By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
The Bruins managed a seven to five victory in a game reminiscent of the 1980s. The theme was completed with several dog piles in this latter half of a back-to-back. Both teams played with a sense of urgency with Boston trying to solidify its spot in the top-four of the division and Pittsburgh needing the points to stay in the first-place conversation with Washington and New York. 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.
Despite a game that looked and felt high-flying the underlying metrics are fairly subdued. On a number of occasions, be it sustained zone time or dangerous rushes ended without much to speak of. However, both teams did generate a number of scoring chances, half of each of their shot attempts at 5v5, and were quite opportunistic about them.
Coach Cassidy will both love and hate this heatmap. He has been clamoring for his team to get to the interior more and you’ll note they were successful in doing so both through timely cuts, good body position, and staking out soft space for rebounds. He will however not be pleased with how often his team defense allowed the opposition to penetrate their house on this particular afternoon.
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.
Brad Marchand (A) – If not for a slow first period this grade would be an A+. Marchand was absolutely electric in the second period. He started heating up with a couple of good slot passes which seemed to get his confidence back. His timely cut coming off the bench led to the Bruins’ third goal, one of his three on the night. His mobility and playmaking finding a seam to Krejci for a tap-in on the powerplay was perhaps his finest play of the night.
Patrice Bergeron (A) – The Captain has looked increasingly dangerous of late generating a number of opportunities from the low slot. He did so again today and was rewarded with a goal for being at the right place at the right time. Bergeron’s ability to gain body positioning and win little battles was on display both on the goal and a number of other moments. His line got the better of Crosby and company by a sizeable margin.
Craig Smith (A) – Smith often plays like a spark plug and he has very much been exactly that for the Bs top-line since his promotion. He adds a straight line forechecking presence and an ability to cycle that it lacked with Pastrnak. This very much compliments Bergeron’s style and allows Marchand to be the primary puck transporter. The wingers’ disruption below the goal-line and effort forechecking was instrumental on the first goal. While Smith is still shooting the puck, five attempts, he is much more deferential with the puck when playing on the top-line.
David Pastrnak (A) – Per his coach’s orders, Pastrnak is getting more to the middle of the ice and potted two goals from in-tight. His bid for the hattrick was thwarted by a timely hook. The dynamic winger was not missing on the 2v1 in third after missing a breakaway shifts earlier. Pasta and Krejci make for a great fit. The two Czechs are creative and prefer to possess the puck and look for plays rather than purely charging ahead in straight lines. Being coupled with Nick Ritchie, who also likes to delay with the puck rather than pushing the pace, has led to some very nice chemistry and has been quite enjoyable to watch.
David Krejci (A) – Krejci had an excellent game centering a dominant line that produced more than 80% of the expected goals while on the ice. He had a good retrieval and circled high to support McAvoy before putting the puck on the net to earn an assist on the Bruins’ second goal, the 500th of his career. His tap-in on the powerplay was likely one of his easier ones but they all count! Perhaps he had a secret weapon on this night, stay tuned for that in the moment of the night.
Charlie McAvoy/Matt Grzelcyk (A) – It’s really hard for me to separate these two, and I’m sure that’s true for the coaching staff after again losing Brandon Carlo. They again complemented each other extremely well. While I’m usually quick to point out their quick transition it was actually their defensive zone play that really impressed me tonight. The two did a great job of sorting out assignments and switches against tough competition. Grzelcyk was more physical than usual in his attempts to kill the Pen’s offensive zone movement. Both factored in heavily to the offense with Grzelcyk activating, circling, and making a great pass to a cutting Marchand for his lone assist. In the meantime, McAvoy picked up three assists with simple but important plays.
Nick Ritchie (A) – As Andy Brickley pointed out on the broadcast, Ritchie was instrumental in his team’s second goal. He helped start the play in the defensive zone, sustained the play behind the goal line, and then set an instrumental screen, for which he received an assist after the puck caromed off him to Pastrnak. Later in the game, he had a takeaway at the offensive blue line leading to a silky pass to Pastrnak for a goal on the ensuing 2v1. Ritchie was physical throughout the game and repeatedly made smart and impactful plays with the puck and away from it.
Jakub Zboril (B+) – Zboril is fun to watch on 4v4 and is starting to get more pucks through the first layer at 5v5. Other than one or two moments where he struggled laterally with the Pen’s most high skilled forwards, he was extremely solid defending well and quickly advancing the puck to relieve pressure in his own zone. If Little Z (still trying to make it stick) can find a way to improve his lateral mobility just a little bit, sort his assignments as he did this evening, and add just a touch of offensive flair the Bs could have a real player on their hands.
Steven Kampfer (B) – Kampfer failed to close on Guentzel on the rush leading to a powerplay goal from the Penguins. He flubbed a couple of passes though those didn’t amount to much. Otherwise, it was a quiet and effective game from the depth defender while playing second-pair minutes alongside rookie Jakub Zboril.
Charlie Coyle (B-) – Coyle had a couple of good chances in the first. Any rhythm he had was derailed in the second seeing less ice during special teams play. His line received the secondary assignment against Crosby’s line and managed okay. However, they were victimized twice by the Jankowski line. Coyle deserves credit for some great work in helping the Bs close out the game as despite a down season thus far, the penalty kill and closing out games have been an area he can be counted on. He earned an assist on Marchand’s empty-net goal.
Jaroslav Halak (C+) – Halak could be heard expressing his feelings a couple of times on the broadcast. Let’s just say they were angsty. The Slovak netminder wins the Grant Fuhr award after this game for conceding five goals but making some huge saves to keep his team in the game. His save on Guentzel halfway through the third period was of the spectacular and clutch variety. When you leave Jack Edwards speechless you’ve done something right! Having said that, this was not his best game. He failed to square up properly on the fourth Pens’ goal off the stick of Cody Ceci, granted it came off a cross-ice pass. The dud of a fifth goal came as Halak was distracted by a cutter on a harmless shot from the top of the circle. He managed the win though and there is a lot to be said for that.
Sean Kuraly (C+) – After an extended absence from the lineup Kuraly had some jump. Playing on the wing really frees him up to play to his strengths, dashing up the ice with speed and tenacity. It doesn’t always amount to a lot with only one scoring chance in the game despite a number of moments that felt dangerous.
Jack Studnicka/Zach Senyshyn/Trent Frederic (C-) – The trio averaged about eight minutes each in this one and not a whole lot happened while they were out there. Studnicka and Frederic did receive a minus after an icing led to a set play goal by Guentzel off a great feed by Crosby but I’d put that more on the defenseman than the two forwards. The line made a point to put pucks deep in the zone whenever they had the opportunity. A low-event game is fine out of these young forwards though ideally, you’d like to see them tease you with a little more skill as you imagine them potentially leading future squads.
Anders Bjork (D+) – While Coyle and Kuraly both had moments that stood out in the positive column, Bjork has reverted back to being invisible after showing positive signs earlier in the week. The continued inconsistency likely means the forward will remain on the lineup bubble if and when the roster is healthy (or trade reinforcements arrive).
Connor Clifton/Jarred Tinordi (D) – This is not a good pair. The duo struggles to advance the puck out of their own zone and frequently get crossed up on their assignments, especially on the rush but also in-zone. Clifton has been playing well of late by while riding shotgun with Tinordi reverted back to his ways of doing too much. Tinordi is a good soldier but a limited player who needs a better puck mover by his side.
Moment of the night
I mean, there really isn’t any other plausible explanation!