By: Cameron McCusker | Follow Me On Twitter: @CSthinks
While Oskar Sundqvist’s dirty hit on Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Finals warranted both a minor penalty and a one-game suspension, the Boston Bruins found themselves feeling the repercussions (and concussions) of that incident for a much longer period of time.
Oskar Sundqvist hits #Bruins‘ Matt Grzelcyk from behind late in the 1st and gets two minutes for boarding.
— Hockey Night in Canada (@hockeynight) May 30, 2019
As the hit took place early on in Game 2, Grzelcyk has essentially missed five games of the Stanley Cup Final. The Bruins have gone on to win just two of these games, while losing three games, including the game from which Grzelcyk was removed for injury. On the contrary, the Bruins have won every the single game in which Grzelcyk remained healthy during the Final. While one game is a small sample size, it’s also all that stands between the Bruins and the greatest prize in professional sports.
St. Louis’ Oskar Sundqvist has been suspended for one game for Boarding Boston’s Matt Grzelcyk. https://t.co/2W0ZLnn9fI
— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) May 31, 2019
Sure, the Bruins have been able to string together a couple wins without Grzelcyk. But anyone who would argue that the Bruins’ third defensive pairing, not to mention their team as a whole, has been missing the completeness and maturity of Grzelcyk’s game has not been watching.
In Grizz’s stead, John Moore has stepped in and has been…present. The predicament that Bruce Cassidy and the rest of the string-pullers behind the Black and Gold curtain find themselves in is a tricky one, which couldn’t come at a more critical time:
If Matt Grzelcyk is cleared to play in Game 7, do the Bruins opt to put him into the lineup, or stick with John Moore?
The Case For Grzelcyk
Bruins fans know just how good Grzelcyk is, and has been, for the entirety of the 2019 postseason. A stalwart for the Bruins all year on their third-pairing, Grzelcyk’s upside has skyrocketed far beyond what most Bruins fans imagined at the start of the season. While he showed flashes of skating ability and strong puck-moving ability last season, he elevated his game to a new level throughout 2018-2019, and well into the playoffs.
What makes his health so important to the Bruins’ success in a seven-game series against St. Louis is the exact same reason that he has been injured for the majority of the series—the St. Louis forecheck. The Blues have demonstrated a propensity for aggressive play in the offensive zone on the forecheck in an attempt to disrupt clean zone exits by Boston. This aggression has at times proven to be dirty play, manifesting itself through hits from behind, hits to the head, and the occasional slewfoot. I’m not here to enforce the rules. It seems too that, at times, the referees aren’t even here to enforce the rules.
The Acciari trip in question pic.twitter.com/mrOAvvCZEd
— Alison (@AlisonL) June 7, 2019
But I digress.
Grzelcyk is not just effective in the Bruins’ own zone against St. Louis, but his ability to snap tape-to-tape passes out of the zone in concert with his ability to beat forecheckers with speed make him an invaluable asset. The quicker the Bruins can break it out of their own zone, the less time they spend there. Read a book for once.
Having a defenseman who can, at times, singlehandedly surpass a forecheck designed to make the game tougher on the Bruins, inherently makes the game easier on the entire Black and Gold roster. Fewer minutes in the D-zone means fewer tough minutes, which means that the majority of the Bruins’ energy can be allotted towards effectiveness in the offensive zone (bingos, ginos, daggers, lazershows…goals).
— Casey Baker (@CaseyBake16) May 12, 2019
It would be difficult to argue that John Moore’s upside accomplishes half of what a healthy Grzelcyk’s does. As such, and as is the nature of the hypothetical I’ve raised, the issue lies with just how healthy Grzelcyk is, even if he is cleared to play.
The Case for Moore
It would be impossible to argue that John Moore has not played in the four most recent games of the Stanley Cup Final. There is video evidence of him playing in the aforementioned games. John Moore is a defenseman who has played in the 2018-2019 Stanley Cup Final.
Has John Moore’s play hurt the Bruins in any overt or measurable way? No. His +/- even sits in the positives (at a whopping +1) for the series, whereas his +/- throughout the postseason stands at -3. Plus/minus does not tell the whole story of any one player’s performance. Heck (yes, heck), it doesn’t even tell all that much about a player’s performance. But you can’t ask much more of a seventh/eighth defenseman than to step into the lineup and be unremarkable.
Through his first three games of the series, Moore played… hockey. He played hockey. He wasn’t bad. He wasn’t good. But he was in the lineup, and that’s a fact.
Where this hypothetical gets even Moore interesting is after watching Moore’s performance in Game 6. Moore played 17 minutes in a must-win game, and by all accounts… he played well. Moore’s gutty performance featured a hit and three key shot blocks. While Moore has never lit the world on fire offensively with the Bruins, his best efforts have come when he plays a gritty, hard-nosed style of hockey.
Tonight, Charlie McAvoy led #NHLBruins with 25:22 Time On Ice & 5 hits. Patrice Bergeron put 6 shots on goal. Sean Kuraly had 3 takeaways. John Moore led with 3 blocked shots. Brandon Carlo finished with a +3.
— Shawn Hutcheon (@ShawnHutcheon) June 10, 2019
While he was on the ice for 100% of St. Louis’s goals (1) in Game 6, he made a strong case to remain in the lineup for the upcoming series-clincher on Wednesday night. It will be interesting to see whether Cassidy opts to keep his Game 6 lineup intact or to roll the dice and play Grzelcyk who has been on the shelf for two weeks. As for me, I hate rolling dice, but I love Matt Grzelcyk.
A lot of people grow up imagining themselves scoring the game-winner in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but not me. I grew up imagining Matt Grzelcyk scoring the Cup-winning goal. If Grizz is healthy enough to go for Game 7, I want to see him in the lineup. And if you don’t want to see that happen, then you are officially not invited to my birthday party. Sorry.
Big Thanks to Me
Before you go, I’d like you all to take a moment to appreciate that I have typed the name ‘Grzelcyk’ no fewer than twenty times. It hasn’t been easy. I’ve almost always typed ‘Grzelyck,’ on my first attempt, and have subsequently had to type Grze…#48’s name twice for every time I wanted to reference him. There were times when I wanted to quit. But I persevered. After all, this is Game 7 we’re talking about, and I wasn’t going to let a little a lot of adversity slow me down. Round of applause for me.