The typical path to the Stanley Cup includes consistent scoring, stout defense, outstanding goaltending, and solid contributions from special teams, particularly the power play.
Through 11 games in 2016-17, the Bruins have struggled in every one of those categories, but none more than the power play. Not only did they fail again with the man advantage (0 for 3) in Saturday night’s 5-2 loss to the Rangers, they surrendered two shorthanded goals, and nearly gave up a third.
Not the stuff that leads to Cup parades.
“It’s actually hurting the team right now,’’ rightfully bemoaned veteran center Patrice Bergeron. “It’s about us finding a way and being better.’’
A new opportunity arrives Monday night at the Garden, the Bruins facing the Buffalo Sabres for the first time this season. Coach Claude Julien gave his charges another day off Sunday, their second in three days, in hopes, it would seem, that they would benefit more from rest than rehearsal.
The Bruins own just about the league’s worst power play, a sore spot in recent seasons and now turned a festering wound. They stand a meager 3 for 38 (7.9 percent) through 11 games, better only than Loui Eriksson’s Vancouver Canucks (3 for 39, 7.7 percent).
David Backes returned to the Bruins’ lineup Saturday, following nearly a two-week absence after elbow surgery, and he should provide a boost to the man-advantage, centering a No. 2 unit. He was on the job there vs. the Rangers, working between Matt Beleskey and David Pastrnak, but the unit showed little pop — perhaps to be expected given Backes’s time away and the fact that the Rangers could be the NHL’s fastest-skating team.
“The first game is always a tough game,’’ noted Julien, whose squad rode a three-game winning streak into the match with the Blueshirts. “Especially at the pace that this game was played. He came in and helped us out. It was nice to have him back.’’
Unless Julien tries a different formula with new personnel — such as, say, rookie Brandon Carlo at the point — he will have to wring out better from the same 10-12 guys who thus far have provided only a popgun power play. Torey Krug’s production as a first-unit point man has been troubling. He leads the club in shots (35) and his scoring line thus far reads 0-1—1. Buffalo’s top producing point man, Rasmus Ristolainen, has cobbled together a line of 0-8—8 (six of the assists via the power play) and hit the net only 20 times.
Early in the second period Saturday, with the Bruins on the man advantage, Krug zipped down from the point to low in the left wing circle, in perfect striking position to pot a rebound off a David Krejci shot from the slot. An easy shot to tie it, 2-2. Instead, Krug fired straight through the crease to the opposite wing.
“I mean, I could have scored,’’ lamented Krug, working his way back from offseason shoulder surgery. “It would have been a 2-2 game, and it’s a different outlook on the game, for sure.’’
Instead, the Rangers were soon galloping down the ice for their second shorty of the night. With Krug the lone guy back, four of his teammates barely in the same area code, Kevin Hayes finished a 3-on-1 break with a short shovel through Tuukka Rask’s pads. What nearly had been a 2-2 game suddenly was a 3-1 deficit, only 2:18 into the second period, and the Bruins never drew closer. It was only 44 seconds later, in fact, the Rangers nearly cashed a third shorty, but for Michael Grabner failing to finish a 2-on-0 break (five Bruins skaters lost in the breeze) with fellow blazer Derek Stepan.
“A few missed assignments,’’ said Brad Marchand, who was on the ice for both shorties, along with Bergeron, Ryan Spooner, and Krug. “A little careless. They were able to take advantage of that.’’
“It wasn’t good,’’ added Julien. “Our power play hasn’t been up to par. We know that. We’ve got to fix it.’’
There doesn’t appear to be any help waiting in the wings. Top prospect Jake DeBrusk has a couple of goals with AHL Providence, but looked in training camp as if he’ll need at least a year of seasoning with the Wanna-B’s. Another first-round pick, Zach Senyshyn, was returned to junior (Sault Ste. Marie), where, as of Sunday, he showed only a meager offensive line (12 games, 5-2—7). Marc Savard isn’t walking through that door.
If there is output to tap, it will have to come from Backes providing overall stability to the forwards and Krug (4-40-44 last season) rediscovering his production.
“The puck movement is there,’’ said Krug, identifying one part of the attack that has improved. “But we’ve got to realize there’s two parts of it. When the puck’s cleared or there are rebounds, we’ve got to make sure we’re skating back into our defensive zone and working for that.’’
Or suffer the added consequences as seen Saturday night.
Sabres coming off win
The Sabres, still minus ex-BU star Jack Eichel (sidelined with a ankle sprain in training camp), pinned a 2-1 loss on Ottawa Saturday night, with top free agent acquisition Kyle Okposo and Sam Reinhart potting the goals . . . The Bruins are 1-3-0 at home. Their only win on Causeway Street was a relative 2-1 snoozer vs. the Devils in the home opener . . . One encouraging stat on Saturday: The Bruins attempted 71 shots to the Rangers’ 44 . . . Julien’s choice of goalie vs the Sabres will be interesting. Logically, with a game the next night in Montreal, the start would fall to backup Zane McIntyre (two games of NHL experience). But Tuesday’s game is in Montreal, where Rask has struggled. The Bruins currently not holding one of the East’s eight playoff seeds, Julien likely would prefer Rask to go in both, but that’s not practical, particularly given the veteran tender’s recent injury woes . . . Riley Nash picked up an assist Saturday, his first point as a Bruin, making him the first member of the Zero Sum Line (with Beleskey and Jimmy Hayes) to shake the shackles of 0-0—0.