By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter: @BostonDiGiorgio
Well, that was fun! The Boston Bruins looked like a new team Thursday night, and in actuality, they were. Since the trade deadline, the Bruins played their second game, where General Manager Don Sweeney acquired three new faces. Mike Reilly, Taylor Hall, and Curtis Lazar have given the Bruins a much-needed boost to their game and last night was a prime example of that.
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 numbers above portray an accurate description of what happened in the game. The Bruins spent much of the first period on the power play, scoring on one of their three chances. The Islanders roared back with a more effective second period but the Bruins finished them off in the third.
The Bruins heat map depicts another accurate picture. They were extremely effective out front of Semyon Varlamov and benefited from the new guys’ style of play.
I did want to add one additional graphic that we don’t typically add. Hockey Reference has a shot chart, and the Bruins stifled one of the best teams in the league below the face-off dot. As seen below, the Bruins allowed TWO shots below the face-off dot all game. That is an incredible feat, given they are without two of their best defensemen. It’ll be interesting to see how the Bruins do in the next couple of games regarding this, and it would be an immense help to their goaltending if they can continue.
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.
Mike Reilly (A+): If you didn’t know who the newly-acquired left-shot defense was on the Bruins, you do now. What a game for Reilly, as he put on a clinic showing what the Bruins have been missing for years. The former 2011 fourth-round draft selection covered the top power-play unit for the Bruins and perfectly broke the puck out of his own zone every chance he got. The Bruins get this type of play from Matt Grzelcyk, but it’s great to see someone else share the load. Reilly is confident and smooth with the puck and added his twentieth assist of the year last night. He also played the second-most minutes, just 29 seconds behind Charlie McAvoy. In his second game of the year with the Bruins, it’s clear Head Coach Bruce Cassidy trusts his game.
David Pastrnak (A): You wouldn’t know it based on the criticism Pastrnak has received on Twitter, but he scored 0.13 points behind Reilly last night. Pastrnak tallied two assists, both at even strength, bumping his season total to 18 assists in 34 games. Both assists came in the third period to solidify the Bruins win and help Taylor Hall score his first as a Bruin. David was inches away from scoring a late-third-period goal but hit the side of the net with his backhand attempt. He has been a bit snake-bitten in the goal-scoring department, not having scored in seven consecutive games. The Bruins are most effective when Pastrnak is putting the puck in the net, so hopefully, his time will come before the playoffs.
Connor Clifton (A): Clifton played one of his best games to date last night. In 19 minutes of ice time, he delivered four hits and was a major reason the Isles couldn’t get anything going. Clifton has had a very up-and-down year, being put in positions where he’s asked too much due to injuries. Last night he benefited from a new defensive pairing, and hopefully, this can turn his game around for good.
Brad Marchand (A): Marchand continues his MVP season. In 16:48 minutes on ice, Marchand scored two goals, the first and last of the game. His first goal had to be reviewed as the puck grazed his jersey over the shoulder of Varlamov. Both of his goals also came at even strength, and he fired three shots on the net. Marchand is experiencing his highest shooting percentage in his career: 21.6%. He ranks fifth in the NHL in this department, and it’s clear he is playing above the rest of the team. Marchand has played some of his best hockey this year, and hopefully, it will spark the rest of his line.
Patrice Bergeron (A): Bergeron is the last “A” in this game. He tallied one assist, which was on Marchand’s first of the game. He won 58.3% of the face-offs while appearing in a season-low seven draws. Bergeron and Pastrnak can only improve here, and their scoring will make the Bruins a scary team to face.
Taylor Hall (B+): Welcome to Boston, Taylor Hall. Everyone thought Hall would score his first Bruin goal against his former team, the Buffalo Sabres, on Tuesday night. Unfortunately, that did not come to fruition, but he made up for it in a hurry. Hall is currently playing on David Krejci’s left-side and has been gelling with him nicely. The left-winger played the least amount of minutes of any forward last night but finished with three shots on goal, one hit, one block, and a goal. He scored on a semi-breakaway, having to fight off an Islander defender. He snuck the goal under Varlamov’s legs and celebrated as if he knew it was a huge relief. If Hall can continue to score and make plays for the Bruins, Don Sweeney and the fans will be smiling.
Craig Smith (B): Craig Smith is on fire right now. Smith scored his 10th goal of the year last night, extending his point streak to six games. Smith’s game-winning goal came on the power-play in the first period. He fired four shots on goal in 16 minutes of play and has been the brightest spot on the Bruins in the past 10 games. Smith has played on Hall and Krejci’s line, and the Bruins may have found their second line tandem. Smith started the year off extremely slow but has picked his game up as of late, and the Bruins are benefiting.
Jakub Zboril (B): Zboril has definitely had his growing pains this year, and last night he looked to shake some off. Zboril’s game has lacked confidence at times, but that is normal for a new NHL defender. He played the second-least amount of minutes for the defensive grouping and delivered two hits and two blocks. He had a couple of defensive lapses, giving the puck away in the defensive zone but recovered nicely when he needed to. Teams do not generally know what they have in an NHL defender until they’ve played 250 games, so we have a long road ahead to know what we truly have in Zboril.
