By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
Two teams with Stanley Cup aspirations, and in a fight for the top of the division, played like it. The game featured tight checking for the first two periods before opening up ever so slightly in the third frame. The contest did not lack physicality as these two teams build a rivalry borne of numerous meetings and a battle for playoff seeding. The gameplay was certainly reminiscent of the style practiced for years in a Bruins’ sweater by Zdeno Chara. In his return to the Garden, the former captain and his new team got the better of the play along with the bonus point.
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.
These are the kinds of games the Bruins are comfortable playing, keeping chances to a minimum especially against teams with firepower like the Capitals. Boston did a great jump of limiting Washington through two but was fortunate to survive the third after conceding a number of high danger opportunities, some of which were self-inflicted. The recent third-period struggles are a pattern worth keeping an eye on. The current division-leading Capitals were also the more dangerous team in overtime before finishing things off in the shootout.
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.
Tuukka Rask (A) – Rask is the reason the Bruins earned a point in this contest. He had a couple of key saves in the first including a Wilson tip off an Ovi slap pass. His two-pad stack save on Ovi in the third made ten-year-old goalie school me quite pleased. He followed that one up moments later staying tall on another Ovi chance, this time through the legs, after beating McAvoy to the net. His huge post to post save on Orlov and back door save on Backstrom in overtime gave the Bs a chance for the extra point. Despite a Vrana shootout goal that sealed the loss, this may have been Rask’s best game of the season.
Brad Marchand (A-) – Marchand had a slow start to the game but came on as it went along. He was particularly dynamic in the third stanza. He created the Bruins’ goal by picking John Carlson’spocket at the defensive blue line, rushing down the ice, and putting a great cross-ice pass on Pastrnak’s stick. He had some other good moments in the third with a nice walk-out and shot as well as several good zone entries nearly leading to dangerous chances.
David Pastrnak (A-) – Pasta was the strongest player on his line in the first period with several good chances including his double post on a breakaway. While he faded as the game went along, he still had a couple of standout moments including a slick one-touch pass to McAvoy in the slot and a great backcheck in second to save a potential goal. And of course, the winger scored the Bruins lone goal finishing Marchand’s feed. The star actor does need to up his goal-scoring pace a little to catch Auston Matthews.
Patrice Bergeron (A-) – This was one of the captain’s more vintage games with several key defensive plays including a tough and successful battle deep in his own end with Tim Wilson and a great pass breakup in the slot at the end of the second. He had a couple of quality offensive chances just fanning on a McAvoy rebound in the second and intercepting a pass for a chance in the slot in the third. He showed off his sense and playmaking intercepting a clearing attempt before moving it to Marchand in front of the net in the second. Bergeron and company saw a heavy dose of Alex Ovechkin in this contest and were the only trio the Russian star didn’t eat alive.
Matt Grzelcyk (B+) – The oft-injured blueliner was great to see in starting lineup. In the first, he had a few rusty shifts but that is to be expected. He settled into the game well thereafter. He had a great pass to spring Pastrnak on a breakaway early on and nearly connected on a couple of stretch passes later in the game. He made lots of simple plays to get the puck moving the right direction and as such was the only Bruins’ defender with a positive expected goal percentage. Grzelcyk was not as involved in the offense as we’ve come to expect but overall this was a solid return. The diminutive defenseman’s presence also had a positive impact on his partner.
Brandon Carlo (B+) – This was Carlo’s best game in a while. Other than getting beaten wide in the third by Nic Dowd, Carlo was stout defensively. He also looked more comfortable on breakouts. For the first time in a while, we saw the lanky defender get up in the rush and in on some offense. The impact of Grzelcyk should not be taken for granted.
Jack Studnicka (B) – Studnicka had a quieter game than his last few outings but again came out ahead in the ledger. He was the only Bruin forward with a positive expected goals percentage. He led the team in scoring chances with three including a good slot chance on a DeBrusk pass. He flashed some speed and skill late in the third dashing through the middle of the ice but couldn’t maintain his handle, an area that still requires some growth.
Nick Ritchie (B) – As the saying goes, when you aren’t scoring you better contribute in other ways. Ritchie followed the old adage by playing a physical game complete with several jarring hits and a key blocked shot. While he personally lacked opportunities he made a couple of nice passes to Craig Smith that just didn’t quite work out.
