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New Knights coach Bruce Cassidy specializes in special teams

It should come as no surprise that Bruce Cassidy has a fairly successful track record on special teams as a coach.

That’s one of the things he did well during an injury-plagued playing career that was limited to 36 NHL games.

“I wasn’t a great hockey player by any means, but the one strength I had is I could see the ice,” he said Thursday at his introductory news conference as the new coach of the Golden Knights. “I was a decent power-play guy, so for me it’s always been something I’ve just gravitated toward. It’s something I’ve always believed in.”

That was certainly a signature of his teams in Boston. In his five full seasons as coach, the Bruins finished in the top 10 in the NHL on the power play and penalty kill four times. They never finished below 16th in either category for a full season.

“Special teams are so important in the National Hockey League,” Cassidy said. “Our numbers speak for themselves in that area.”

The Bruins slipped to 15th on the power play this season at 21.2 percent, but that easily outpaced the 18.4 success rate (25th in the league) of the Knights’ unit.

The Knights also finished with a 77.4 percent mark on the penalty kill, 21st among the 32 teams.

That’s a major reason Cassidy was hired to replace the fired Pete DeBoer.

“I really can’t stress enough the importance of special teams, and I know it’s been a challenge here at different times in the past,” general manager Kelly McCrimmon said Thursday. “Bruce has done it again and again and again. That’s what to me is what’s impressive.

“I think in Bruce’s case, the penalty kill and the power play consistently have been very, very good for a long period of time. That is really important to us. It’s part of that decision-making process that we had in terms of what we think Bruce’s strengths are and what can translate to our team. It certainly was talked about a lot.”

Now it will be on Cassidy to turn the words into results.

That will start with implementing a power-play system that emphasizes getting the team’s most talented offensive players closer to the goal.

“I’ve always felt the majority of the play should go through those four forwards (on the power play),” Cassidy said. “They’re just typically more comfortable around the net. They want the puck around the net. They’re high-end guys that need the puck around the net. We want our options to be closer to the net, as close to the net as possible.”

Of course, personnel has to play some role in the construction of a game plan.

“I had a left stick on the half wall, but Jack Eichel’s a right stick,” Cassidy said. “So you have to start with where the pieces fit.”

The Knights have some effective players on the blue line who might be asked to play a bit different role under Cassidy on the power play.

“It’s attack mode but from lower parts of the ice,” he said. “So you have to make sure your (defensemen are) on board. If it’s used to running through (Alex) Pietrangelo or (Shea) Theodore, they have to make sure they’re facilitators as well and maybe not as much of a shooter. Those are all things that you go through.”

In the end, there’s not a magic formula.

“A lot of that is what is the skill set of the players, and a lot of that is practice,” Cassidy said. “I believe in practicing power plays as much as possible with pressure. That’s how I’ve tried to do it over the years. There’s entries, there’s faceoffs, there’s other things, but as you can tell, I like the power play.”

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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