The Boston Bruins' penalty kill took major strides last season to break into the top half of the NHL rankings, but entering their Friday night game in Dallas the B's were sitting 25th in the league with a 69.2 percent success rate.
Becoming one of the league's least-penalized teams last season certainly helped the PK. And this season's parade to the box (Boston's averaging almost 18 PIM per game) isn't aiding the cause. However, settling on some consistent pairs could also go a long way toward solidifying the kill.
"I think it'll weed itself out," head coach Claude Julien said after a recent practice. "Right now, it's trial and error. You never really had the greatest opportunity to put twosomes together in camp."
Replacing PK specialists Stephane Yelle and P.J. Axelsson has obviously been tougher than the Bruins expected. Boston has eight forwards averaging more than one minute of shorthanded time per game, plus Marco Sturm is almost at one minute. Typically a team relies on just five or six forwards to get the job done.
Strength in numbers can sometimes be a benefit, but the positives can be reduced when you're introducing new personnel into the mix. Chuck Kobasew and Mark Recchi didn't kill penalties at all last year for Boston.
"If you don't do it, you really don't go into the meetings, you don't pay attention. So right away you start killing, so obviously it's got my attention now and you need to know what's going on. It's a fun thing and it's something that's a real responsibility," said Recchi.
Kobasew explained what it takes to get back into PK mode.
"There's knowing when to go and when not to go, and different aspects in the defensive zone and the neutral zone when they're coming on the forecheck and stuff like that. So I'm learning," said the winger.
The hope from the Bruins was that free-agent acquisition Steve Begin would also be able to offset to the loss of Yelle and Axelsson. But so far he has struggled with the Bruins a man down, as well.
"I think with Steve Begin, he has the potential of being a real good penalty-killer. For us, he probably just has a tendency sometimes to want to do too much," said Julien.
Dallas is clicking at better than a 26-percent success rate on its power play, so the Bruins' kill could be tested if Boston doesn't stay out of the box.
Here's what Julien had to say about his team's constant march to the sin bin this season:
"There was a lot of poor decision made on a lot of those penalties -- retaliations," Julien said. "Last year we knew when to walk away and when to stand up for each other. The other ones are lazy penalties, when you're caught out of position and you don't work hard, then you wind up having to work from behind and you take those kinds of penalties. So those are all things that can sort themselves out pretty easily with just a few adjustments."
Down on the farm, Providence (AHL) will be a little shorthanded this weekend. Defenseman Drew Fata was suspended four games for a crosscheck to the head of Portland's Brad Larsen. Jeff Penner, who had been out with an injury, is expected to step into Fata's spot in the lineup.