Nick Goss

NHL trade deadline: Bruins' special teams woes show need for upgrades

The Bruins' penalty kill is in a slump right now.

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There's a lot to like about where the Boston Bruins stand in the NHL hierarchy in mid-February.

The Original Six franchise sits atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 32-11-10 record (74 points). They own the league's second-best goal differential (plus-46) and rank sixth in goals scored (178) and third in goals against (136). Boston is actually the only team to rank in the top six of both goals scored and goals against.

But there are some concerning trends emerging for the Bruins right now, and they serve as proof that reinforcements are needed before the March 8 NHL trade deadline, especially if this team is going to make a deep playoff run.

These trends are on special teams, where the Bruins have struggled of late.

The power play issues were front and center in Tuesday night's 3-2 shootout loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning -- a potential first-round playoff opponent for the B's. Boston had six power-play opportunities and didn't score on any of them.

“Our power play needs to come through for us there,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery told reporters postgame. “Can’t go 0-for-6. That’s an area that we have to look at right now."

What plagued the power play Tuesday?

“I just don’t think our puck decisions and our puck movement were quick enough,” Montgomery said. “I don’t think we passed the puck crisp enough to be able to beat the execution of their penalty kill.”

The Bruins are in the midst of a seven-game home stand. They have converted on just one of 17 power-play opportunities over the first four games of that stretch.

The B's have a lot of good options to put on the power play, which is why they rank 8th on the power play overall this season with a 24 percent success rate. But another middle-six forward who can bury some of the scoring chances generated with the man advantage would be a meaningful upgrade to this roster.

The more glaring issue right now is the penalty kill.

The Bruins had the third-best penalty kill (85.8 percent) from Opening Night through the start of the holiday break on Dec. 24. But since the break ended, the B's rank 25th on the penalty kill with a 76.3 percent success rate. Boston gave up a power-play goal to Lightning star Nikita Kucherov on Tuesday night.

One problem for the Bruins is they are taking too many penalties. They've been shorthanded for 317:17 of ice time this season. Only the Anaheim Ducks have spent more time killing penalties. The B's have allowed 296 scoring chances to opposing power plays, which ranks 26th out of 32 teams.

Adding a defenseman who can kill penalties, win puck battles in the tough areas of the ice, block shots and clear traffic from the front of the net would be a huge upgrade for this roster.

One of the Bruins' best penalty killers is Derek Forbort. He has missed 25 of 53 games this season due to injuries. Can he be relied on to play at a high level and be healthy for a deep playoff run? More defensive depth would mitigate that risk.

Special teams are really important and often make a huge difference in the playoffs.

The Bruins led the league with a 87.3 penalty kill percentage last season. It dropped to 75 percent in the playoffs, where the B's were eliminated in a stunning seven-game upset vs. the Florida Panthers in the first round. The Panthers scored four power-play goals over the last three games, including two tallies in Game 6 and the opening goal of Game 7.

The Bruins don't have a ton of premium trade assets after going all-in at the trade deadline last season. So if they only make one meaningful move to improve this year's roster before March 8, it should be for a defenseman, and preferably one who can kill penalties.

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