By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
The sequel to Saturday’s matchup with Washington had a similar script but an alternate ending. After spotting the Capitals a three-goal lead for the second game in a row, the Bruins not only stormed back but were able to close the deal with five unanswered goals including the game-winner from unlikely hero Brandon Carlo. In doing so, Boston handed Washington its first regulation loss and gained two crucial points in the early chase to the top of the East division.
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 Bruins looked a little sluggish and sloppy in the first period. While the 5v5 numbers look fairly even, the reality is the Caps controlled the period other than the first five minutes. They also had nearly four minutes in powerplay time which did not help Boston’s cause. All of it was enough to get out to a two-goal lead. The second was a penalty-filled period that lacked flow. The Capitals managed a powerplay goal while the Bruins got some life after a Pastrnak snipe off a set play. The Bruins just dominated the third. With the Caps sitting back, the Bs piled on the pressure and it proved enough to complete the comeback.
The Bruins managed more opportunities from the mid-slot than they have all season likely due to the presence of David Pastrnak who is great at finding soft space in the middle of the offensive zone. On the defensive side, the Bruins gave up fewer opportunities from on top of the blue paint, an issue in the previous contest.
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.
Brad Marchand (A) – Marchand, like the rest of the team, had some rough moments in the first period. For Marchand, it was blowing a tire and crashing into the boards. He popped back up from it and was the best player on the ice. Having Pastrnak back allows Marchand to circle the zone, maintain possession, and show off his playmaking skills. These were all illustrated by his beautiful retrieval, curl up the boards, and brilliant pass to Pastrnak in the slot for goal number two.
David Pastrnak (A) – It’s scary to say that the man they call Pasta has more to give than he did in this game. He had a few moments where it still looked like his body was catching up to his brain. He is such a strong player that he was still good enough to bury two goals. Both were vintage Pastrnak finding quiet parts of the ice, quickly getting in a shooting position, and sniping.
Jeremy Lauzon (A) – Lauzon’s one guffaw in this game, a hooking penalty on Tom Wilson, was a necessary foul to commit. While the defender lost body position on the powerful forward he was forced into it by some sloppy play from his teammates. Lauzon is showing increased poise and confidence. He was physical at the right times in the defensive zone, an area of improvement for him. His assist on the game-tying goal was well earned after protecting the puck and finding a seam across the crease for Craig Smith.
Charlie McAvoy (A) – With McAvoy, and elite players in general, you live with some risks and mistakes. In this game, it was trying to make a move late in the second at the offensive blue which turned into a giveaway and rush chance for Alex Ovechkin. Otherwise, McAvoy was rock solid tonight. His possession numbers were sterling largely due to his ability to evade pressure and start the transition. He was especially good tonight in his neutral zone defense and smart on his rushes.
Brandon Carlo (A) – This was a tale of two games for Carlo. After starting off the game ringing one off the crossbar he stumbled a bit, figuratively and literally. His gaps in the first period were much too big and it left him flat-footed and awkward on several occasions. By the second period, he got back to what he does best, tight defending and subtle plays to advance the puck. He was impactful on offense in this game with the aforementioned meeting with iron, another chance after following up the rush, and of course his timely cut and one-time finish for the game-winner. When Carlo scores, let alone the game-winner, he gets an A!
Kevan Miller (A) – Miller’s escape turn on Garnett Hathaway was right out of a hockey school drill. As he settles back into regular NHL action he has seemed more elusive and that particular play was a great illustration. If the former Catamount can continue to play this way, the Bruins will have a solid third pairing and appease many concerns coming into the season.
Patrice Bergeron (B) – The captain was lauded on the broadcast for his presence at the net-front on both Pastrnak goals. He certainly deserves credit for plays like those and his line was awesome tonight. Having said that, he did not drive play or generate opportunities as well as usual this game
Nick Ritchie (B) – This grade is an example of the eye test versus the analytics. It seemed a quiet game for Ritchie. He had a good opportunity on a jam play early and was fine in his own end but didn’t seem to be creating much or to be overly engaged. Then you look at the numbers and he led the team at even strength in individual expected goals and posted a good in-ice expected goals percentage. He also played his role well on the powerplay.
