(Photo Credit: AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

By Michael DiGiorgio | Follow Me On Twitter: @BostonDiGiorgio

Boston’s Head Coach, Bruce Cassidy, made his comments clear at the end of Sunday’s 1-0 loss to Pittsburgh. He called out certain players’ lack of effort, and most of the team answered last night. The Bruins looked more energized in the first period last night than Sunday’s 3:00 pm game. Bruins’ goaltender, Tuukka Rask, was arguably the team’s best player, stopping 25 of 26 shots, many of them coming in crucial parts of the game. The Bruins won’t see the Penguins until the playoffs and ended the season series with a 4-3-1 record against Mike Sullivan’s team. Boston also kept its lead on the New York Rangers, just four points behind fourth place.

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.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

The top part of the image belongs to Pittsburgh, while the bottom to Boston in all 5v5 situations. The Bruins were more effective in most facets of the game, including Corsi percentage, face-off percentage, and shot percentage. These stats tell a very particular story, and that’s the Bruins possessed the puck for the majority of the game, which is supported by the game’s score.

Courtesy of Natural Stat Trick

The heat map from last night’s game is far different than that of Sunday’s game. The Bruins were able to penetrate the Penguins’ defense and get near Tristan Jarry. The Bruins had two high-danger chances all game on Sunday and two within the first few minutes of last night’s game. They were much more effective with the puck and shot with a purpose.

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.

Courtesy of Hockey Stat Cards

Charlie McAvoy (A+): Boy, McAvoy put on a show last night. He was all over the ice, in a good way, and made life very difficult for Sidney Crosby and company. Crosby finished the game with zero shots on goal in three attempts and a minus-three. McAvoy played a role in Crosby’s poor showing, and he assisted the Bruins’ first goal. McAvoy gets a crisp pass from Tuukka Rask (who was awarded the secondary assist), and the Penguins allowed McAvoy free range to roam. He broke the puck out of his zone with ease and made a smart pass to David Krejci, who was waiting for the puck right before the blue line. This is the movement and type of play we like to see from the Bruins’ number one defenseman.

Mike Reilly (A+): This is the Reilly we like to see! He finished with a team-high plus-three and made the first pass to David Krejci for Taylor Hall’s eventual goal. Reilly has been a workhorse since joining the Bruins, and surprisingly only played 16:44 last night, but was effective for most of it. He received a borderline holding the stick penalty but made up for it elsewhere. He had one shot on goal along with one hit and one block. Reilly is one of the best defenders when shooting the puck through traffic, and the numbers back it up.

David Krejci (A): Krejci played in his 955th game last night and secured two points. He opened the game’s scoring late in the second period with a nifty backhand past Tristan Jarry’s glove (video in McAvoy’s grade). David was also Taylor Hall’s primary assist for Boston’s third goal of the game. He had four shots on goal and an impressive 69.2% at the face-off dot. Krejci is averaging 0.73 points per game this year, which puts him on pace for 41 points this year. He’s averaging 0.76 points per game in his career, so he still plays an extremely effective game. The below stat was tweeted out after the second period last night and spoke to the team’s success when the first two lines are effective.

David Pastrnak (A): This was the type of game that we expect from Pastrnak each night. Pastrnak led the team in shots last night (six) and assisted Brad Marchand’s 26th goal of the year. Pastrnak’s best games come when he is constantly firing the puck on the net. He has 156 shots on the year, which puts him on pace for 213 shots in a full 56-game season. His career-high is 279 points, and he ended with 48 goals that year. I believe a highly respected hockey player once said, “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take” (Wayne Gretzky). Pastrnak is taking the Great One’s advice.

Taylor Hall (A): Don’t look now, but Taylor Hall has seven points in nine games with the Bruins. Hall looks to be revitalized with Boston and a completely different player than seen in Buffalo and Arizona, and even Edmonton. It might be true that Hall is at his best when he’s not THE player to take his team to the next level. There is nothing wrong with that, and he’s thriving with Krejci and Craig Smith. Hall finished the game with four shots on goal, two hits, a goal, and a plus-two rating. His goal was the most impressive we’ve seen this year from Hall, sniping the top right corner and making Bruins fans realize who Don Sweeney actually traded for.

Brad Marchand (A): Marchand scored his team-leading 26th goal last night, which proved to be the game-winner. He led the offense in time on ice with 20:26 minutes. He fired five shots on goal while delivering two hits. He shoots with a purpose to Jarry’s head (not maliciously). Pastrnak shoots the rebound, almost certainly looking to score, and the Bruins get a lucky bounce, and Marchand was waiting for the backdoor rebound to pot home. These routine plays are what the Bruins need to continue to do each game.

Patrice Bergeron (A): Do you see the trend here? Every player thus far with a high grade comes from the top two lines. This is because every player from the top two lines played near-flawless games. While Bergeron didn’t show up on the scoresheet, he was effective nonetheless. He was a plus-one, firing three shots on goal, delivered two hits and one block in 17 minutes of gameplay. He was also 19 of 30 at the face-off dot. The Bruins’ captain was great last night, and he’ll need to deliver these types of games as we advance.

Tuukka Rask (A): Rask’s score via Hockey Stat Cards is slightly lower than what I’m awarding him. Rask played an outstanding game, making timely and crucial saves. He saved 25 of 26 total shots and finished the game with a .962 save percentage. Rask made a handful of saves that will be part of his highlight reel last night, and two of them came late in the first. The game was scoreless at the time of these goals, and if they had gone in, the game might have played out very differently. One of the keys to a team’s success is their goalie’s ability to make timely saves, and these two were extremely important.

