For Dougie Hamilton, the easy play would have been a chip off the right-side boards to clear the puck out of the defensive zone.
It was the third period. The Bruins had a 1-0 lead. Jason Pominville, as the lead Buffalo forechecker, was angling Hamilton toward the right-side wall.
But Hamilton has the vision and touch to make hard plays look easy.
Hamilton went against the grain and snapped a tape-to-tape pass to Milan Lucic on the left side of the defensive blue line. Because the Sabres were swinging the other way, Lucic had plenty of open ice in front of him. Seconds later, Nathan Horton was on the receiving end of David Krejci’s backhand saucer to tap in the second goal in the Bruins’ 2-0 win over Buffalo on Sunday.
The play was a rare whoosh of fresh air in an offense gone musty. In their last eight games, they have scored only 16 goals. Of those goals, five took place in last Wednesday’s 6-5 shootout loss to the Canadiens. The Bruins have fallen short in areas that lead to scoring chances: forecheck, puck possession, offensive-zone time.
For most of Saturday’s 3-1 loss to Philadelphia and too many stretches of Sunday’s win, the Bruins chased their opponents. When the Bruins had the puck, they either gave it away before gaining the offensive zone, or dumped it in areas where the Philadelphia and Buffalo defensemen retrieved it with ease to ignite the counterattack.
The Bruins’ habit of chasing the game is amplified when examining their power-play opportunities. The Bruins have gone on the power play only 92 times, fewest in the league. They average only 2.7 power-play opportunities per game. In comparison, the Canadiens have 147 power-play opportunities.
The statistics underscore how the Bruins are unable to draw the standard penalties — holding, hooking, interference — because they don’t possess the puck enough. Instead of being active with the puck and initiating the play, the Bruins are scurrying after their opponents.
To unclog their flickering offense, defensemen such as Hamilton need to be assertive with their passes to move the puck. In the third period against Buffalo, Matt Bartkowski completed a hard, confident pass to Krejci in the offensive zone. Krejci scored seconds later to give the Bruins a 1-0 lead.
Any goalie coming off a shutout would be considered a good bet to start the next game. Anton Khudobin stopped all 26 Buffalo shots Sunday. Khudobin has fared well against Ottawa, the Bruins’ opponent Tuesday. This season, Khudobin allowed just one goal in 28 shots in the Bruins’ 2-1 win over the Senators March 21.
However, Khudobin didn’t look sharp on the back end of his only other back-to-back starts this season. Two days after his 27-save performance against Ottawa, Khudobin allowed three goals in the Bruins’ 3-2 loss to Toronto. Khudobin was pulled after the third goal, an in-tight chance by fourth-liner Frazer McLaren that clanged off his pad and across the line.
Tuukka Rask allowed two goals to the Flyers Saturday. Philadelphia’s third goal was an empty-netter.
Khudobin is 7-3-0 with a 2.07 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage. Khudobin will be an unrestricted free agent at year’s end. The No. 2 goalie has made a case for another NHL contract. It’s doubtful Khudobin will return to Boston. With Rask (restricted free agent) set to strike it rich, the Bruins will most likely turn to Niklas Svedberg to be the backup goalie next year. Svedberg is in the first season of a two-year, $2 million contract.
Kelly, McQuaid skate
Chris Kelly (broken left tibia) and Adam McQuaid (strained left shoulder) skated on Monday. Both are hoping to see action before the end of the regular season April 27. Kelly has missed the last 11 games. McQuaid has been out for six straight games. During Kelly’s absence, the No. 3 line has not scored an even-strength goal. Jay Pandolfo, Rich Peverley, and Jordan Caron have been the most recent forwards on the line. It is the Bruins’ No. 1 priority to fix via trade before Wednesday’s deadline . . . It’s possible Kaspars Daugavins could make his Bruins debut Tuesday against his former club. The Bruins claimed the forward from Ottawa on waivers. He was not eligible to play the last three games because he had not obtained his work visa . . . The Bruins did not practice on Monday after returning from Buffalo early in the morning . . . Eighteen players had their heads shaved in Monday’s Cuts for a Cause charity event at Royale Boston. The proceeds benefited the Boston Bruins Foundation, the Shawn Thornton Foundation, and Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. “I’m very happy it’s a success again,” said Thornton, who has been leading the event. “It keeps on getting bigger and bigger.” Bauer Hockey led the bidding by forking over $5,000 to shave Brad Marchand’s head.