By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
This game will certainly not be confused with a track meet. Both teams played a measured game attempting to catch the other off guard with stretch passes or to penetrate the other’s defensive structure with extended zone time. In the end, the Bruins created more dynamic chances and were well-positioned to finish off the bounces. Let’s break the game down and assign player grades.
While the numbers aren’t the whole story they can give us a glimpse into the flow of the game and a starting point for a discussion on what went well, or not so much, in a given game.
The numbers confirm this was a defensive-minded affair with a low number of shot attempts and less than one expected goal each in over 50 minutes of even-strength hockey. The shots on goal, including special teams, were 20-17 in favor of Boston. The Bruins bucked their early-season second-period woes putting together a solid frame after again coming out strong in the first. The third-period numbers are largely impacted by score effects with the Bruins playing a more conservative brand of hockey while protecting the lead. The Bruins did a much better job getting to the front of the net than the Penguins and were rewarded for it, scoring all of their goals from in between the hash marks.
In this section, we give each player a grade for their play in this particular game. The grades are more art than science. The game scores below are one part of the equation giving us an objective measure to start with, though it doesn’t always tell you the true picture of an individual game. Hockey is a game of process and moments. Over the long haul, the process should win out but at a game-by-game level, moments matter. Both will be considered before assigning a grade to each player. Our expectations for each player will also be a factor.
Please feel free to agree or disagree in the comments or on Twitter but keep the name-calling to a minimum.
Matt Grzelcyk (A) – Before yet another unfortunate injury forced him out of the game, Grzelcyk was playing really well. The diminutive defender led the team in game score, despite missing a whole period of action, and ranks third for the season trailing only Bergeron and Marchand. He picked his spots in the offensive zone and two of his pinches led to goals though he was only credited with the assist on one of them. Grzelcyk does get outmuscled on the puck once or twice a game but he does so many other things that positively impact the game. Any missed time will negatively impact the team. It seems the only thing that can derail the Massachusetts native’s coming out party this season is his body.
Patrice Bergeron (A) – It’s hard to argue with Bergeron’s two goals, both of which were plays only the top players can make. Bergeron was his usual self off the puck and in the defensive zone.
Snipe, Celly (I’ve been watching a lot of Letterkenny this week)!
David Krejci (A) – The Bruins controlled the game when Krejci was on the ice to the tune of 79% of the expected goals. Krejci supported and facilitated for his linemates all night. He was patient on zone entries and waited before making a cross-crease pass that Smith just missed for a tap-in. While he won’t get credit on the scoresheet, he made two decisive plays, including on the forecheck, in the sequence leading to Bergeron’s second goal.
Charlie McAvoy (A) – To me, this was the former Long Beach Marine’s best game of the season. The second period was especially strong. Throughout the game he was solid in his neutral zone defense, killing plays before entry, and he was masterful at creating space for himself to make breakout passes. Where I thought he excelled and hopefully can build off of, is his decision making on when and how to jump into the play. It was on point tonight with good, and not reckless, decisions.
Brandon Carlo (A) – I liked Carlo’s game today. I thought he was assertive in the neutral zone and broke the puck out well. He deserves credit on the Bruins’ third goal where his puck support as the second layer of the rush ensured the Bruins maintained possession long enough to pad their lead. He was again the anchor of an extremely good penalty-killing unit.
Anders Bjork (A) – Bjork has possibly been the most maligned Bruin so far this season. He has twice been challenged by Coach Bruce Cassidy to carve out a role for himself. Tonight is hopefully a building block in that call to action. Bjork skated hard, engaged in battles, transported the puck up ice, and added some creativity and possession with the puck to the fourth line. His efforts are directly responsible for both goals his line scored tonight. He needs to show he can play like this on a regular basis.
Sean Kuraly (A) – Kuraly has been making a point to get to the net the last couple of games and was deserving of a reward which he got tonight, a gift that grazed his leg on the way past Jarry. He created a couple of other chances and was a big part of the fourth line’s effectiveness on the forecheck.
Chris Wagner (A) – The other goal scorer on the line, Wagner is off to a really good start this season. He deserves a lot of credit for his goal despite the fortuitous bounce that saw the rubber disc land on his blade. He swung high in the zone earlier in the sequence to cover for a defenseman and upon the Bruins gaining possession quickly transitioned into the high slot, exactly where he should go in such situations. For his conscientious play, he was rewarded with a goal. The fourth line made smart plays like that all night, which coupled with their compete level, made for a great game.
