By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
Boston made a number of sloppy plays allowing a New Jersey team they had yet to beat to take a two-goal lead into the third period. With a strong effort in the final frame and a couple of nifty shootout moves, the Islanders now stand as the only team the Bruins have yet to beat this year. It was a gutsy effort reminiscent of the team’s early-season run of success. Ideally, Boston would like to play a little cleaner game but they believed tonight, and in turn, earned key points. Let’s break it 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.
While the Bruins spent more time in the offensive zone than the Devils in the first two periods, New Jersey’s counter-attack led to a lot of high-quality opportunities. Speaking to this is the fact the Bruins dominated in the scoring chance department but the expected goals numbers were much closer. The third was a different story as the Devil’s attempt to nurse the lead proved foolhardy with the Bruins on-ice surge erasing the lead.
The heatmap further proves our earlier points. While the Devils didn’t get as many opportunities, they did get a number from dangerous spots. The Bruins, per their coach’s orders, have been chucking pucks from all over. Also per his orders, they ‘expletive’ scored some goals.
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.
Craig Smith (A+) – Smith was by far the most engaged Bruin tonight and was the MVP. His effort is always unimpeachable but tonight had a different level to it. While he has shown excellent chemistry with David Krejci, his energy was needed on the top line tonight. The Badger product was sterling regardless of who he played with and his endless drive to sustain zone time and funnel pucks to the net were rewarded in the form of three assists. Smith earns the plus for his consistency and playing the right way regardless of the score or the ebbs and flows of the game.
David Krejci (A) – At some point, I’m going to get banned from grading Krejci as it’s hard for me to seeing anything but the best in him. Thankfully, tonight I don’t believe there will be any arguments. The veteran pivot notched three helpers and almost had a couple more. He was driving play tonight from behind his own goal line all the way to behind the opponent’s goal line while anchoring undoubtedly the Bruins’ best line in this one. If we are to look for a negative (and it hurts me too), Krejci now has more goaltender interferences than actual goals.
Brad Marchand (A) – Marchand made his presence felt after a two-game absence due to, as reported on the NESN broadcast, a false positive COVID-test. He deserves lots of credit for being engaged in the second period when his team as a whole was not so much. He had a couple of moments where he looked like he was still finding his touch after the layoff but otherwise was pushing the pace of play. Without his low blocker snipe, one wonders if the Bruins would have sparked back to life. While top to bottom this was not his best game of the season he receives an A for his difference-making moments. The little ball of hate may also have a career in MMA ahead of him as he somehow always ends up on top of any pile.
Nick Ritchie (A) – Ritchie’s goal had a bit of luck to it but that’ll happen when you have a night where you repeatedly get the puck to the net from dangerous spots, in this case repeatedly from the right dot. Ritchie was good at 5v5, as well as on the man advantage, assisting with zone entries and getting to good spots away from the puck including setting up a screen on the game-tying goal.
Patrice Bergeron (A) – Bergeron had one of his best games of the season. He had a number of takeaways and was so close to scoring on a number of occasions. He led the team with eight shots on goal which excludes the post he hit. His zone entry and subtle pause were as important as the tape-to-tape pass on the Bruin’s second goal. His one blemish, a hooking penalty late, felt like one of those you had to take following a defensive miscue.
Matt Grzelcyk (A) – Grzelcyk had the midas touch. He played minutes with both McAvoy and Carlo. Both posted significantly better numbers with him than away from him. The emerging defender had a couple of bobbles with the puck in his own end but that’s a little bit nitpicky. His game-tying goal was a simple but effective play finding a way to get the puck through traffic and behind Blackwood.
Charlie Coyle (B+) – After a very rocky second quarter of the season, Coyle has looked more himself since the COVID-induced pause. That he has done so with less than ideal linemates is perplexing but welcome. Coyle has the ability to barrel with the puck in straight lines and has favored that approach over the overly cute moves lately. It’s been effective and he has subsequently been generating chances again. If it continues he should more consistently hit the score sheet, something his team desperately needs. Coyle, who I apparently share a mutual friend with on Facebook, was also really strong again on the penalty kill.
Brandon Carlo (B) – Carlo still has a little bit of a way to get back to full game speed but it was great to see him back out there for numerous reasons. The coaching staff felt the same way playing him for more than 22 minutes. His first period was a little uneven but you could see his confidence growing after that as his gaps tightened up and he made simple, yet effective passes. He plays his best hockey with Grzelcyk and it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff sets the pairs moving forward.
Jakub Zboril/Connor Clifton (B) – This was a quieter game from Zboril and Clifton and that’s just great. Playing on the third pair, where both are best suited at the present time, the duo had a level game. From the occasionally inconsistent Zboril and the often overzealous Clifton this was a welcome performance and speaks to the confidence the coaching staff can have in these two in the appropriate role.
Jaroslav Halak (B) – Halak’s numbers weren’t great in this game but he made some key stops to keep the game close both in the first when the Bruins bled high danger chances and in the third with his team pushing for the comeback. It feels like the third goal is one that he sometimes gets but it’s very hard to find fault in the other three. Halak bested Blackwood in the skills competition to help his team earn an important extra point. His agent agrees.
Charlie McAvoy (B-) – McAvoy had a maddening night. He was all over the place and I mean that in both the best and worst senses of the word simultaneously. He allowed Devils forwards, including Miles Woods more than once, to sneak behind him with speed. In his minutes with Lauzon, he was buried in his zone. He was also beat cleanly late in the third with the score tied forcing Bergeron to take a hooking penalty in desperation. But as we know, McAvoy’s goal was a key to the comeback. The Long Beach, NY native also had several other strong plays on offense and a gnarly blocked shot. Regardless of your take on this one, let’s just all agree it was an eventful game for the Bruins’ top defenseman.
David Pastrnak (C+) – Pasta had a team-worst game score (I don’t love game score for goalie evaluation) and has looked off a bit lately. In an effort to jumpstart the star winger, Coach Cassidy moved him to David Krejci’s wing. While he proved a drag on both lines he played with tonight, he did finally generate some dangerous chances late in the game. It’s a bit perplexing Pastrnak played over 24 minutes on a night he was less than great but when you are chasing the game it’s hard to sit your best goal scorer. The Czech native earns the plus in his grade for his silky shootout move to seal the game.
Zach Senyshyn (C+) – Senyshyn will never be a dynamic offensive player but he knows who he is as a player. He showed it driving hard to the net on a couple of occasions for his most notable plays of the night. He saw his ice time trimmed substantially with the Bruins needing a goal, limiting his potential impact.
Anders Bjork (C+) – Bjork was fine tonight. He had a couple of moments where he did nice work to sustain zone time. He also had a couple of occasions where he overhandled the puck and nearly coughed it up. Where Bjork might be making the argument to stay in the lineup, and perhaps even in the NHL, is through his performance in man-down situations.
Jeremy Lauzon (C) – Lauzon has not shown the form he had right before his injury in his two games back. The play that will stand out in this one was his perfect assist to Kyle Palmieri. Give the Devil credit for jumping what looked like a set route but it was obviously a poor play by the Quebecois defender. How Lauzon plays in the next few games could inform what the Bs do on the trade front.
Karson Kuhlman/Trent Fredric/Anton Blidh (C-) – The fourth line played fourth line minutes tonight, less than nine in total. They forechecked, tried to go fast, and had a couple of shots. They were stuck in their own zone for a couple of shifts and conceded two goals, though I wouldn’t really put those on them.
Moment of the night
The Devil’s twitter account was throwing some shade but the Bruins had the last laugh.