(Photo by Sara Schmidle/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown

The Buffalo Sabres may prove the remedy for Boston’s secondary scoring woes. Craig Smith and Jake DeBrusk picked up goals while David Krejci notched three assists. Gregg McKegg, in just his second game of the season, scored his first wearing the ‘B’ while centering an effective fourth line. Boston has now won in back-to-back games as it looks to get some momentum again at the mid-season point. Let’s take a look at how it all unfolded and assign some player grades.

The numbers

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.

Data from NaturalStatTrick

While the Bruins outshot the Sabres in the first, the underlying numbers were not great. It was an uncharacteristic period for a typically more conservative Boston team, trading chances with Buffalo throughout the frame. A concerning trend continues to be the danger level of the chances conceded with Buffalo registering five high danger chances to the Bruins two, the driving force behind the skewed expected goals numbers. The second period was all Bruins and the game felt over after their third goal. The final frame was heavily skewed by score effects as Boston protected their insurmountable lead.

The Bruins shot from everywhere which will certainly make their coach happy as he has clamored for them to pull the trigger more all season. A nice blue blotch in front of the net was also responsible for three of the teams four goals on the night indicating they were getting to the greasy areas. While Buffalo’s quantity was not so high, as mentioned above, they did have a concentration of dangerous chances from the slot area.

Player grades

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 Krejci/Jake DeBrusk/Craig Smith (A) – This was the game that all three players needed after extended stretches with little to no results, injuries, and COVID protocols. Each really played to their strengths. Smith used his speed to get in on the forecheck as well as fly down the wing. While he hit the post on one of his more dangerous rushes, he was rewarded not long after creating a sequence by being disruptive on the forecheck, getting to the slot, and knocking one in. DeBrusk also played how he is most effective. We recently detailed his struggles and what adjustments might get him back to where needs to be. Well, he followed through creating on the forecheck and getting to the net. He also received some powerplay time and was able to bat a puck through Carter Hutton on a Pastrnak rebound. DeBrusk also showed some good playmaking with a couple of dangerous passes to the slot. Krejci did Krech things. One wonders at his age if he will be a goal-scoring threat anymore but his positioning and vision continue to be a treat to watch. It was on full display tonight with two primary assists amongst his three, both of which showcased his innate ability.

In addition to playing to their strengths, these three were grouped together because after massive tinkering by the coaching staff, I believe they have found the best fit for all three players and I hope they keep them together for an extended stretch.

Charlie McAvoy/Matt Grzelcyk (A) – It’s going to be hard for me to separate these two on many nights, they just compliment each other so well. It’s the plays that don’t show up on the score sheet where this is most prevalent. For example, let’s examine a quick regroup in the second period. The puck squirted out of the offensive zone and was pushed to Grzelcyk, who without looking one touched it McAvoy, who quickly pushed it up the boards to the forward. Like that, Boston was back on offense. These are the types of plays that in all three zones make this pair so effective.

David Pastrnak (A) – Pastrnak tied for the team lead in shots and was dangerous all night nearly weaseling through Buffalo’s defense by himself on several occasions. More importantly, he picked up a goal and an assist on the powerplay. His shot led to DeBrusk’s rebound goal and of course, he buried one of his vintage one-timer.

Greg McKegg (A) – When a fourth-liner scores it’s hard not to automatically give them an A, especially when it’s only their second game of the season. Bur McKegg’s line additionally was the best of the four in a helter skelter first-period spending good chunks of time in the offensive zone and conceding little to nothing in their own. The journeyman forward, only inserted in the lineup because of a Kuraly COVID-protocol absence, deserves a lot of credit for answering the last-minute bell. Also, hockey player nicknames are terrible, but ‘Kegger’ has a good ring to it.

Patrice Bergeron (A-) – The Bruins’ top line showed that it was no match for the inferior competition. Poor Cody Eakin took the brunt of the assignment and was eaten alive. Captain Patrice generated more individual offense than we have seen a while and was able to be more active in the bumper role on the powerplay. His attention to detail can really drive play and that was true in this game. While he did not get on the score sheet he certainly contributed to Boston’s victory.

Brad Marchand (A-) – Marchand was a little quieter than usual despite picking up the secondary assist on Pastrnak’s powerplay marker. It was still a strong game with six shot attempts and two scoring chances. His playmaking this season has been tremendous and we saw that with a couple of great looks to teammates on the evening.

