By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter: @BostonDiGiorgio
With Tuukka Rask out due to injury, the Bruins turned to their goaltending pipeline for a spark. Dan Vladar made his NHL regular-season debut, and his first career start last night. You may remember, he came in for relief last year and got peppered. Granted, the game he came in was over, and the Bruins had given up. However, in this game, the Bruins and Vladar started fresh, and Vladar earned his first NHL win.
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 proves to be interesting based on the actual game occurrences. The table suggests the Bruins’ best period was the second period, though zero goals were scored on either side. Part of this is skewed by their offensive zone time during a five-minute major penalty taken by Pittsburgh’s Brandon Tanev. The Bruins did not score on the five-minute major powerplay, though they controlled most of the period because of this.
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.
Trent Frederic (A): Let me first say I was wrong about Trent Frederic. At the beginning of the year, I was not sold on him as a mainstay with the Bruins this year. Frederic has had a great season thus far and has provided a much-needed spark to the club. Frederic’s goal in the third period ended up being the game-winning goal, his fourth of the year. He has been improving each game, and his goal is an example of how a goal-scorer should shoot the puck. Frederic spins and fires the puck on goal, not to shoot for the sake of it but to create an opportunity. If this puck is deflected or ends in a rebound opportunity, David Pastrnak is out front, ready for the chance.
Matt Grzelcyk (A): Matt Grzelcyk continues to dominate in all facets of the game. Grzelcyk was coming off an eight-shot game on Monday in Pittsburgh, one of them finding the back on the net. Last night, he potted three shots on goal and assisted on David Pastrnak’s powerplay goal. Brad Marchand made a slick pass to Pastrnak for the eventual goal. However, Grzelcyk created the opportunity for Brad. Grzelcyk is one of the best defensemen in today’s game in breaking the puck out of the defensive zone. He makes it look effortless most of the time, and his usage on the powerplay is a big part of that. Grzelcyk’s usage on the first powerplay unit has been largely criticized because fans want to see Charlie McAvoy in his place. However, Grzelcyk has been inserted in as Torey Krug’s replacement on PP1, and he’s earned that opportunity.
Charlie McAvoy (A): Stop me if you’ve heard this before: Charlie McAvoy continues his Norris Trophy season. McAvoy played a whopping 30 minutes and 16 seconds in last night’s game, which equates to 50.4% of the entire game. He played seven more minutes than Matt Grzelcyk, who finished second on the team in time on ice. That feat is a season-high and his second-highest minutes played of his career. He played 31:14 in a game against Ottawa in his rookie season. McAvoy continues to be the Bruins’ rock on the blue line and a major reason why the defense has held up through 27 games.
Dan Vladar (A): Welcome to the NHL, Dan Vladar. Halak and the Bruins were handed an embarrassing loss the night before by the Penguins. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy had a choice between Vladar and Jeremy Swayman (University of Maine product) for last night’s game. Swayman is a promising young product, but Vladar has shown to be a bit more NHL ready, and he did not disappoint. Not only did Vladar make 34 saves out of a total of 35, but he also provided a save of the year candidate. The 6’5 brick wall used his massive wingspan half-way through the first period to deny Colton Sceviour of a golden scoring opportunity. Pittsburgh’s lone goal was not Vladar’s fault, as it was a juicy rebound that squirted out to Brandon Tanev. The former 2015 third-round draft pick gave the Bruins a much-needed spark, and he could be used more often going forward if Rask remains out.
Jakub Zboril (B+): Zboril provided the primary assist to Frederic’s game-winning goal last night. Zboril has been steadily improving each game. He has definitely made his mistakes, but that is to be expected for a young defenseman’s career. There is still a lot to be unlocked in his game, and Bruins fans wish he’d be alongside a veteran like Kevan Miller or Brandon Carlo to further his progression. Though, he is handling his workload and defensive partners just fine up to this point.
Patrice Bergeron (B): Bergeron and Zboril received similar scores as the post-game stat card suggests. I gave Zboril an extra bump because he’s shown signs of progression through the majority of the season. Bergeron has played just fine over these past couple of games. The negative light shown on him is because his line is relied heavily upon to score goals when the rest of the team has shown their inability. Bergeron was the secondary assist to Frederic’s game-winner, and he also was 66.7% successful at the face-off dot. This stat, in particular, is what you want to see in your first-line center.
Steven Kampfer (B-): Kampfer slotted into the lineup for Urho Vaakanainen last night. Kampfer signed a deal with the Bruins in 2019 to provide a fresh set of skates when the Bruins need a change. Last night was a perfect example of that. Urho is a young defenseman who is still figuring out his game. Kampfer is a nine-year veteran who understands the game a bit more. Last night was only his third game of the year, though he provided two shots on goal in 15 minutes of play. With the injury to Jarred Tinordi, we may see a bit more from Kampfer as the season goes on.
