By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
Twelve games into the season the Boston Bruins sit atop the pandemic-induced East Division. The boys from Beantown have been on a tear after coming out of the gate a little sluggish. Let’s look under the hood at some key numbers as well as the cumulative player grades from our report card series now that we have completed a little over 21 percent of the season.
Before the season we discussed some key metrics Bruins’ fans would want to keep track of that could make or break the season. We will check in on those at the start of this section and then cherry-pick some other team and individual stats of interest. As always, numbers are not the only thing but can give us some valuable context as we watch the games and evaluate the team. With the Bruins results so positive to start the season, I’ve chosen to mostly focus on the reasons why rather than ringing any alarm bells.
119.95 – When combining the powerplay and penalty kill percentages we get this gaudy number. For context, anything above 100 is respectable and the Bruins finished last season at an impressive 109.5. There is no doubt the Bs success on special teams is having an outsized impact on their early success. Sustaining this number is likely unrealistic.
2.07 – One of the biggest concerns for the Bruins faithful coming into the season was 5v5 play, especially the ability to score. The team’s front office felt similarly adding Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, and Craig Smith over the past 12 months in hopes of improving this facet of the squad. At 2.07 expected goals per 60 minutes, the Bruins sit 20th in the league, a very similar spot to where they ended last season. While that is likely to anger the fan base, the team currently sits sixth in expected goals for percentage at 54.82. It’s possible the Bruins just like to play conservative 5v5 hockey.
1.71 – The defensive corps was another hot topic of conversation over the course of the off-season with big concerns about filling the holes left behind by Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. So far, the evidence suggests the anxiety was overblown. At 5v5 the Bruins are conceding just 1.71 expected goals per 60 minutes, good for second in the league. Last year they finished second as well but conceded 1.98. They have likewise improved at suppressing shots, giving up just 45.37 shot attempts and 22.84 shots on goal per 60, both substantial improvements on last year’s stingy team defense. In Fluto Shinzawa’s piece unearthing this improvement, Coach Cassidy credited this to the team’s ability to be more aggressive in their own zone and quicker on exits.
97.7 – PDO is a stat combining save percentage (.911) and shooting percentage (9.7). The mean is 100 which the Bruins have regularly surpassed due to their strong goaltending and a few elite shooters. Missing David Pastrnak early, and a couple of mediocre starts from Tuukka Rask likely contributes to the lower number. Expect Boston’s PDO to go up before the halfway point in the season.
2.39 – This is David Pastrnak’s game score which currently leads the league. If anyone doubted how significant a factor he is for the Bruins’ success, or what a dynamic player he is, this is further proof that you are utterly wrong.
1.15 – Other than the top line, Nick Ritchie has accounted for the most individual expected goals per 60 minutes. While some of this is a product of being on one of the league’s best powerplay units, he has also been productive at 5v5 where only Craig Smith sneaks past him in the rankings.
15 – When looking at data tracked by the king of micro-stats Corey Sznajder, I expected to see Brad Marchand way ahead of the pack in zone entries. While he is strong in this area, several other forwards popped including Charlie Coyle and Chris Wagner. In the three Bruins games Sznajder tracked, it was actually Craig Smith that led the team with 15 entries with ten of those being carries and not a single one failing. Sznajder’s tracking also shows that the new acquisition is one of the bigger contributors on zone exits and on the forecheck. While sometimes Smith is more quantity than quality, it is evident he is making an impact on driving play in the right direction.
Data courtesy of ShutdownLine, NaturalStatTrick, Moneypuck, Hockey-Reference, and Evolving-Hockey
Let me start this section by giving a big thanks to our readers (community) for engaging with our report card series. Sharing thoughts and conversations with you all has been one of the highlights of the season for the authors. Below is an aggregate of the grades for each player to date. In the report cards, we give letter grades and those have been converted here to numbers much like grade point average in school. A four equals an A and zero is an F. It would be impossible for a player to score a four cumulatively as it is just not possible to bring your A-game every night in the NHL. Players are human, play banged up, face elite competition, and sometimes just get unlucky.
For a little more context on our grading system: An A means a player had a significant positive impact on the game and no real mistakes; a B signifies a good game but a little more limited results or with some minor mistakes; a C is a game where a player wasn’t as noticeable but made a couple of plays and had some mistakes but no major guffaws; a D signifies a player had a negative impact on the team throughout their minutes; and while we have yet to give out an F we could probably describe it as Nick Ritchie’s bubble game against Tampa Bay.
I’ve also included Game Score in the table as another metric to look at a player’s performance beyond our less than scientific grading method. Game Score was developed by Dom Luszczyszyn and borrows from basketball by assigning a value to events that happen in a game to glean an overall impact score for each player. It is not a perfect stat undervaluing a player like Brandon Carlo since many of his plays like a simple bump pass or neutral zone stop don’t show up in any data. It also overvalues events like empty-net goals. Having said that, it is a great starting point for analyzing which players are contributing positively, or negatively, to a team’s success.
|Game Score |
The Bruins are off to a good start this season and while their recent streak is likely not sustainable over the whole season, the numbers and grades do show that they are playing well and their success is not just luck. We will be back at the halfway mark to check back in on the numbers driving the team’s performance and assess the players. Let’s go Bs!