Jaroslav Halak (A-) – For the second game in a row, Halak let one up you’d like to see him have, tip be damned. That it came early in the second in a close game was also not ideal. Having said that, he was stellar in the first period when the Bruins were bleeding chances during the track meet portion of the game. He was also good in the third making several key saves midway through the frame, including a breakaway save to ensure Buffalo could not mount a comeback.

Connor Clifton (A-) – This was Clifton’s best game of the season in my mind. He did the things he does well – aggressive 1v1 and looking to get involved offensively – without any of the glaring mistakes he is sometimes prone to. Evidence of his playing to his strengths while making great decisions came on the Craig Smith goal. Clifton wisely backed off on the breakout staying above the opposing winger but upon seeing the puck bobble at the blue line quickly jumped the route and kept the puck in the zone before following the play up and playing an integral role on the subsequent goal. Despite that play, it’s likely the one below that will further endear him to Bruins Nation.

Karson Kuhlman (B+) – Kuhlman continues to lean into who he is as a player. He sped up ice quickly and initiated the forecheck. He also had a couple of dangerous opportunities using his speed wide. One particular rush though sums up Kuhlman as he barreled down the wing, got past his defender’s hip, drove the net…then bobbled the puck and that was that. Having said that, what he currently brings to the team – straight-line speed and grit – may endear him to the coaching staff over other options like Wagner and Bjork.

Jakub Zboril (B) – Little Z (yes, we are going to try and make this stick!) was solid in this game even if he didn’t stand out. We are used to him having a greater impact on the offense as he finished the night with no shot attempts. However, he was an excellent complement to Clifton playing the safety valve and sorting out his own zone better than earlier in the season. Zboril continues to flash his ability to stretch the ice with a great play in the third to key a Kuhlman rush.

Jack Ahcan (B) – Ahcan made his NHL debut and didn’t look out of place, impressive for a guy who wasn’t projected to arrive, if at all, for a couple more seasons. He showed what the organization sees in him in his fearlessness and ability to get up the ice. He also showed areas where he needs to grow both in his strength and in his choices on when to go or stay.

Oskar Steen (B-) – Steen acquitted himself well again in his second NHL game. He brings a tempo to his line that the coaching staff is clearly looking for. Despite his size, he is not afraid to get in on the forecheck. The natural center has flashed his playmaking skill a couple of times particularly off of forechecking retrievals. He quietly had three shots on goal and two scoring chances. If he can continue to play a style that the coaches want to see he may be able to remain in the lineup for a while longer.

Nick Ritchie (C+) – At 5v5 Ritchie was just ok. The plodding winger always somehow steals a couple of pucks on the forecheck and did so again. He had a couple of nice looks to teammates per usual but nothing particularly dangerous. He receives the ‘plus’ because he continues to be strong on the powerplay and just missed scoring one himself.

Charlie Coyle (C) – While a number of Bruins feasted on the lowly Sabres, Coyle did not. He had a couple of good individual efforts punctuated by sneaky shots off the rush but that was about it. Nor did his line generate much in sustained pressure despite a few nice sequences. While many player’s underlying numbers were affected by score effects in the third, the mayor’s are worth mentioning anyway, a meager 30%. That’s not good. Due to the center’s struggles, the coaching staff has taken Craig Smith away from him and unless he can up his play, he will remain a bottom-of-the-line-up option.

Steven Kampfer (C) – Kampfer (and Ahcan) were buried from a possession standpoint but I liked some things I saw from the depth defender tonight. You were not afraid when he was on the ice and he was a steady hand for Achan playing in his first game. He was a solid safety valve breaking up a couple of odd-man rushes in the first period. While you’d prefer him not in your top-6, he is a solid player and citizen to have down the depth chart.

Trent Frederic (Inc.) – The affable and feisty forward was noticeable in the first getting in on the forecheck and sustaining plays to keep his team on offense. He is improving on his assignments with and without the puck in his defensive zone as he gets more comfortable on the wing. Frederic unfortunately was injured blocking a shot and only played 5:28. Frederic has managed to stay in the lineup since day one, hopefully a pesky puck does not end that streak.

Moment of the night

It’s pick on Buffalo season(s) and Jack Edwards joined the fracas. Poor Buffalo.

Evan continues the pile on:

Hopefully the Sabres figure it out, but not until after the Bruins’ seven more matchups with them, important points to pick up in a packed division.