By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
The vacation vibes are officially last week’s news. Despite a fast start and a solid first 40 minutes, the Bruins were blown out by a structured and opportunistic Islanders squad. Evaluating this contest will be a challenge given Boston’s self-destruct sequence in the third but that’s why we are here. Let’s break the game down and assign some 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 first period featured two teams known for their defense trading offensive blows before settling into a more structured affair in the second. The third-period totals reaffirm what we saw with our eyes. All in all, this was a much closer affair than the final score.
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.
Jack Studnicka (A) – There is no doubt that Studnicka belongs at center and that he can play the position in the NHL. The question remains whether he will be a 2C or 3C. He made arguments for both in this game. In favor of slotting in higher in the lineup, he played above the puck well, facilitated through the middle, and generated several scoring opportunities including hitting a crossbar. While Smith received credit for the Bs second goal, Studnicka’s net drive deserves acknowledgment though it won’t show up in the boxcar or fancy stats. The argument for being a 3C is simple, while he is responsible and creates, he may lack the skill, strength, and patience to convert at the highest level. Time will tell, and hopefully, more experience and man strength are all Studnicka needs to reach his potential.
Craig Smith (A) – It’s ironic that the high-volume shooter, who attempted a shot from the corner tonight, tallied his goal on a deflected pass. Smith had a strong, and clever, individual effort to take the DeBrusk lob in stride and get up ice leading to the tally. The winger showcased his playmaking skills on a couple of occasions and helped advance the puck up the ice. Smith continued to churn until the last whistle which deserves praise as it was not true of the whole roster.
Urho Vaakanainen (A) – Earlier in the week the venerable Fluto Shinzawa suggested Vaakanainen could have a higher ceiling than Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril. This game showed why. Though he is a quieter player than the other two, he is adept at throwing tape-to-tape darts up ice. He is also better at 1v1 with better closing ability and edgework, a JG Pageau clever move in the second aside. He also is good at sorting things out in his own end and made an excellent complement to the roving McAvoy. He was marginally outmuscled by Anders Lee on the sixth goal but he had good position and the game was effectively over at that point.
Nick Ritchie (A) – Ritchboi was among the team leaders in offense and possession, again, while picking up an even-strength goal. While not the most fleet of foot, he was disruptive on the forecheck and defensively sound. He faded a bit in the third and was on the ice for Jordan Eberle’s odd-man rush goal despite a strong effort to get back on the play.
Jakub Zboril (B+) – Whatever was ailing little Z seems to be in the rearview mirror. He came out with jump and look confident with the puck and up in the play. His backhand pass through traffic to Ritchie was spectacular. He was good on the breakout per usual. Perhaps what speaks most to his performance is he made his partner, Carlo, better by being a reliable outlet and helping to advance the puck. He still had a couple rough 1v1s especially in the third.
Charlie Coyle (B) – Coyle was one of the Bruins’ best players tonight through two periods. He did an excellent job of transporting the puck from the defensive zone to the offensive zone. His stop up and cut to the middle bought time for Zboril to get up ice on Boston’s first goal. He was caught on a few long shifts buried in the defensive zone though and, like the rest of the team, really struggled in the third.
Jake DeBrusk (B) – The fourth-year winger is doing all he can to impact the game. DeBrusk’s feet are moving, he is forechecking, and trying to make things happen. Unfortunately, the results still have not come this season. A great steal and breakaway chance in the second did not turn into a goal and the same goes for a good shot down the wing in the third. He had a couple of nice passes including his lob pass to Smith, taking a big hit for his efforts. His possession numbers were subpar tonight but I’m not sure that was on him.
Sean Kuraly (B) – Kuraly and company saw tough minutes tonight, most frequently matched up against the Barzal line. While their numbers weren’t great, given the competition, they deserve some credit with much of the praise going to Kuraly who was not responsible for the lapses in judgment that led to goals against. Kuraly was in on a couple of offensive chances which is a bonus given that’s not what he was asked to do on this night.