David Pastrnak (B-): Scoring goals isn’t the only way to receive a high grade, and Pastrnak is an example of that. His goal in the first period with six seconds remaining on Evgeni Malkin’s penalty was slick. He slid the puck under Casey DeSmith’s five-hole for an uplifting feeling for his team. The goal was Pastrnak’s 13th of the year, which leads the team. Pastrnak did sit in the penalty box on two separate occasions in last night’s game, all in the first period. The boarding call was warranted; however, the tripping call was extremely questionable at best. Nevertheless, the Penguins used the momentum from Pastrnak’s second penalty and scored just seconds after it expired. The Bruins have been a great penalty-killing team, though they should work on staying out of the box in the future.
Oskar Steen (B-): Vladar wasn’t the only Bruin to make his regular-season debut. Oskar Steen started on the third-line with Charlie Coyle and Nick Ritchie. He didn’t play a ton of minutes, which is expected from a young forward just getting his feet wet. However, the former 2016 sixth-round draft choice played a solid first game. The Swedish forward netted a 60% Corsi-For percentage. Corsi has been commonly used as an NHL metric over the past couple of years. A percentage over 50% means the Bruins controlled the puck more often than not when this player was on the ice. The 5’9 natural center (though he played right wing last night) managed two shots on goals and five hits. He still has much to learn, but this was a good starting point.
Sean Kuraly (C+): A much-improved score from that last time I graded Kuraly. The fourth-line may have played their best game last night. Kuraly provided five hits and a 62.5% winning percentage at the face-off dot. The fourth line needs to get going for the Bruins and challenge the oppositions’ best players. A productive fourth line is an overlooked yet key ingredient in a team’s success. Kuraly has been largely criticized over this season, rightfully so, but hopefully, this game gets him back on track.
Karson Kuhlman (C+): Kuhlman has appeared in five games so far this season. He is a quick and elusive forward who provided some jump to the fourth line last night. He doesn’t receive as much credit as he should for the little things he brings to the game. He, like Steen, only played nine minutes last night and saved the game-tying goal with two minutes to go in the third. He hasn’t generated many highlights this year in the NHL; however, below is a thread of some of his AHL highlights that could benefit the Bruins in the future.
Nick Ritchie, David Krejci, & Jake DeBrusk (C): The three of these players all receive the same grade. The three of them just havent found much success lately. Ritchie gets a bit of a pass since he is fourth on the team in goals and fifth in points. Ritchie landed five shots on goal, while Krejci added two and DeBrusk one. When the Bruins are healthy, these three make up the second unit. The Bruins cannot afford any of these players to continue their cold streaks if they want to be successful.
Brad Marchand (C): Another surprising grade if you were looking at the box score last night. Marchand provided the primary assist to Pastrnak’s goal. However, he was on the ice for the Penguins’ only goal and added a two-minute high sticking penalty in the third. Marchand has been quietly making a good case to be considered for the Selke Trophy (best defensive forward), though this is a game that hinders his game.
Craig Smith & Charlie Coyle (C-): These two players have had terrible seasons thus far, highlighted in games that the top line can’t score. Coyle recorded his first shot on goal in six games last night and was a low 27.3% successful at the face-off dot. Coyle recorded 37 points last year, while this year has just eight in 27 games. He is on pace for 17 points in this 56-game season. Smith generally shoots the puck whenever it lands on his stick in the offensive zone but hasn’t had much to show for it. He is on pace for 19 points, which would be his second-lowest of his 10-year career. These two are vital to a successful Bruins season, and they just haven’t found any.
Connor Clifton (D+): Clifton had a tough game. He generally isn’t used on the penalty kill, but with Jeremy Lauzon, Kevan Miller, and Brandon Carlo all out due to injury, he was last night. The Penguins didn’t technically score a powerplay goal last night, though they scored just seconds after it expired, and Clifton looked lost in front of Vladar on the eventual goal. This is a game Clifton will want to forget.
Jarred Tinordi (INC.): Before Tinordi’s exit, he had an excellent game. Had he finished the way he was playing, he would have been graded a solid B+/A-. Tinordi was all over the ice in the 10 minutes he played, generating four hits and two shots on goal. He even took the puck on a near end-to-end rush. However, he exited the game about half-way through the second period. Brandon Tanev delivered a clean hit, which was called a boarding. The hit delivered an unfortunate result that left Tinordi slamming into the bench boards and looking like he was knocked unconscious. The penalty should have been called charging, and I do not expect further discipline from the league. The injury adds to the laundry list of defensemen who are sidelined for the Bruins.
Moment Of The Night
Dan Vladar’s first NHL win was the night’s best moment. His flashy stick save highlights the type of game he had and one he will remember for the rest of his life. Congrats to Dan!