(Photo by Steve Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown

How the Bruins perform against the Sabres in the coming weeks could dictate their season. While Boston was swooning at the mid-point of the campaign their contemporaries racked up points while taking advantage of a Buffalo team enduring an epic losing streak. Buffalo has been playing better of late but that was before the trade deadline sale of several key pieces, two of which landed in Beantown. Let’s break down the third game in this crucial eight-game series.

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.

Data from NaturalStatTrick

The Bruins were the stronger team most of the night which is not surprising given Buffalo’s struggles this year coupled with their fire sale at the trade deadline. Buffalo did generate some chances on the powerplay though nothing overly dangerous. Of a little concern given the frequency Boston will play Buffalo in this final stretch of the season is they rarely dominate teams of this nature. The Bruins play a style designed for tight checking games and therefore rarely run away from teams even in matchups where they should be able to.

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.

[Editor’s note: Game Score cards were not available for this game at time of publication]

Curtis Lazar/Sean Kuraly/Chris Wager (A) – This feels like the line Bruce Cassidy has been begging for all season. Kuraly and Wagner have played well the last few games. Adding in a defensively conscious, good skating, and physical player like Lazar could put this line over the top and give their head coach a lot more flexibility in matchups. The line out-chanced their opponents eight to four. All three are capable of producing chances though none are particularly deft finishers.

David Krejci (A) – My favorite Bruin scored! I was excited. Krejci served as the perfect pivot for the straight-line play of Hall and Smith. His line gave little up and was the most dangerous Boston line in transition. While it was often his linemates up the ice, the veteran center did a great job of starting plays from his own end. Also, did I mention he scored?

Craig Smith (A) – Smith had a goal and an assist and continues to be one of the catalysts of Boston’s resurgence after their rough patch in the middle of the season. He created the turnover and then did a great job of protecting the puck while his teammates joined him on the offensive zone on his team’s first goal. He then showed what a dangerous tandem he and Hall could make while darting through the middle on the rush before potting one of his own. Overall, Smith had fewer chances than usual but he made them count.

Charlie McAvoy (A) – Back in the lineup the coaching staff wasted no time thrusting McAvoy back into his starring role with over 25 minutes of ice time. The Bruins, as expected, spent most of that time in the offensive zone. McAvoy contributed more little things than big things in this one but his impact on the lineup is significant and his little plays make such a huge difference for his team.

Jeremy Lauzon (A-) – Lauzon’s time on ice generally went quite well as he led the defense in expected goals percentage and continues to be a key part of the penalty kill. On Krejci’s goal, his adeptly placed blast led to the opportune rebound. The defender though still struggles at times with his decision making up ice clanking a couple of head man passes off skates or dangerously close to bad turnovers. He does seem to be getting his game back after struggling in his return from injury. Given his significant role this year, you sometimes forget what a young player he still is.

Taylor Hall (A-) – Hall teased what he might be wearing the spoked B. He is a smooth skater who can make plays at speed, perhaps only second to Marchand in that category. He was also reliable defensively making a great play in the slot before heading into transition on the Smith goal. He was dangerous in OT as well. The question will be whether Hall can impact most shifts which he did not do in last night’s game. If he can, he will be an absolute game-changer. Even if he cannot, he should still move the needle substantially in the right direction.

Brad Marchand (B+) – Marchand led the team in individual expected goals and did his usual to get the puck up and down the ice. Despite the positive statistical game, he didn’t make it on the score sheet and while he had some nice plays, including a couple of dominant shorthanded shifts, he didn’t stand out as much as usual.

Jeremy Swayman (B+) – Swayman was beaten twice from the point by Buffalo defenders who had time to walk the line and step into the puck. Traffic and bounces contributed as well. Otherwise, he was largely calm, collected, and square to pucks making the saves he needed. On the one occasion, he wasn’t, Tinordi bailed him out. But as the song goes, you get by with a little help from your friends. Swayman’s presence continues to give Boston a chance to win in the absence of their veteran netminders.

Jarred Tinordi (B+) – Tinordi had the save of the game bailing out his goaltender on an open net. This was a key play in the second period of a tight game. Tinordi advanced the puck better than usual though his failure to do so led to the first goal against. It wasn’t a horrendous play but it is one he frequently struggles to make. He tied new teammate Reilly for the lead in shots on goal with five. I’ll be curious if the coaching staff continues to stick with Tinordi over Zboril and even Kampfer.

Mike Reilly (B+) – Reilly came as advertised. He is a deft puck mover and can get the puck to the net with five shots on goal. He is a smooth skater and while his defense is not the best he made no glaring mistakes. His appearance on PP1 was interesting in his first game on the team but his ability to see the ice and get pucks to the net will be welcome until Grzelcyk returns. Alongside Miller, the duo did not control the play as much as you would have liked but it was Reilly’s first game in the black and gold and he was solid.

Connor Clifton (B+) – Clifton had some bad luck getting the assist on Colin Miller’s goal against when the puck deflected off his skate into the high slot. Despite the bad bounce, this was actually a good play from the defenseman closing off the sideboard after a turnover. It was not a high-event game from Clifton which we will continue to emphasize is a good thing! He and D partner Tinordi delivered real solid third-pair minutes.

Nick Ritchie (B) – ‘B’ is for beast. Ritchie’s offense has dried up a bit but he has been bringing the physicality of late. He continues to be sneaky good on the forecheck especially given his footspeed. Ritchie failed to register a shot in the game and it’ll be interesting to see how he jives with more straight-line players in Coyle and DeBrusk. He did help out on the forecheck and provide a nice around-the-net presence on the Krejci goal out with his old linemates.

Kevan Miller (B) – Miller is also a beast getting the best of Tage Thompson by more than a little. The elder statesman of the defensive unit wasn’t as fluid in advancing the puck or getting up in the offense as he was in his couple of previous games. He is however dependable and truculent, two important characteristics for the back line.

David Pastrnak (B) – Back up on the perfection line Pasta has been less than perfect. The Czech winger is mired in a slump by his standards which continued into this game. He led the team with four scoring chances but just can’t quite seem to finish right now. He continues to be bottled up on the powerplay.

Patrice Bergeron (B) – The ice was tilted towards the Sabres’ end with Bergeron on the ice. Despite three shots on goal, he had none that were deemed scoring chances indicative of his secondary role on his line in this contest.

Charlie Coyle/Jake DeBrusk (B-) – Coyle and DeBrusk are starting to get chances and both scored in the shootout which certainly contributed to the victory. Their trio was the only Boston line with negative possession numbers and barely broke even in their matchup against rookie Dylan Cozens (whose linemate was Anders Bjork). There isn’t necessarily anything wrong with either of their games but especially with improved linemates, they should be feasting on the competition.

Moment of the night

Spoken like his inner 8-year-old goalie!