Charlie McAvoy (B): McAvoy is thrilled to have another Matt Grzelcyk-type defenseman in his group. Thankfully, the focus wasn’t solely on McAvoy to produce last night, and he played a fine game. He led the team in time on ice with 23:41 minutes and delivered a team-high five hits. He added a power-play assist on Craig Smith’s goal, adding to his season total of 19 assists. He showed off his impeccable skating and real-time quick thinking on Smith’s goal.
David Krejci (B): Krejci provided the primary assist to Craig Smith’s power-play goal. Krejci increased his point total to 25 in 37 games. He was 10/18 at the face-off dot and delivered three shots on goal. Krejci has settled in nicely with his new wing-mates in Smith and Hall. He served a questionable two-minute minor last night, though he was effective most of the game. Currently, Krejci is 0.1% behind his career-high in face-off winning percentage. Face-offs may not seem like a big statistic but having successful centermen at the dot provides more possession for a team and more control of a game.
Jake DeBrusk (B): The one player who has benefited most from Taylor Hall’s entrance is Jake DeBrusk, in my opinion. DeBrusk had a plodding start to his year. He was even benched for a period of time. He is now skating with Charlie Coyle and Nick Ritchie and is not relied on to score with Krejci. He can work on his game on the third line and not be a focal point in the scoring department. He has some newfound legs and fire to his game and seems to be integrating nicely with Coyle. Their line wreaked havoc on the Islanders last night, and they’ll continue that tonight.
Nick Ritchie (B): Ritchie has been a bright spot for the Bruins this year, and Bruce Cassidy has placed him on the third line. My guess is Bruce hopes Ritchie will inject some life and rhythm to Coyle and DeBrusk. He did not record a goal or assist, a hit or a block, but he fired three shots on goal and had a 100% offensive zone start percentage. He appeared in seven offensive zone starts, and zero defensive zone starts. This might be something to monitor and see how it affects his game.
Steven Kampfer (B): Kampfer rounds out the Bruins’ “B” grades. He had a pretty uneventful game, having only played 11 minutes, which was Bruin low. Kampfer was signed to be the seventh defenseman to give players a rest or step in when the defensive starters are hurt. Currently, it’s the latter, and he has played fine in the 14 games he’s appeared in.
Charlie Coyle (C+): If you listened to the NESN broadcast last night, you might have heard Jack Edwards comment on Coyle’s point totals this season. He has gone 21 games without a goal and only played 12 minutes of ice time. He was an exact 50% at the face-off dot, only in appearing in six. He is statistically having the worst season of his career. He has, however, endured many new linemates and currently playing with DeBrusk and Ritchie. It seems this trio will be together for the end of the season, so hopefully, they can spark each other’s games.
Jeremy Lauzon (C+): The former 52nd overall draft choice in 2015 has matured each game he’s played in. He has definitely had his growing pains, similar to Zboril. Like Zboril, we don’t know what we have in Lauzon as he’s only played 62 career games. Lauzon’s game is similar to Brandon Carlo’s. He is not the most offensively gifted player, but he shoots the puck with purpose and can be relied on (for the most part) in the defensive one. There’s been a debate on Twitter whether to let him or Zboril sit a game, but it’s still too early to have that debate.
Curtis Lazar (C+): The image above gives Lazar a slightly lower score than what I’m choosing. Lazar was acquired in the deal that brought Taylor Hall to Boston in exchange for a 2021 second-round pick and Anders Bjork. Initially, many thought Lazar was a throw-in to the deal, but that is far from the truth. Lazar was the life the Bruins needed on their fourth line. He plays with incredible energy and intensity and has revitalized a lackluster fourth-line. He could be a sneaky great trade deadline pick-up for Sweeney.
Tuukka Rask (C+): Another player, the image above, gives a lower grade than me. Rask played a fine game, only giving up one goal on 23 shots. Rask hadn’t played a full game since March 7th, only playing in the first period on March 25th. Rask has nine wins this season, and a .910 save percentage, and a 2.31 goals-against average. The Rask hater group may not want to admit it, but if the Bruins want any chance of a long-playoff run, Rask needs to be at full health.
Sean Kuraly (C): Kuraly has been another up-and-down player this year. There were stretches of games that he was one of the least effective players on the ice, and other times, he looked rejuvenated. Last night, he was the latter, and most of it comes from the play from Curtis Lazar. Kuraly is in the final year of his contract and may receive the Noel Acciari treatment. In the meantime, Kuraly delivered two hits and three blocks last night, one of which potentially saved a goal from Ryan Pulock’s blast from above the face-off dot. He was also 50% at the face-off dot last night, which is great in a fourth-line centerman.
Chris Wagner (C): Wagner rounds out the team with a solid “C.” He had a team-high five shots on goal and delivered one hit. He seems to have benefited from Lazar’s arrival and will continue to work on his game. When the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011, their fourth-line was a major part of it. The Bruins will need a similar effort from their fourth-line, and Sweeney knew it.
Moment Of The Night
I did not want to spoil it above but the moment of the night was Tuukka Rask finally achieving his 300th career win. He became the first Bruin in their history to reach the 300th win mark and is the fifth-fastest to reach the feat in NHL’s history. He won his 300th in 552 career games. Martin Brodeur, Marc-Andre Fleury, Andy Moog, and Jacques Plante all rank faster, which is a great group to be a part of. Congrats, Tuukka!