Brandon Carlo (B) – Carlo looked more comfortable in this game than he has in a while and his pair played well. Having a partner like Zboril, a puck mover, is key to Carlo’s success. Carlo unfortunately inadvertently passed the puck right to Adam Pelech on the Islanders’ first goal but otherwise, he had a solid night.
John Moore (B) – Moore had a couple of noticeable shifts on offense getting involved down the wall and even staying below the dots for a bit. He is capable, if not dynamic, on the second power-play unit. He didn’t have any real noticeable plays on the defensive side of the puck, exactly how you want it. On both goals he was on the ice for, it was hard to fault his effort or positioning. Moore is proving a solid depth defender for this squad, especially important given the current absences.
Charlie McAvoy (B-) – The Bruins’ top defender was exactly that through the first two stanzas. He was stout defensively and managed the puck extremely well. His activation off the point and bull dodge to the net in the second showed his offensive growth this season. McAvoy’s third was a microcosm for his team. His ill-advised pinch sent Barzal off to the races with Jordan Eberle. Given the time and score, it was an unnecessary risk. Just minutes later he whiffed on a puck at the blue line leading to JG Pageau’s shorthanded marker.
Conor Clifton (C+) – Clifton was fine for the most part in this game. While he struggled on a couple of retrievals he largely moved the puck well. He and Moore seemed a solid pair in a slightly sheltered role. Clifton could have done more to eat Halak’s clearing attempt on the seventh goal but that is perhaps a little nitpicky. Where he did make a poor, and crucial decision, is on the Islanders’ first goal. Though Barzal screeching through the middle was Wagner’s check, Clifton was overzealous on closing on the wall when he needed to do a better job of surveying the ice and eliminating the more dangerous play through the middle and covering for his wayward forward.
Patrice Bergeron/Brad Marchand/David Pastrnak (C) – The Bruins top line started the game out with a lively first couple of shifts. Otherwise, they were not at all dynamic for the rest of the night. They were kept largely at bay by the duo of Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock. They barely outplayed the Casey Cizikas line and were outplayed by the Brock Nelson line. Bergeron made an uncharacteristic guffaw turning over a retrieval that led to the Islanders’ first goal. Marchand struggled to muster his usual zest through the neutral zone. Despite five shots on goal, Pastrnak didn’t have any real dangerous chances illustrated by his meager 0.13 individual expected goals on the evening. The Bruins need better from their top unit against a New York team they have struggled with through three games.
Anders Bjork (C) – Bjork was a fine complimentary piece to his linemates but he didn’t really contribute tonight, a recurring trend for the speedy winger. He did not have so much as a shot attempt. He went to the net hard and had a couple decent defensive plays but more should be expected of a top-nine forward.
Trent Fredric (C) – The rookie forward was well on his way to a better grade putting together one of his better efforts on the wing. He had a couple of good scoring chances in the second and was working the puck well with Kuraly. The turning point of the game, though, was his crucial mistake overhandling the puck and not feeling the back pressure from Anthony Beauvillier right in front of his goaltender. Fredric always seems to have a smile on his face and it was sad to see his grin disappear.
Jaroslav Halak (C) – Halak was really good through two periods. In particular, he had a great scramble sequence in the second to keep the game knotted at twos. On goals three through five it is tough to fault the netminder but saving one of them would have kept his team’s hopes alive and he was unable to do so. He looked demoralized and out of it by goals six and seven.
Chris Wagner (D) – Wagner started the year off with pop playing physical and generating offense down the wing with regularity. That has ceased to be the case and he was pedestrian again in this contest. He also gets docked for his contribution to the Islanders’ first goal. His role on the forecheck is to stay above the late forward, Barzal, and his lackadaisical angle allowed the opposition’s most talented player the time and space to burst through the middle of the ice, something that should never happen.
Moment of the night
Yup, you said it Jaro…