PHOTO CREDITS: (Jeffrey T. Barnes/AP)

By: Max Mainville | Check me out on Twitter @tkdmaxbjj

This week, the Bruins take on the NHL’s worst team – by far – the Buffalo Sabres on three occasions, the first of which coming on Tuesday night. In a playoff race that is heating up by the day, the Bruins need two points in every meeting and that is what they got in game one this week. The win was bigger than just the two points for another reason as well. Both the Pittsburgh Penguins (3rd) and New York Islanders (2nd) picked up wins so the B’s needed to keep up.

The Numbers:

Data from NaturalStatTrick

Considering their position in the standings, the Bruins likely should have dominated this game more than they did, but they got the job done. Boston’s first forty minutes were solid, highlighted by a dominating second period where they controlled in every stat, but then fell behind a bit in the final regulation frame that concluded with some poor play in the closing minutes.

This is what makes Bruins fans smile. Offence generated in front of the opposition’s crease. Boston has been doing that a lot more frequently as of late and it has translated well in the standings as the Bruins have won five-straight games. It doesn’t take a genius to know that the closer you are to the net itself – the higher your odds go to find the back of the net for a goal.

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.

Tuukka Rask (A+) – Tuukka Rask looked like Tuukka Rask tonight. A 32-save shutout and made one of the best saves we have seen all year, a diving stop to keep his shutout intact. Calm, composed, and even when the Sabres had a bit of pressure near the end of the game, he kept his cool and secured the win for Boston.

Connor Clifton (A) – In my humble opinion, this was one of, if not the best games Connor Clifton played this year. He was strong defensively, looked good offensively too – chipping in the second goal of the game with a ripper from the point – and was secure throughout the entire game. Clifton was on the ice for both goals scored while recording three hits, two blocked shots, and just over three minutes of penalty-kill time. Aside from his two double-minor penalties in the last game, this is two back-to-back solid performances from ‘Cliffy Hockey’.

Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron (A) – Boston’s top line had a solid outing, scoring the game’s first goal off a Brad Marchand backhander in tight on Dustin Tokarski. Marchand, Pastrnak, and Bergeron out-shot the Sabres 9-5 while on the ice at 5v5 and had a terrific 86.07 xGF% along with a 63.64 CF%. The abundance of goal-scoring didn’t come, but they got one and were strong all-around as well.

Taylor Hall (A) – Hall is fitting in well with the Bruins as his experience with the club continues. Hall looked good offensively, setting up a few solid plays for multiple Bruins while also being very responsible defensively including one possession where he hustled back to make a stop on a 2-on-1 chance for the Sabres while the game was at 4-on-4. Hall is not only creating plays on offence – the reason Don Sweeney acquired him – but he is doing his part in his own end as well.

David Krejci and Craig Smith (A) – Hall’s linemates had a pretty good game as well, even if they didn’t get on the scoresheet. The line was arguably the best tonight at 5v5, finishing with an outstanding 80.77 CF% and 87.98 xGF% while outshooting the Sabres 8-3 while on the ice. Craig Smith led the Bruins in shot attempts with seven as well – this was a great day for the second line.

Curtis Lazar, Sean Kuraly, Chris Wagner (A) – Boston’s top two lines had a good game and so did the fourth line. Everywhere I looked, it seemed one of these three players were on the ice, fighting for pucks along the boards or keeping possession in Buffalo’s end. Lazar and Kuraly were credited with the assists on Clifton’s goal in the second period, but it was constant continuation of their hard work and effort to win those small battles. Every good team needs a fourth line and right now – Boston has that.

Charlie McAvoy (A) – The best Bruins defenceman had a typical Charlie McAvoy night. Good performance on both ends of the ice and made plays when able. He was on the ice for the most shots for while 5v5 (14) and only allowed eight against. Four of those shots for were his own as well. McAvoy also had a stellar 1.09 xGF in this one, proving his talent in this league. No points in this one, but that isn’t always needed for him.

Matt Grzelcyk (B) – Grzelcyk looked good in his first game back returning from injury. The defenceman had two shots on goal, two blocked shots and had the most power-play time for defenders on Boston with 3:10 recorded. Also looked great in his own end, using his effortless skating and stick control to strip the Sabres’ forwards of the puck and end the rush. Bruins need to hope he stays healthy.

Mike Reilly (B) – Brad Marchand’s opening goal, which ended up being the game-winning goal, was largely set up by Mike Reilly. Reilly entered deep into the zone before finding David Pastrnak in-tight. Pastrnak’s shot was stopped by Tokarski, but Marchand scooped up the rebound to bury it top shelf. Reilly had a 91.5 expected goals % at 5v5, one of the best on the team.

Charlie Coyle, Jake DeBrusk, Nick Ritchie (C) – This line has been the only low point of Boston’s team on this winning streak and the same continued tonight. They were the only forward line to get out-shot by Buffalo (3-6) and had an abysmal 21.43 CF%. Coyle had a couple decent chances, but missed the net on them including a batted puck off a Taylor Hall feed. This line hustles at times, but seems to be slacking at others.

Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril (C) – This pairing was not optimal tonight whatsoever. The duo allowed the most shot attempts against as a pairing for the Bruins defence and they had a poor 33.33 Corsi % in addition to the worst on-ice xGoals Differential. Zboril was on the ice for a goal, but this pairing wasn’t as good as it should be against a team like the Sabres.

Moment of the Night:

Highway robbery from Tuukka Rask.