top half of the league in the category in seasons past.

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Through the first 20 games of this season, the Bruins were killing just three-quarters of their penalties. Since then, they've consistently been more than 90 percent.

"Just staying tight," Ferraro said of how the team is doing it. "We're not letting a lot through the seams. That's what teams want to do now — they want to use the guy in the middle as much as possible and then try and hit the back door.

"We've found comfort with the guys that we've been killing with. We have steady pairings. When you have that, you get that chemistry where you trust the guy is going to be there to back you up when you have to do your job, he's going to be doing his.

"When you have that comfort together, it makes things a lot easier, for sure."

Not only that, but the Bruins have been able to capitalize on some of those penalties, with six shorthanded goals this season. That was fifth in the NHL entering Saturday, two back of leaders Montreal and Ottawa.

Other teams know that the Bruins are a threat — especially Brad Marchand — and that might affect some of their decision-making on their own power plays.

"If you can show that you have the ability to get a little offense when you're on the PK, it's going to make them think a bit before they try making a hard pass or something through the seams, especially on the breakout, trying to get too stretched out," Ferraro said.

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"We've done a good job of holding teams so they're not getting in clean and, when you can do that, it makes things a lot easier and then you just try and beat the guys up the ice when you have that opportunity."

Krejci day-to-day

David Krejci skated on Saturday, as he gets closer to a return from the upper-body injury he suffered on Dec. 27, an injury that has already cost him nine games.

But there might be good news soon. Julien indicated that Krejci could be nearing a return.

"He's coming along," Julien said. "So that's a good sign. That's basically where he's at. He's now gone from week-to-week to probably more day-to-day.

"I wouldn't say tomorrow, but getting closer."

Good to be home

The game was the Bruins' sixth in nine nights, ending an exhausting stretch that brought the teams to five cities. Asked about the challenge of a week like that, Zach Trotman said, "I think physically after you get through the first three or four games, your body is just numb to it. So right now I think definitely the test will be mentally, to stay sharp coming out in that first period, making sure we're sticking to our game plan and everyone's on their toes right away, ready to go." . . . The Bruins announced on Saturday that the Jacobs family, the Bruins, the Bruins Foundation, and the TD Garden would make a minimum donation of $200,000 to the Denna Laing Fund. Denna Laing is the Boston Pride player who suffered a significant spinal injury at the Outdoor Women's Classic at Gillette Stadium on Dec. 31 when she went head-first into the boards during the game . . . The Bruins and Maple Leafs each were playing in the second half of a back-to-back. The Bruins improved to 4-1-1 in such games . . . David Pastrnak missed his third straight game with an upper-body injury . . . Colin Miller was a scratch, with Joe Morrow entering the lineup.

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Amalie Benjamin can be reached at abenjamin@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.