Chris Wagner (B) – The coaching staff gave Wagner a shot a little higher in the lineup following a string of strong games. It was short-lived and he did his best work in this game back on his usual line. He didn’t generate off the rush like usual but made a pivotal play to keep the play alive and move the puck low to Kuraly on the game-winning goal.
Craig Smith (B) – This was a low-event game relatively speaking. Smith had four attempts and three shots on the net, not bad for most players. In the first half of the game, the winger had trouble getting things going. He also was bounced around the lineup. In the third, Smith got going and had an excellent period punctuated by a great shift where he managed to bury the game-tying goal.
Sean Kuraly (B) – The fourth-line center was quiet for much of this game. His linemates varied throughout this game and while they didn’t create much they also didn’t give up anything at all in return. Kuraly deserves a lot of credit for stabilizing the line. With his most common running mates the last few games intact late in the third, he made a great play to protect the puck before finding Carlo cutting towards the net.
Anders Bjork (B) – Bjork might be finally claiming an identity for himself. His forechecking in this game was excellent and while he won’t get an assist, it was his disruption of the Capitals’ breakout that led to the game-winning goal. He also rescued the puck from danger in the defensive zone and swiftly brought it up ice on a couple of occasions. After a good game on Saturday, this effort should help build more trust with the coaching staff.
Jakub Zboril (B) – Little Z, which seems to be a thing now, still has some things to work out. He had a real tough shift late in the first where he panicked with the puck on more than one occasion and just seemed out of sorts. However, he made some notably positive plays in the second at a pivotal time for the team. Zboril shut down several rushes with great gaps in the neutral zone and showed patience and awareness with the heads up pass to Pastrnak for the ice-breaking goal.
Jaroslav Halak (B) – Halak likely wants the Chara goal back and not just because he probably has to hear about it from his former teammate and fellow Slovak in English and their native tongue. He seemed to be expecting more traffic or a tip rather than treating it as a straight shot. The puck subsequently snuck inside the post. It’s hard to fault him on the other two goals and Halak was the Bruins’ best penalty killer with several great saves on Alex Ovechkin blasts.
Trent Fredric (C) – The rookie forward deserves credit for his bravery, Tom Wilson is a tough customer. You have to appreciate his desire to be involved in the game. Whether the fight swung the momentum, as the NESN post-game argued, is a discussion for another day. In the first half of the game Fredric was invisible aside from a couple of defensive miscues but about halfway through the game he started engaging more in puck battles and was disruptive on the forecheck. While all that should be appluaded he needs to start showing he can have a greater impact on the game to stay in the top-nine.
David Krejci (C) – This was not the Czech’s best effort. He failed to create much for himself or his linemates in this game and they struggled from a possession standpoint. The rotating cast of wingers probably doesn’t help or please the fanbase but Krejci still needed to do more. His penalty behind the opposing goalie was careless. He did have some positive moments on the power play, a great backcheck in the third to break up a rush, and he made a silky smooth flip pass to Marchand for the empty netter.
Charlie Coyle (C) – Coyle’s game was uneventful. He didn’t generate much aside from a couple of good rushes through the neutral zone that still didn’t amount to much. He and Clifton also miscommunicated on the Capitals entry crisscross allowing Sprong to beat him inside. Coyle is in a bit of a slump.
Connor Clifton (D) – Clifton’s decision-making is not good enough to be a top-four defenseman and if it doesn’t improve may limit his time as an NHL-er. He frequently rushes breakout passes and makes ill-advised steps on 1v1s or in the neutral zone. His compete level is there and it is sometimes enough to make up for his mistakes. There is still time for him to figure it out but it was not evident in this game where he was by far the Bruins’ worst defenseman.
Karson Kuhlman (Incomplete) – Kuhlman only played five and a half minutes in the contest. He had one shot attempt and not much happened while he was on the ice for either team. His numbers don’t look good but this is an incomplete body of work. Kuhlman played more than 12 minutes last game which makes you wonder what the coaching staff didn’t like tonight.
Moment of the night
While the Bruins were staging a comeback the Pride were fighting for their chance to keep playing and succeded in decisive fashion. It was a good night for bear-themed hockey teams from Boston!