Bruins may have found their new top power-play unit


The Bruins may have found the five-man unit that can get their power play back in gear, and it doesn’t include Brad Marchand or Patrice Bergeron. That’s no April Fools’ joke.

The Bruins scored two power-play goals in Saturday’s 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the first time they’ve done that since Dec. 19. The second one came right at the end of a power play with a mishmash unit that included A.J. Greer, Tomas Nosek and Brandon Carlo, with David Pastrnak tipping in a Dmitry Orlov shot. That’s not the unit we’re talking about.

The first goal came from the same unit that had also scored the Bruins’ previous two power-play goals, and it’s one that coach Jim Montgomery has started to use more over the last week: Charlie McAvoy at the point, Tyler Bertuzzi at the net-front, Pavel Zacha in the middle bumper, and Pastrnak and David Krejci on the wings.

Is Andrew Raycroft worried about the Bruins' power play?

Four-fifths of that unit -- everyone except Pastrnak -- was the clear No. 2 power-play unit at this time last week, at least in terms of ice time. At times, they were certainly as good as, if not better than the struggling top unit of Pastrnak, Bergeron, Marchand, Jake DeBrusk and Hampus Lindholm.

No one has yet declared this new-look fivesome, also known as the Czech unit, the No. 1 group, but they’re certainly playing like one. And for a Bruins team that has been desperately searching for power-play answers for weeks, it certainly seems like it would be worth taking a longer look at this.

The first sign that the Bruins were making a shift on the power play -- not yet a full-fledged change -- came at Tuesday’s morning skate. During power-play practice, coach Jim Montgomery rotated Pastrnak and Orlov between the “first” and “second” units. Afterwards, he explained that he did so because they wanted Pastrnak to start every power play, regardless of whether it was the first or second unit starting. Pastrnak isn’t on the same line as Bergeron and Marchand, so if those two had just been on the ice and needed a breather, there was no reason for Pastrnak to sit, too.

It was an interesting move, because just two days earlier, Montgomery had used the “Czech unit” as his de facto top power-play unit with Bergeron getting a rest day against the Carolina Hurricanes. They scored a goal, with some good body and puck movement ultimately leading to Zacha making a nice pivot in the slot before feeding Pastrnak for a one-time finish.

Montgomery explaining the shift as a way to prioritize Pastrnak’s power-play ice time was clever. It allowed him to take more of a look at the Czech unit without formally demoting Bergeron and Marchand -- his captain and alternate captain -- to the second unit.

No one scored on the power play Tuesday against Nashville, but in Thursday’s win over Columbus, the Czech unit struck again. More movement and more good passing, this time with McAvoy making a nifty pass to Zacha, Zacha charging down the slot, and then making a great dish to Bertuzzi in front for the tap-in.

Same story Saturday. On Boston’s first power play of the day, Pastrnak rotated out high and McAvoy moved down the left wall as the Bruins refused to give the Penguins penalty kill stationary targets. Eventually Krejci -- also on the move down the right side -- fed Bertuzzi down low. He popped the puck right into the slot for Zacha, who then made a great diving backhand pass over to a charging McAvoy for the goal.

It’s a small sample, but so far the unit of Pastrnak, McAvoy, Krejci, Zacha and Bertuzzi has scored three goals in just four games and 10:03 of power-play time playing together. That’s 17.91 goals per 60 minutes, more than double the Bruins’ season-long rate of 8.25, and more than three times their paltry rate of 4.94 since Jan. 26.

As was the case last Sunday, they were the de facto top unit on Saturday with Bergeron getting the weekend off (to tend to nagging upper- and lower-body injuries, according to Montgomery). When the Bruins started the second period on the power play, with everyone fresh, it was those five out there, not the now-second unit of Marchand, DeBrusk, Lindholm, Orlov and Charlie Coyle. They will likely be the top unit again on Sunday, unless one of them joins Bergeron in getting a rest day.

Whether Montgomery keeps them as the top unit when Bergeron returns remains to be seen. Having to tell Bergeron and Marchand they’re now on the second unit would be an unenviable task. But Montgomery is a good communicator and he can find the right way to deliver the message. He can explain that the Czech unit has been the hot hand, and that at this point in the season, with the playoffs right around the corner, he owes it to the team to ride them.

And that’s the truth. Right now, the Czech unit simply looks better than any Bruins power-play unit has looked in months. Krejci is always active and on the move on the power play. McAvoy looks like he’s playing with more freedom to move around vs. often looking too stationary at the top when he was with the Bruins’ usual top unit.

Zacha has been terrific in the bumper, constantly popping out into open space, attacking downhill and setting up teammates from the middle. Bertuzzi is a dog on a bone at the net-front. And everything all those guys are doing has created more space for the most dangerous weapon of all -- Pastrnak, who was too often struggling to get open over the last couple months.

Can the Pastrnak-McAvoy-Krejci-Zacha-Bertuzzi keep it up and give the Bruins the No. 1 power-play unit they’ll need for the playoffs? It’s been too small of a sample to say for sure, but they’ve been good enough that they at least deserve the opportunity.

For more Bruins coverage, tune in to Sunday Skate with Andrew Raycroft and Scott McLaughlin 10-11 a.m. on WEEI 93.7 FM, or the Audacy app.

Featured Image Photo Credit: USA TODAY Sports