By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter: @BostonDiGiorgio
In the first few minutes of the first period, the Bruins looked like a new team compared to their last performance against New Jersey. Unfortunately, as the game went on, the Bruins’ weaknesses became more apparent. The Bruins have not won against the first-place Islanders yet this season, extending their winless record to 0-3-1 against New York. The loss wasn’t the only unsettling stat of the night. The Bruins’ top line was relied on heavily once again, and the rest of the team struggled mightly.
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 table above suggests the second period was the Bruins’ best. The Bruins had many chances to extend their lead, especially on the powerplay. The Islanders play a defensive-minded game, and the Bruins let them hang around too long. The losses of Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon were on display last night.
The heat map below tells an accurate story of how the game went. The Bruins were not nearly as effective getting the puck on the net. They had their chances out front but almost nothing to show for it.
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.
David Pastrnak (A): Pastrnak was one of the few bright spots in this game. He scored the Bruins’ lone regulation goal and their only shootout goal. His regulation goal came on the powerplay after he caught the Islanders goalie, Semyon Varlamov, out of position. The goal was Pastrnak’s 400th career point (shootout goals do not count towards players’ points). Pastrnak continues to be the Bruins’ most consistent and best forward in 2021. The first line accounted for 49% of the Bruins’ total shots on goal this game, which cannot happen each game.
Matt Grzelcyk (A-): Grzelcyk continues to shine. He took Torey Krug’s role on the powerplay as the quarterback on the first unit and grabbed the secondary assist on Pastrnak’s goal. Grzelcyk fired two shots on goal and added two hits and a block in this game. Grzelcyk may not be the point-producing machine that Krug was. However, he is one of the best defensemen in terms of expected goals’ percentage (xGF%).
XGF% is a stat used to determine when a team is expected to score more goals when a certain player is on the ice by looking at the difference between expected goals for and expected goals against. A fellow Boston sports analyst breaks down just how excellent Grzelcyk is for the Bruins in the table below.
Brad Marchand (A-): Marchand provided the primary assist on Pastrnak’s powerplay goal. The assist brings Marchand’s point total to 28 this season. He will end with 68 points on the year in a 56-game season if he continues on this torrid pace. He had a chance to extend the shootout but was stifled by Varlamov’s right pad just in time. Marchand was one of the few players to stick up for Connor Clifton after Islanders forward Oliver Wahlstrom boarded him from behind. The hit looked much worse in real-time, though good on Marchand for coming to the aid of his teammate. Marchand received a double minor for roughing, but it was nice to see the support.
Charlie McAvoy (A-): McAvoy was once again the Bruins’ best defensemen and led his team with 24:12 time on ice. The 23-year old is showing Bruins fans what to expect for many years to come. He did not record a point last night but has 17 on the year. If he continues on his current pace, he’ll end the season with 41 points which crushes his career-high (currently 24) in a shortened season. His most impressive play came during the 3v3 overtime. He started the overtime with Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, the Bruins’ best 3v3 unit. 3v3 is slightly different from the prior 60 minutes because it’s less about offensive zone time and more about possession. McAvoy knew when to bite on a play and when to back off to not allow for a clean breakaway for an Islander.
Jaroslav Halak (B+): Halak was the losing goaltender, but he was not at fault. He stopped 26 of 27 in the game and 1 of 3 in the shootout. Halak has been the consistent backup goaltender the Bruins have been longing for. He didn’t receive much help from his teammates, especially his forwards. Halak made some impressive saves, including this one on Anthony Beauvillier in overtime.
Patrice Bergeron (B+): Bergeron, and the rest of the top line, were the team’s lone offensive bright spots last night. Bergeron displayed why he is considered one the best defensive-minded forwards each year (the Selke Trophy). During a penalty kill, Bergeron makes an impeccable diving play with his stick to break up a pass and give Anders Bjork a near-clean break at Varlamov.
Connor Clifton (B-): This grade goes against the grain slightly compared to the players’ grade table above. He has been a solid piece for the Bruins without Lauzon and Carlo. There are times it’s clear he misses these two, but overall he’s held up his own. In the last four games, the Bruins defensive core has allowed four goals. The defense and goaltending are carrying the Bruins. The one ugly part of the night for Clifton was when Oliver Wahlstrom boarded him. This is the play that Brad Marchand stepped in. Thankfully, Clifton was okay and didn’t miss a shift.