Craig Smith (A-): Smith joins Bergeron in being the only two top-line forwards who didn’t record a point last night. He was on the ice for two goals for and none against and was tied for the best expected goals-against score on the team (0.04). This stat means the Penguins had a 4% chance of scoring a goal when Smith was on the ice. This is a great stat for a second-line forward. He was held to zero shots on goal, which snaps his 14-game shot on goal streak. It was also his second game of the year with zero shots on goal.

Matt Grzelcyk (B+): Grzelcyk played a great game last night, despite being on the ice for the Penguins’ only goal. He was five minutes behind McAvoy in time on ice but finished second on the team. He was primarily paired with McAvoy, which is a deadly combination. These two likely won’t play with each other once Brandon Carlo is healthy, but if Cassidy ever needs his best two defenders together, the trust is there. Grzelcyk hit a milestone last night, his 100th shot attempt of the year. As seen above in Mike Reilly’s grade, the chart shows that Grzelcyk leads all NHL defensemen in pucks getting through to the net. He has 63 shots in 30 games with the season, which equates to 118 shots on goal in a full 56-game season.

Kevan Miller (B): It’s great to see Miller back and healthy because the Bruins benefit from his play. The blue line bruiser delivered three hits and four blocks last night in 17 minutes on ice. He was paired with Mike Reilly on the second pairing, which is not where he would typically play with a healthy Carlo. Though, it was great to see Miller answer the bell and play up to top-four caliber. Hopefully, he can stay healthy as the season progresses.

Curtis Lazar (B-): Lazar played the least amount of time last night, with only 10 minutes of ice time. He capitalized when he needed to and was awarded the secondary assist on Brad Marchand’s goal. In nine games with Boston, Lazar has three points, which may not seem like a lot. To put it into perspective, he is averaging 0.34 points per game with Boston instead of 0.28 with Buffalo. If Lazar had started the year with Boston and scored at this pace, he would’ve ended the year with 19 points. His career-high is 20 points in 76 games. Boston had been searching for a spark on their fourth line, and they may have found it in what initially was seen as a throw-in in the Hall trade.

Charlie Coyle (B-): Coyle looked like a player determined to show his coach he heard his comments loud and clear. Bruce Cassidy didn’t specifically call out names in his Sunday comments, though I think we can all deduce who he meant. Coyle actually flanked Sean Kuraly in last night’s game, which came as a bit of a surprise. Coyle’s primary position is center, and the Bruins benched Jake DeBrusk. To make the lines work, Cassidy stuck Coyle on the right side on the third line. He recorded just one shot on goal, but he looked more effective in the offensive zone. Hopefully, this is a sign of good things to come because the Bruins desperately need the third line to turn the page on an ugly season.

Nick Ritchie (C+): According to the report card above, Ritchie scored a 0.0 for the entire game. He only tallied 11 minutes and was Kuraly’s left-wing. He had two shots on goal and delivered two hits. Other than that, a very quiet game from the potential 7th player award finalist.

Connor Clifton (C): Clifton had a scary moment at the end of the first period when he took a shot off the inside of the knee. Thankfully, he was okay and returned the next period. Clifton has been much more physical this year, which might come as a shock given his 5’11, 175-pound frame. He has 98 hits on the year thus far, which surpasses his career-high 90 last year. He also has 47 blocks, which also crushes his career-high 33, happening last year. He’s making the most of his ice time this year, given the injuries with Boston and an impact on the NHL’s best penalty kill unit.

Trent Frederic (C): If you have a Twitter and follow the right people, you would have noticed that many wondered why Trent Frederic hadn’t played in 21 calendar days. The Bruins haven’t given a reason why he was sitting all this time, but it may have something to do with the fourth line trying to find its identity. Frederic was strong on the puck last night, though he only played 10 minutes. He delivered five hits and one block, which is what you want to see from a fourth-line forward.

Jeremy Lauzon (C): Lauzon is gaining Cassidy’s trust, which may come as a pain point to some. Lauzon was one of the primary defensemen used in the Penguins’ late surge last night, in the final moments of the period. His game is more like Carlo’s than McAvoy’s. He and Miller led the team with four blocks and tied with Kuraly for a team-leading six hits. It was great to see the physicality from Lauzon, and he even dropped the gloves with Teddy Blueger. It was his second fighting major of the year.

Sean Kuraly & Chris Wagner (C-): Another game that the two bottom-line forwards finished last on the team, according to Hockey Stat Cards’ metric. Kuraly actually played 15 minutes last night, while Wagner only 10:35. The difference in time was due to Kuraly’s usage on the third line. Kuraly was on the ice for the Penguins’ goal, though Rask had almost no chance of stopping it. On the other hand, Wagner recorded one shot and five hits, but not nearly as effective outside of that.

Moment Of The Night

Some may have chosen a different moment from last night, but given my soft spot for goalies, it goes to Rask recording his second assist in as many games. Rask has been bitten by the injury bug a bit this year. Thankfully, the Bruins’ goaltending depth has answered the call, but the Bruins need Rask to be 100% healthy for the playoffs. The Bruins’ best chance to win is with Rask in net, though some may be hard-pressed to admit that.