By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
In the battle of the black and golds, Boston dropped the first match of the two-game set. While there is much to discuss, and of course we will, an item brought up on the broadcast was ‘believability’. Specifically, the Bruins had a belief they could win every game early in the season battling back from multi-goal deficits on numerous occasions. Currently mired in a stretch of .500 hockey, the team seems to be lacking that chip on their shoulder and the confidence they are never out of a game. Instead, the sticks are being squeezed and the pucks are taking unfavorable bounces. Structural issues, injuries, and player performances also contribute to the string of mediocre play but the swagger of the early season, and last, is noticeably missing at the present time.
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.
Boston came out firing, literally, attempting 26 5v5 shots and including special teams put 20 shots on net in the opening frame. Their mandate was clear, get pucks deep and chuck them on the net whenever you have an opportunity. Unfortunately, the Penguins weathered the storm and squeaked two pucks by Jaroslav Halak for the early lead. Boston continued to push but lacked the jump and quality of their first period, with rare exception, for the remainder of the game, and the numbers back it up.
Boston shot the puck from almost every part of the zone though the majority of their shots came from the points, particularly the side played by Matt Grzelcyk and Jakub Zboril. Pittsburgh, despite less shots, garnered a number of quality chances. A highly potent powerplay helped and the Pens actually had the higher expected goals total of the two adversaries.
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.
Matt Grzelcyk (A) – The lone goal scorer receives an A. He showed he could defend well against top competition often making the right decision about when to take risks and when to back up and survive. He led the team with eight shots on goal. The diminutive defender is starting to get back up to full speed and that is huge for Boston’s hopes of getting things revved up again.
Patrice Bergeron (A-) – Bergeron and company had a very strong night but unfortunately couldn’t finish. In a head-to-head matchup with Sidney Crosby’s line, the Bruins top trio dominated posting all the shot attempts and expected goals. Bergeron was even able to draw a penalty on PIT87 with great body positioning on a loose puck below the goal line. The line was a bit snake-bitten including the Captain who flubbed a great Pastrnak pass in the slot in the first. The Bruins do need to find a way to get Bergeron involved more again with the man advantage as teams seem to be keying on him, as pointed out in the broadcast.
Brad Marchand (A-) – Marchand had an excellent first, disappeared at times in the second, and pushed hard in the third. In the first, he showed his skills with a slick move to break out off the sideboard. He showed his grit as well with some tenacious forechecking. In the third, he did a great job advancing the puck and was particularly dangerous on the powerplay hanging on to the puck and making some great passes to the slot or cross-seam though his teammates were unable to convert. He put six shots on the net, a couple pretty dangerous, but couldn’t finish.
David Pastrnak (B+) – Pastrnak is such a talented player. Without a clear path to the net on several occasions, he pulled up, waited for support, and made creative passes to his oncoming teammates. Likewise, while going off for a chance in the third he had the awareness to intercept the puck and feather a pass through a lane to a streaking DeBrusk at the dot. He had five shots on goal but the story tonight was the non-shots, two whiffs on open nets in the third that could have cut the deficit in half. It was that kind of night.
David Krejci (B) – Krejci did a nice job facilitating for his speedy wingers for example with a nice little stop-up pass at the offensive blue line to a cutting Craig Smith for a great chance from the dot late in the second. He nearly went on a breakaway in the third but, tell me if you’ve heard this one, the puck hopped over his stick. Krejci played solid defensively. Despite a decent game, Krejci needs to create a little more for himself and ideally see his line generate more than they did as the de facto second unit.
Craig Smith (B) – Smith was one of the most engaged Bruins tonight. He had jump down the wing and pursued hard on the forecheck. An early shift showcased Smith’s attributes as he whipped a shot off the rush and moments later tipped a puck in the slot. Unfortunately, Smith needs to score and didn’t despite ample opportunity including a point-blank shot on the rush in the second. He also got caught in the shuffling that takes place during special teams and ended up playing only 13:10 tonight despite warranting more ice time.
Karson Kuhlman (B) – Kuhlman gets a B for doing exactly what he was put in the lineup to do. His marching orders are clear: go fast, forecheck, drive the net, and shoot the puck. He did all those things and while they didn’t amount to much he deserves credit for meeting expectations and playing to his strengths.
Steven Kampfer (B) – Kampfer played well and is a nice depth option to have. Other than overplaying a Sceviour move on a 3v2 he was solid. He killed a couple of odd-man rushes, advanced the puck, and even had a nice rush shorthanded.
