By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me @BruinsBreakdown
The Bruins concluded their season series against the Sabres with an emphatic win. After struggling through a horrid stretch mid-season, racking up points against lowly Buffalo was exactly what was needed to catch up to all the teams who were doing exactly that while Boston swooned. With the most recent win, number seven of eight against their division rival, the Bruins pulled away from the Rangers and are a point away from clinching a playoff spot. Perhaps as importantly, it was one of the most complete games for the boys from Beantown as they look to play their best hockey heading into the post-season. Let’s break the game down and assign some player grades.
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.
On numerous occasions this season Boston allowed a pesky Buffalo team to hang with them in terms of the run of play. In this game, the Bruins put the hammer down from the outset and never let off the throttle. They controlled every facet of the game, a welcome sight for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations against a team headed for the draft lottery (again). If you need any further proof, the heat map affirms how effective Boston was getting to the high danger areas and how well they limited Buffalo from the same.
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.
Craig Smith (A+) – It’s amazing to see Smith being rewarded for his tireless efforts this season. Throughout the Bruins’ struggles, Smith was a player you could always count on for his best effort even if he wasn’t getting results. Now on a line of elite play drivers, Smith’s assets of attacking off the rush, keeping plays alive, and getting to the dirty areas are making his contract look better each day.
David Krejci (A) – His coach has described him as rejuvenated and journalists like Fluto Shinzawa are wondering out loud if he has played his way into a new contract. Regardless, the recent surge has been fun to watch but for those of us Krejci-truthers the pivot has been great all season and is now being rewarded with linemates with equally efficient and creative output. The second line was nearly 100% from a possession standpoint and was dangerous on most of their shifts.
Nick Ritchie (A) – Ritchie looked more comfortable on the third line than he did last game on the fourth and created more offensive opportunities in turn. He made impactful plays tipping home a Grzelcyk point shot and getting the puck on net for Kuraly to eventually slide home. He also showed he isn’t as slow or aloof as he is often made out to be with a great first-period backcheck to negate a crucial scoring chance.
Mike Reilly (A) – As soon as Reilly showed up the Bruins suddenly added the high-cycle play which has accounted for several goals. That’s probably not a coincidence. The newest Bs defender did an awesome job of getting low in the zone and putting a puck right on Smith’s stick for a tap-in. Reilly was quick to exit the defensive zone and help move the puck in the offensive zone. Where Reilly showed some of his better poise was calming the puck in the neutral zone and starting methodical regroups.
Connor Clifton (A) – Cliffy hockey was in full force. The Jersey-raised defender was physical, to say the least, giving and taking hits. His choices of when and when not to step up were excellent in this game. Paired with the puck-moving Reilly, Clifton played within himself and worked with his partner to advance the puck and tilt the ice.
Patrice Bergeron (A-) – The captain picked up his 19th goal of the season right from the doorstep. His line had a stranglehold on play while on the ice though they were not as dominant as the previous game against the Sabres.
Curtis Lazar/Karson Kuhlman (A-) – These two had similar under the radar games. There were few stand out moments but over the course of the game the ice was titled the right way and they consistently found ways to get the puck to the net. Between the two they accounted for eight shots and seven scoring chances. Add in a little physicality and you’ll find a very happy Coach Cassidy.
David Pastrnak (A-) – While Pastrnak didn’t score, he is starting to generate the kind of chances you expect from him. At even strength and on the powerplay he was able to unleash his patented one-timer and he did a great job of getting to the net. He showed some feistiness as well, responding to a chippy Dahlin hit in the third and setting off a lively skirmish.
Charlie McAvoy (A-) – McAvoy’s decision-making has improved over the course of the season. His timely pinch and one-handed effort kept the play alive on Bergeron’s goal. He looked to get up in the offense but the play didn’t materialize on most occasions. To his credit, he recognized this and found his way back to the defensive side of the puck. While he defended well he wasn’t as dynamic in transition as usual.
Charlie Coyle (B+) – Coyle is finally starting to play more like himself. There was a shift in the first period where he was dominant. He used his body and strength on his skates to keep the play alive, protect the puck, and distribute before going hard to the net. He earned an assist later in the game on a similar hard-working play. His line still played too much defense and he had some off shifts but he seems to be trending in the right direction.
Sean Kuraly (B+) – Kuraly scored! He should have had four missing several others on the doorstep. His third of the year was welcome though as was his generation of opportunities largely on second chances in front. Centering the third line, there were some shifts with extended zone time on offense but likewise when defending. A couple of bad turnovers from Kuraly were part of the latter including on the second Buffalo goal.
Taylor Hall (B) – Hall has been fighting the puck a little the last couple of games. Despite being less crisp than usual, he still impacts the games in positive ways with his speed off the rush, forecheck, and a well-earned assist on Smith’s hat trick goal.
Jeremy Swayman (B) – Swayman made the saves he needed to tonight and earned himself another win in what has been an impressive initial run in the NHL. There is a reason Cassidy keeps going back to him and that’s because he is dependable, unflappable, and playing great hockey. He was not tested a lot in this one and I think he’d like the second one back where he just wasn’t quite able to seal the ice. He did make a few key saves late in the second period during one of the Bruins’ few lulls.
Brad Marchand (B) – Marchand’s line was strong all night but he wasn’t as much a catalyst for it as usual. He did have a couple of nice setups in the second frame and picked up an assist on Bergeron’s goal despite getting lucky his pass didn’t end up going for a breakaway the other direction. Despite not being his best game, the Nova Scotia native was engaged and intense though that nearly cost him a third-man disqualification.
Jeremy Lauzon (B) – Lauzon was physical and played the penalty kill well. He had a couple of errant passes that could have ended poorly, unfortunately, a bit of a trend for him lately. He did a good job of getting his shot through and generating the rebound that led to Bergeron’s goal. He was victimized on Buffalo’s second goal overplaying his support and then failing to take the body or tie up on the stick once the play broke down.
Matt Grzelcyk (B) – Grzelcyk defended well and put a hard shot on the ice that Ritchie was able to deflect into the goal. He played more defense than usual and wasn’t as quick in transition. I’m not sure Miller is the best partner for him though it was worth a try in this lopsided affair.
Kevan Miller (B) – Miller has been skating well of late but didn’t look quite as comfortable with the puck on his stick as he has since returning from his most recent ailment. While he had great on-ice numbers and an assist on the D to D pass to Grzelcyk, this just didn’t feel like his best game. Miller, as is often the case, led the team in hits.
Jake DeBrusk (C) – DeBrusk is an underrated playmaker and had a couple of great looks in this game. He did have a shot and a scoring chance in 15 minutes of ice after two games in the press box. DeBrusk tried to do what was asked of him forechecking and planting himself on top of the crease. Unfortunately, he allows himself to be easily tied up unlike his teammate Smith who always gets his stick loose while also quickly transitioning to the cycle, or like Marchand, who finds a way to get lost in dangerous spots. By being so easy to cover he takes away his chances to score and his team’s chances to sustain pressure.
Moment of the night
Are you ready for the playoffs? I’m ready for the playoffs!