Bruins’ penalty-killing unit is acing early tests

From the start of training camp, the Bruins coaching staff has demanded relentless, snarling play from its penalty killers. The PK crew has answered the challenge.

The Bruins have the league’s sharpest penalty kill, having snuffed out 43 of 46 opposing power plays for a 93.5 percent success rate.

Coach Claude Julien has preached aggressiveness. The forwards are applying heat on puck carriers down ice to prevent clean breakouts and offensive-zone setups. But they’re being even more dogged once opponents gain the blue line and fall into formation.

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The task of puck pursuit has mostly fallen to six forwards: Rich Peverley, Chris Kelly, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Gregory Campbell, and Daniel Paille. The coaches have emphasized short shifts from their forwards, and they’ve responded with 15- to 25-second bursts of efficiency, retreated for quick changes, reloaded on the bench, and rolled over the boards for more pressure-applying shifts.

On the back end, a four-man unit of Zdeno Chara, Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, and Andrew Ference has kept its ranks tight in front of the net. The defensemen also have been prompt to pursue the puck when it comes below the circles.

In Tuesday’s 4-3 shootout loss to the Rangers at TD Garden, the Bruins went 4 for 4 on the penalty kill, including turning back a 77-second five-on-three New York power play at the end of the second period and beginning of the third.

The kill should have given the Bruins — who trailed, 2-0, at the time — life for the rest of the third. Instead, a Ference giveaway allowed Anton Stralman to gain the offensive zone with speed. A bad-angle shot squeaked past Tuukka Rask, giving the Rangers a 3-0 lead.

“We killed that five-on-three and it should have given us some momentum,” Julien said. “Then again, we end up missing a body check at center ice, then we throw the puck right back to where their guy is on the ice. We turn the puck over, they come back, and score probably a weak goal, I would say.”

Hitting the target

Of the two shots Marchand put on Henrik Lundqvist Tuesday, one flew over the Rangers goalie for the tying strike in the final minute of regulation. Marchand read that Lundqvist was pushing from right to left, his pads taking away everything low. So Marchand tucked the puck under the crossbar.

It was Marchand’s team-leading seventh goal. He has buried 43.8 percent of his shots, the second-best shooting percentage in the league behind the Flyers’ Tom Sestito (two goals on three shots).

Marchand has taken only 16 shots, fewer than 10 of his teammates.

“I feel OK, but I think a lot of it is luck,” Marchand said. “You saw the bounce, the lucky bounce and an open net. I’m feeling pretty good, but a lot of it is luck.”

Kekalainen hired as GM

The Blue Jackets named ex-Bruin Jarmo Kekalainen their new general manager Wednesday. The day before, Columbus fired Scott Howson. Kekalainen appeared in 27 games for the Bruins from 1989-91 . . . Howson brought Julien into pro coaching in 2000. Howson, then Edmonton’s assistant GM, hired Julien to coach Hamilton, the AHL affiliate the Oilers shared with Montreal . . . Jay Pandolfo cleared waivers at noon Wednesday. Pandolfo, signed to a one-year deal Tuesday, will be the team’s spare forward. He could also be assigned to Providence to see game action. “I’m sure I’ll spend some time down there,” Pandolfo said. “I don’t know if it will be now or a little bit later. I’ll take it day by day and see what they do.” . . . Lane MacDermid could be recalled before the team departs for Friday night’s game in Buffalo. MacDermid is in Providence on a conditioning stint . . . The Bruins were given Wednesday off. They will practice Thursday at Ristuccia Arena before leaving for Buffalo . . . The Bruins play their next five games on the road. They don’t play at TD Garden until Feb. 28 against Ottawa.