Charlie McAvoy (B) – McAvoy played mostly against Crosby and did quite well. He also defended Malkin deftly on a late play in the first. My issue with McAvoy is how he responds when his team is down. He deviates from the game plan and plays recklessly. Some might argue that someone needs to try something. This is a fair point but hockey is a team sport, the Bruins were getting chances, and giving up another goal against hinders your chances that much more. As McAvoy matures, this is an aspect of his game that needs to improve.
Nick Ritchie (B-) – Ritchie hasn’t been generating chances for himself at the same rate as earlier in the season but he has still been contributing. His playmaking has exceeded expectations and PP1 looked better with him on it due to his retrievals, puck movement, and his presence in front. He deserves credit for his screen on the lone goal. It would be nice to see Ritchboi get back to driving play a little more and creating more of his own opportunities again.
Jake DeBrusk (C+) – DeBrusk’s numbers suggest a better grade and he had some good moments. Early on he was getting in on the forecheck and had a couple of good retrievals. He also had two glorious chances while shorthanded in the second. He almost hooked up with Krejci on a backhand stretch pass in the third. DeBrusk’s lack of finish continues to be problematic in a forgettable season so far, punctuated by missing the last game on the COVID protocol list. Another issue is he has been losing the puck on the rush a lot. While the winger gets going with a head full of steam he fails to keep a handle or protect the puck and the opposition simply takes it and goes the other way.
Trent Frederic (C+)– Frederic didn’t have his usual edge in this game but he did some good things. He continues to show he can play down low in the NHL. The rookie forward is excellent at protecting the puck and sustaining offensive zone time. His line was not able to turn that into much tonight but it’s what you’d like to see out of him and his linemates.
Jakub Zboril (C+) –Zboril requires more sheltered minutes as was the case earlier in the season. He does so many things well as was evidenced in this game with five shot attempts, a great seam pass for a scoring chance in the third, and his usual strong puck-moving from his own zone. However, we saw his deficiencies when getting matched up with elite players namely getting beat by Letang’s gear change down the wing, losing his body positioning on Crosby leading to a penalty, and getting undressed by Evgeni Malkin 1v1. To be fair, those players are really good but it speaks to the Bruins challenge with depth on defense at the moment.
Charlie Coyle (C) – In my humble opinion, Coyle may be the Bruin most in need of stepping up. He is well paid and receiving favorable matchups. He had a few good plays tonight with an early retrieval and slot pass to Ritchie, a nice takeaway and pass to DeBrusk on the penalty kill and a slot chance off the rush in the third. He was quite silent otherwise and that’s been true for much of the season with fleeting moments interspersed with long stretches of not much. His line was the least effective of the Bs four forward groupings tonight.
Sean Kuraly (C) – Kuraly’s line had some good zone time and some quality grinding shifts. This was true especially in the first half of the game. Unfortunately, not much came of it. Kuraly was overzealous in his penalty killing on the Pens third goal overcompensating for Crosby when his teammate DeBrusk was already there. Doing so opened up the seam pass for Malkin who does not miss when given those types of opportunities.
Jaroslav Halak (C-) – Halak made some excellent saves tonight notably on Sceviour in the second, a point-blank chance on Crosby early in the third, and a 2v1 shortly after. Halak kept the game in reach. Unfortunately, his two “leaky” goals in the first, as Jack Edwards put it, was the reason the team was trailing in the first place after a solid first period.
Connor Clifton (C-) – I don’t like picking on Clifton because I think he has really come a long way since the start of the season. Whether you like the penalties called against him or not, they came at really inopportune times for his team. They were also a product of his Achilles heel, trying too hard to make something happen. He was the only Bruins’ defender with negative possession numbers with most of the dangerous chances against coming off rushes. He really struggles to identify the right coverages and decisions in those situations. Clifton has improved and #Cliffyhockey could be valuable to the Bruins, but he needs to sort out those couple key faults.
Jarred Tinordi (C-) – Tinordi played the least minutes of every Bruin at 5v5. He is a terrible puck mover as evidenced on the Penguins’ second goal where his poor regroup pass went directly to the opposition and keyed their counterattack. His poor gap on the subsequent rush was also noticeable. He is fine on the penalty kill but I wonder if John Moore was healthy if Tinordi would still be in the lineup.
Anders Bjork (D) – The underachieving winger had a good one-time chance early on and sacrificed with a gutsy shot block in the first. The next time you noticed him though was when he made an extra move at the offensive blue line causing an off-sides in the third. He was the only Bruins’ forward with a negative expected goals percentage and was demoted to the fourth line in the middle of the game.
Moment(s) of the night
At least there is one happy Bruins’ fan tonight: