By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter: @BostonDiGiorgio
The Boston Bruins headed into Sunday’s game in Pittsburgh, winning six of their last seven games. The Bruins were six points ahead of the New York Rangers for the final spot in the East Division. After Sunday’s game, the Bruins were shut out and allowed the Rangers to close the gap to four points. The loss featured another example when the top line can’t get anything going, the team falters.
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 top section of the graphic belongs to the Penguins, while the bottom to the Bruins, for 5v5 gameplay only. Even though the Penguins scored the game’s only goal, their numbers suggest they played a complete game. The Bruins looked lackluster at times, and the numbers support that.
The graphic that Conor Ryan tweeted above comes from Natural Stat Trick. The Bruins seemed to be plagued by an invisible forcefield in front of Pittsburgh’s goal. Their lack of net-front presence shows their inability to get a quality scoring chance going, while Pittsburgh’s map shows a very different story. The Penguins were in behind the Bruins’ defense all game and capitalized. This cannot happen again if the Bruins want to be successful against some of the league’s best teams.
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.
Jeremy Swayman (A): You don’t have to be a hockey expert to know Jeremy Swayman was the Bruins’ best player yesterday. He was the only reason the Bruins didn’t lose by more. Swayman saved 28 of the 29 total shots on goal and had an in-game .966 save percentage. He improved his season total stats to a 5-2 record with a 1.57 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. He made some superb saves last night, one of which denied Zach Aston-Reese late in the third. The play featured in the video below speaks to the Bruins’ defensive game yesterday. The pass easily gets through two Boston defenders leaving Aston-Reese alone with Swayman. After Dan Vladar’s stellar first game this year, I had said that he might be in line to take over Jaroslav Halak’s backup job next year. I was wrong; it might be Swayman’s job.
David Pastrnak (B): The “A” train starts and ends with Swayman. Pastrnak has tallied 14 points in 15 games in April thus far. These totals surprised me because Pastrnak doesn’t seem like himself. He will go stretches without any goals and be nearly invisible but will tally two or more points in a single game. I don’t think he’s dealing with an injury; I think he’s yet to really find that rhythm he found so easily last year. He nearly pulled off an impressive assist last night, which would’ve tied the game, but the Penguins defenseman stifled the opportunity.
Matt Grzelcyk (B): Grzelcyk has taken a physical beating this year, which can be expected playing top minutes. He’s been battling injuries all year and seemed to shake it off last game in Buffalo finally. Unfortunately, he took a shot off the foot last night and seemed to be in discomfort. This is an injury to keep an eye out, which, ironically, Patrice Bergeron is dealing with a similar ailment. The time he missed tending to his foot yesterday played a role in being the defensemen with the third-least playing time last night. The Bruins are at their best when Grzelcyk is close to the top in playing time. He led the team in blocks (four) and delivered one hit.
Charlie McAvoy (B): Another player who the Bruins lean on is Charlie McAvoy. Stop me if you’ve heard this before; McAvoy played the most for the Bruins yesterday. He fired two shots on goal and registered one block. McAvoy handled the Sidney Crosby line for most of the night and was not on the ice for their eventual goal. He played a fair game, nothing to write home about, as is the case with the rest of the team. He has shown no signs of slowing down, just a game that he wasn’t impactful.
Brad Marchand (B): Marchand had a similar game to McAvoy; nothing to write home about. He fired three shots on goal, which was second on the team. He was on the ice for 16 shot attempts, which is in line with his linemates. The first line was generating scoring opportunities; the puck didn’t get close enough to Tristan Jarry, and the shots weren’t effective enough.
Patrice Bergeron (B): The Captain was a game-time decision after taking a slapshot to the foot in Buffalo. The team was out of whack, with Bergeron missing Friday’s game, so it was great to see Patrice return. Unfortunately, his return didn’t spark the team, and Bergeron received the game’s only penalty. The referees let a lot go by today’s NHL standards, and while Bergeron’s high-stick was a penalty, it was a bit embellished on Jake Guentzal’s part. Unfortunately, that’s how high-sticks are rewarded nowadays; whichever player can make it more obvious they were hit in the face with a stick. Despite the penalty, Bergeron did finish the game with one shot on goal and a face-off winning percentage of 56.5%.
Charlie Coyle (B-): Even though Coyle scored above a “C,” he wasn’t nearly as effective as he could’ve been. Boston’s Head Coach, Bruce Cassidy, is quite aware of Coyle’s lackluster season (comments in the “Moment of the Night” section). Coyle was zero for four in the face-off dot yesterday in 14 minutes on ice. He delivered three hits, one block, and two shots on goal. He has just 15 points in 46 games, which is on pace for a mere 18 points. Coyle is the lead dog on the third line. A successful and effective third line can be the difference between a long playoff run and an early playoff exit. Maybe it’s time to sit Coyle for a game or two?
Jake DeBrusk (C+): Another player who is enduring a really rough year is Jake DeBrusk. DeBrusk seems to be long removed from his stellar 27-goal season in 2018-2019. He has not found a rhythm for weeks. I thought the Taylor Hall trade would benefit DeBrusk the most because he wouldn’t be relied on to score as much on the second line. However, he still needs to produce on the third line. He had his chances last night and seemed more engaged but couldn’t find any finish in his game.
Curtis Lazar (C): Lazar’s game last night is similar to that of a school project where one member is relied on to do most of the work. He started the game with his usual suspects of Sean Kuraly and Chris Wagner. He ended the game with Jake DeBrusk and Charlie Coyle. This move seemed more about sparking DeBrusk and Coyle and less about Lazar. Lazar looked a bit out of sorts last night, and some of Cassidy’s line shuffling may have played into that. Lazar has been a man on a mission since Boston acquired him at the deadline. He’s brought intensity and grit to the fourth line, and it seemed to work for the first couple of games. Unfortunately, Wagner and Kuraly are still enduring their rough years, and Lazar’s spark wasn’t enough last night.
Jeremy Lauzon (C-): Lauzon had a tough game yesterday, especially in the first period. Lauzon fell at the blue line in the first period, which led to a near 2 on 1 for the Penguins, saved by a tremendous backcheck from Taylor Hall. Lauzon was also roughed up, particularly by Kasperi Kapanen in the second period. Lauzon is not known for his offensive prowess and has seen better days.
Nick Ritchie (C-): Depending on who you ask, Ritchie is the front-runner for the Bruins’ 7th player award. This is given to the player who’s the “unsung hero of the team.” Last night is not a game that will be on the voting ballot. Ritchie iced the puck in the third period when it really should have been an easy breakout. At the ensuing face-off, the Penguins took advantage and scored the game’s lone goal. The goal was not all of Ritchie’s fault, but he didn’t help. He also played the third least amount of minutes on the Bruins with 11:49.
Taylor Hall (C-): I’m going against the grain here a bit and giving Hall a higher score than he received. Hall has seemed to be a completely different player since joining the Bruins, and I was wrong about him so far. He seems to be gelling nicely with David Krejci and Craig Smith. Hall fed a beautiful pass to Craig Smith in the third period, the Bruins’ best opportunity. He also hustled back to make up for Lauzon’s fall to break up a 2 on 1 for the Penguins in the first period. He showed a lot of soft skills, which aren’t typically rewarded.
Steven Kampfer (C-): Kampfer was coming off a three-point career night entering yesterday’s game. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to use that magic in Pittsburgh. Kampfer has played more games this year than I think we all anticipated. He’s done his job fine throughout his time on the ice. He wasn’t particularly effective and not an eventful game.
Craig Smith (D+): Not a great game from Smith. He had a chance to tie the game up in the third from a wonderful pass by Taylor Hall but shot the puck directly into Jarry’s stomach. He had a team-high four shots on goal and has generally played well on any line he’s asked to be on. It is not time to pull him off of the second line. He received some style points for his help on Hall’s backcheck.
David Krejci (D): Another player who had a tough game, and it’s a bit out of character for David. He played the most minutes out of any forward with 20:16. He did win nine of 16 face-offs, but other than that, nothing came from his game. The second line didn’t produce much of anything, and Krejci is the driving force.
Sean Kuraly & Chris Wagner (D-): Just not a good game from either player. When Wagner was on the ice, he was second in expected goals against, which was only nine minutes of ice time. Kuraly followed him up with 10 minutes of total ice time. Neither payer could get anything going, and it may be time to get Karson Kuhlman back in the lineup for one of them.
Kevan Miller & Mike Reilly (D-): I’m not particularly eager to give out failing grades, which may make me an easy grader. These two were given the worst totals of the game, and it may be because they were on the ice for the only goal. Reilly had been receiving top grade after top grade since Boston acquired him from Ottawa. Miller has been seen as a 7th player award finalist (to some) and has battled injuries to stay in the lineup. Cassidy didn’t seem too concerned with Reilly, as he played the second-most on the team. Miller seemed to be recovering fine from his latest injury.
Moment Of The Night
I went back and forth on the Moment of the Night in a game where there wasn’t much to choose from. For me, though, the most telling part of the night came in the press conferences after the game ended. Bruce Cassidy gave a shoutout to a particular group of players who need to step up for the team’s sake. Anyone who has watched a stretch of games this year knows who he was talking about. Hopefully, the message was received, and if it wasn’t, maybe it’s time for some new blood in the lineup.