Jakub Zboril (B-): Another grade that may come as a surprise. Zboril has been improving every game, even if he doesn’t show up on the scoresheet. A common misconception developed over the years is evaluating a defenseman based solely on the points he’s scored. This is partly due to Erik Karlsson winning the Norris Trophy AND putting up 60+ points a year. This is not Zboril’s game, and we need to accept that. Zboril was one of the three first-round draft selections in 2015, and it’s becoming clear why the Bruins selected him.
David Krejci (C+): A significant drop off from the group above, but the grade is warranted. Ty Anderson, a writer for the 98.5 Sports Hub, pointed out that the Bruins’ top line has accounted for 50% of the Bruins’ goals this year (32 out of 64). Krejci has zero goals this year, which is a bit alarming. In my last report card, I did say Krejci doesn’t necessarily need to score more goals if he’s assisting on them. However, no one else around him is scoring. Krejci looked like he would net his first goal of the year last night until Varlamov made an improbable stick save.
Jarred Tinordi (C): No player on either side received a minus rating in this game because the game’s two goals were scored on the man-advantage. Tinordi only used his big frame for one hit and one block on the game. He’s been a solid third-pairing defenseman since the Bruins claimed him off of waivers.
Nick Ritchie (C): A quiet game for Ritchie. He is not listed in Ty Anderson’s tweet because he accounts for 13% of the Bruins’ goals this year (8). He has been the lone bright spot on the second line this season. He could not get on the scoresheet last night, but he did lead the team in hits with six.
Jack Studnicka (C): Studnicka was the beneficiary of Jake DeBrusk’s benching. Studnicka flanked Krejci and Ritchie last night for most of the game. Studnicka looked to be settling in nicely with his linemates, especially making a nifty move to set up Ritchie for a one-timer. Unfortunately, Ritchie rang the puck off the post, but it’s an encouraging sign for Studnicka.
Trent Frederic (C): Frederic was not his usually pestering self last night. He did have two shots on goal, one of which came off a beautiful pass from Zboril. Unfortunately, Varlamov saved both attempts from Frederic. He has been a mainstay on the third line, along with Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith. The trio (known as the 11-12-13 line because of their jersey numbers) has developed some chemistry. The chemistry hasn’t netted them many goals, which is what the Bruins desperately need.
Craig Smith (C): Another game where Craig Smith shot the puck from anywhere. Smith has 1747 shots on goal in his 10-year career. He is averaging almost 3 shots per game over these 10 years. The Bruins, and fans alike, would like to see these shots enter the back of the goal, though. He is on pace for his second-worst career point total (23). He and his linemates need to provide secondary scoring, or the Bruins will be looking at an early playoff exit.
Urho Vaakanainen (C): Urho has seen increased minutes this season due to the injuries of Lauzon, Carlo, and Kevan Miller. The former first-round draft pick has settled in well and is earning those minutes. He has had some growing pains, but that is expected when he’s only played 13 NHL games. He had two shots on goal, one of which was a blast from the point.
Charlie Coyle (C-): Coyle has had a rough year thus far. He, too, is on pace for his second-worst career total over his nine-year career (21). He won four of the seven face-offs he appeared in but finished the game with two penalty minutes and zero shots on goal. Coyle needs a spark to his game.
Anders Bjork (C-): Bjork scores slightly higher than his linemates because he capitalized on his opportunities, even if it didn’t net a goal. Bjork was the beneficiary of a great Bergeron play on the penalty kill. Unfortunately, the play came about one minute into the PK, so Bjork didn’t have much left in the tank to race past the Islanders’ defenseman. Even though Bjork has played most of his minutes on the fourth line, he’s been the Bruins next option on the first penalty kill unit when Marchand is in the box. He is used in many facets of the game, which speaks to Cassidy’s trust in him.
Sean Kuraly (D): Kuraly was benched over the last two games and returned to the lineup last night. Unfortunately, the ninth-floor seat didn’t seem to spark much in his game. It’s been a rough season for Kuraly. As Fluto Shinzawa (The Athletic Writer) points out in a piece written last week, Kurlay has been on the ice for five goals for and 12 against during 5v5 play, the second-lowest on the team. Let’s hope Kuraly used this game to shake off the rust.
Chris Wagner (D): Wagner is the lowest on the team in the stat above. He has been a player that should be considered as a healthy scratch for a couple of games and join DeBrusk on the ninth-floor. Wagner has had a rough, shortened season and could benefit from some time off.