Their stickwork has been tough to beat
The Bruins have won a remarkable 61.9 percent of their faceoffs over the previous six contests, beating their foes by a margin of 227-140. In the last couple of years, taking draws has been far more of a weakness than a strength.
Former Bruin centers Adam Oates and Tim Taylor were outstanding faceoff men, but since they've moved on, Boston has needed someone to emerge in that role. Captain Joe Thornton has improved dramatically and the acquisition of Travis Green has made a difference as well.
"It's just application," said general manager Mike O'Connell. "I think the faceoff statistic, they work at it. They work at it on a daily basis. That's one of the reasons we [traded for] Green was his faceoff work. Joe, when he puts his mind to it, he can win it. He's been asked to play more of a full-sheet game and he's doing it. You look at his game against Vancouver, he and Glen Murray were the best players on the ice. They played the full sheet and that's what we need from everyone and faceoffs is a big part of that."
Coach Mike Sullivan has made that fundamental skill a priority. He was strong on draws as a player and he wants his players to follow suit.
"I think Mike stresses all that," said O'Connell. "It's one thing to tell a player, `You've got to win your faceoffs,' and it's another thing to explain to them why they should win it and the importance of it and here's the way to do it. You look at all the little things Mike talks about, the details. I think the players are paying attention and they're listening."
The centers are also getting more support from the wings and defense, which wasn't always the case in recent years.
"It's all spelled out where they need to be and where they need to go and it's really applying [yourself]," said O'Connell. "If you want to be really good at faceoffs, you can become really good at faceoffs. It's like one-timing the puck. If you want to learn to one-time the puck, you work at it."
None worse for wear
Defenseman Nick Boynton got a scare at the seven-minute mark of the third period when Capitals right wing Jaromir Jagr got his stick up under Boynton's arm and hauled him down to the ice. Boynton landed hard on his right shoulder and grimaced in pain. There was no penalty called and Boynton made his way to the bench. But at 9:38, the Bruins went on the power play and Boynton was at his usual spot on the right point. "I just fell kind of funny on my shoulder," said Boynton. "I fell real awkward on it. It hurt right away but it slowly went away. It's fine." . . . In the past, coaches have used defenseman Hal Gill against Jagr's line and he has been very effective. But last night, Sullivan elected to rotate his defensive pairs rather than concentrate on a single matchup. "We've got three pairs we feel are playing pretty well together right now," said Sullivan. "There isn't really a huge drop-off. We didn't want to break the pairs up just for the sake of getting that match."
Finding their place
O'Connell said no decision has been made regarding defenseman Zdenek Kutlak and center Sergei Zinovjev. Kutlak has yet to play in an NHL game this year. Zinovjev has appeared in five, tallying one assist, but has been scratched the past six contests. It's possible one or both could be sent to the minors to get some playing time but for now they'll stay put. "It's just status quo," said O'Connell. "We'll make a decision but they're practicing with the team and [Sullivan] trains them very hard and [Wayne] Cashman trains them very hard so we want to make sure they're used to the speed, size, and strength of the NHL players. We've asked them to [work] hard in practice and make sure they're pushed and tested in practice so they get the benefit of it." O'Connell said there is a balance between making sure they benefit from practicing at the NHL level but not letting them sit so long that they get rusty when it comes to game action. "Kutlak has played at the American League level for 3 1/2 years," said O'Connell. "He knows what that takes but he doesn't really know what it takes here yet. Hopefully, he'll get the experience with the size and strength of the players up here in practice. It's not as good as playing but I think just being ready for the quickness, the passing, and the whole flow of the game up here that you can create somewhat in practice that he'll benefit from it. Zinovjev is a different story. He's still learning over here and getting used to a smaller rink. Nothing is cast in stone right now so we'll see how it goes." . . . The Bruins will practice in Wilmington this morning and then charter to Philadelphia, where they'll take on the Flyers tomorrow.
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