Brad Marchand (B) – I didn’t think this was Marchand’s best night. He cheated for offense on the goal against, badly losing the battle on the sideboard after Lauzon’s desperate rim. He wasn’t as dynamic through the neutral zone and didn’t control the puck in the offensive zone like usual. Marchand is a special player though and even on a below-average night for him, he played pitch and catch on Bergeron’s one-time goal and had a glorious opportunity shorthanded.
Craig Smith (B) – Smith had his moments in this game. He led the team with four shots on goal, though only one dangerous one, and was second in individual expected goals to Bergeron. He helped keep a few plays alive and drew a penalty with his speed. He did not quite find a rhythm, possibly a product of shifting linemates throughout the contest.
Charlie Coyle (B) – Coyle was far from dynamic in this game only having a couple of moments where he was a threat to score or create, such as a power move from behind the net in the third where he almost jammed the puck past Tristan Jarry. He was responsible over all 200-feet though and did a nice job playing out of position. Missing Pastrnak and Debrusk, Coyle was the best fit to ride shotgun on the top-line and it was not a coincidence they scored as soon as the switch was made.
Par Lindholm (B) – The Black n’ Gold crew know my unconditional love for Par! I’m a Par apologist, supporter, or whatever you want to call it. Lindholm gets a B tonight for having the most Par game. What did he do out there you ask? Exactly! Not much happens when he is on the ice and that is what I appreciate about him. He is always above the puck to thwart enemy advances and allows his linemates to do their thing. While I’d love to give him an A, you do need to have a little more impact on the game to earn one. He was solid in his first action of the season.
Jack Studnicka (B) – I waffled between B and C for Studnicka tonight. His line didn’t get that much going and he only had a single shot attempt to his name. However, I felt like he was the one his line creating. He showed more jump through the neutral zone than we have seen from him in his fledgling NHL career and he was trying to create whenever he had the puck on his stick. He had a couple of nice passing sequences and flubbed a great chance from the slot in the first. Because of these flashes, I gave him a higher grade though it will need to lead to more results moving forward. If Studnicka can improve his skating, specifically laterally, and get his puck skills and decision making just a little sharper, the Bruins will have a player.
Jaroslav Halak (B) – Halak didn’t have to be great in this game. The Bruins were so sound defensively. The one goal against was unfortunate and one Halak occasionally stops. The Slovak netminder did what was asked of him tonight and is deserving of the win. I did also enjoy Halak’s boisterous play with the puck this evening though I’m not sure I’m in the majority of Bruins followers on that take.
Jeremy Lauzon (B) – Lauzon played well. He took a minor penalty when he lost body positioning and was forced to rim the puck on a couple of occasions rather than making a cleaner play such as on the Penguins’ lone goal. Otherwise, he was in control most of the game handling his assignments well and making simple plays up ice. When matched up against strong competition Lauzon cannot chase the play trying to make things happen. He has to let the play come to him, which he did well tonight.
Nick Ritchie (C) – This was not Ritchboi’s best night and in fact, may have been his quietest of the young season. After leading the team in individual expected goals several times this season, Ritchie posted a goose egg. What I did like about his game tonight was that even though his offense wasn’t there he made several strong defensive plays supporting down low and did a nice job breaking the puck out and winning battles. If you’re going to have an off-night it’s important to still be contributing in some way.
Trent Fredric (C) – Fredric had one nice passing sequence with Studnicka and a shift where he rattled the cages of Kris Letang and Evgeni Malkin. Otherwise, he was not particularly noticeable. He didn’t do anything wrong and tried on a couple of occasions to be physical but it just wasn’t there. I question his ability to create on his own and tonight spoke to that concern. In terms of the players fighting to stay in the lineup, Fredric had the least impact on tonight’s game. He has the potential to bring a lot to the lineup and will need to keep proving it after a good start to the season.
Kevan Miller/Jakub Zboril (D)– I’m grouping these two together tonight because while they each had their own deficiencies, the results were the same, the Bruins buried in their own end for the duration of most shifts. They were the only two blueliners in the negatives for possession and were well below break-even, even before score effects took over in the third. Miller failed to advance the puck in a way where the puck didn’t just come right back into the zone. Zboril’s lateral mobility wasn’t good enough to close on players zipping around his defensive zone. The pair, to their credit, did scratch and claw to survive but that will not be good enough on most nights.
Moment(s) of the night
The Bruins worked hard tonight and were often in the right spots. When you do that, sometimes the puck just finds you and ends up in the back of the net. The first goal of the night by Wagner set the tone.
In anticipation of the matchup with former captain Zdeno Chara on Saturday, who just notched his first goal as a Capital, some food for thought.
And finally, a classy move by the Bruins in support of a young man who suffered a spinal cord injury while playing in a game early this week. #Bruinsnation is with you A.J.