Trent Fredric (B) – Fredric gets a B tonight for doing what is asked of him. The coaching staff wants him to get to the net and agitate. He did both. Unfortunately, neither amounted to much (other than a sore groin) but if he continues to do so consistently good things should happen.
Jake DeBrusk (B) – I’m giving DeBrusk a B partially out of pity and partially because I think his funk can’t last if he keeps doing the right things. In this game, he did indeed do the right things. He created a chance for Studnicka with his speed, driving low before putting a short pass out front. He had a great chance at 4v4 late in the third and again from on the doorstep in overtime. He can’t keep shooting 3% all season, can he?
Jarred Tinordi (B) – the newest and tallest Bruin made his debut tonight. It was a mixed bag for Tinordi. He had a rough first period sorting out where to move the puck as well where his partner Clifton was and wasn’t. He only had one glaring miss getting beaten down the wing by the speedy Richard Panik. The towering defenseman nearly potted his first goal with his new team wobbling one from the point just past the post. Overall, Tinordi was fine, but also showed he is best suited for the third pair at best.
Conor Clifton (B-) – Clifton had a rough first, struggling on assignments alongside Tinordi, often leaving his man to overpursue. Playing with a partner brand new to the team you might chalk this up to communication and learning new assignments but with Clifton, it seems more a product of being overexcited. He did settle down and played a steady game otherwise. He had an excellent close 1v1 late in second, an area he has shown nice improvement this season.
Jakub Zboril (C+) – While the key breakdowns leading to the goal against happened much earlier in the sequence, Zboril got caught in no man’s land. He needs to pick a guy and be more decisive in his coverage. Zboril handled first-line minutes admirably against the Rangers, but against a much heavier Capitals team, he had less success. He never quite got the space or offensive possession time to play his game in this one. He does deserve a lot of credit for two impressive late-game defensive plays, a huge 2v1 breakup late in third, and a quality 1v1 against a full steam Ovi in overtime.
David Krejci (C) – Krejci was a step slow in his return. This was exemplified on a shift late in the first where the usually stalwart defender was walked by Ovechkin at the top of the circles and moments later was caught flatfooted and had to haul down the Caps captain in the process. He had occasional flashes of Krejci-ness such as a little slip pass that almost sprung Ritchie in the third and a great look to Pasta in front of the net in overtime. Unfortunately, neither connected.
Craig Smith (C) – Smith showed a couple of flashes of speed but couldn’t quite get clean looks in the early going. His best chance came off a rush down the wing with a strong shot, his only one of the night. He wasn’t quite able to turn a couple of nice Ritchie feeds into much, indicative of his game. He battled hard but wasn’t able to keep plays alive per usual.
Charlie McAvoy (C) – McAvoy did some heavy lifting in this one playing the majority of his minutes against the Caps’ top two lines. Washington’s forwards were also targeting the Bruins’ top blueliner taking every opportunity to apply physical pressure on retrievals. The Caps had eight scoring chances to the Bruins two with 73 on the ice. He needs to shore some parts of his game up as well as he looks to become elite. He took a too aggressive angle on Ovi in third and got beat to the net. He later fell at the offensive blue line turning the puck over for a late and dangerous 2v1. At these late stages in a game, while I applaud the young defender’s desire to be a difference-maker, he must better manage the play.
Sean Kuraly (C) – This is the toughest grade of the night. Kuraly threw a pizza up the middle leading to Caps’ first goal. His line was just crushed from a territorial perspective other than one shift in the second and one in the third. The fourth line center finished the game with an abysmal 3% expected goals percentage. However, he created two huge chances first with a cross-ice pass to Debrusk late in third and then with a great individual effort to create a turnover in overtime and shuttle it to the net-front.
Chris Wagner and Anders Bjork (C-) – Both players skated hard in this game and had a noticeable play or two such as a Wagner hit early on and a second effort clear by Bjork in the third. Otherwise, neither player impacted the game much at all combining for just two shot attempts with zero hitting the net. Wagner in particular seems to be losing the faith of the coaching staff playing less than eight minutes.