By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
The Bruins kicked their season off with a brilliant 5-2 victory over the Washington Capitals, earning their first two points of the season. There were many bright spots, but the standout player was David Pastrnak. He looked so dynamic, so creative, and so dominant at times throughout the game.
However, Bruins fans are never satisfied, and that didn’t change last night, as many were quick to call out a few players who were not as dynamic, creative, and dominant as Pastrnak. Firstly, it was only the first game of the season. To judge a player based on one game is wildly unfair, so I think we need to show the tiniest bit of patience before we start jumping on guys about their performance. Secondly, I think some of the criticism isn’t even fair! Let’s break down the second Capitals goal, and I’ll explain.
The second goal starts at the 5:03 mark in the highlights video linked above, but I’ll also provide screenshots to explain what I want to point out. First, though, we need some background information. The player II will defend in this article is Mike Reilly. I saw him getting a ton of criticism on Twitter, and while I think he got a bit over-eager at times, he also made some great plays and needs to be afforded some creative freedom if he’s going to thrive.
Reilly was caught deep in the offensive zone on the Capitals’ first goal. He had turned the puck over in the right corner and was making his way back but could not recover fully before the Capitals forced a two-on-one situation and ultimately scored. He previously had joined an odd-man rush and contributed directly to the Bruins’ third goal by providing a secondary assist.
His offensive skill and instincts will provide some goals, but, unfortunately, they will concede some as well. We can only hope that he gives more than he allows. Some fans, however, were not as forgiving of Reilly, and when he was seen having to back-check again on the second goal, they were very critical.
I don’t think Reilly did anything wrong on either goal. Would I have preferred to have him back and ready to defend? Yes, of course. With a three-goal lead, defenders are permitted extra freedom because of the insurance the team has earned. For that reason, Reilly losing the puck almost as far away from the goal as possible rs nothing to be ashamed of.
Let’s get into the second goal. The Bruins are now leading 3-1 and are looking to get back on the front foot after conceding a goal for the first time in the 2022/2023 season. David Pastrnak, the Bruins most skilled forward with three points in the game already, has the puck on the left half wall and is attempting to create space to carry it to the middle of the ice. The screenshot below shows our current situation.
The blurry player in the bottom right of the image is Mike Reilly. Reilly has a decision to make in this situation. He has the play in front of him. He can see Pastrnak and the defender, and he can see the open space as well.
He has three options: he can either dive to the middle and try to exploit the seam so Pastrnak can slide him the puck, he can dive down the boards and try to pull a defender with him, opening up space for Pastrnak, or he can pull up and let Pastrnak deal with the defender himself, likely also allowing the defensive forward to help out and attack Pastrnak as well. The options are visualized in the picture below.
Reilly chooses to dive down the boards, which is a perfect option because it ends up occupying not just one, but both of the defenders circled in green, opening up the middle of the ice for Pastrnak. At that point, Pasta has all the time and space he could ever want. It’s up to him to make the most of that time and space.
As we all know, he did not. Pasta instead fires a shot right into the first defender trying to block his shot, and then the Caps break the other way. Mike Reilly is caught down low because he helped create space for David Pastrnak. Again, would it be better for Reilly to be in a position to defend against the subsequent attack? Defensively, yes, it would be. If Pasta doesn’t get his shot blocked by the first possible player, we may be praising Reilly for his off-the-puck movement that created the space for number 88.
There are still a lot of games to be played. Let’s all try to give some of these guys a chance before we start jumping to conclusions about who needs to be traded or sent down. The Bruins are back! Let’s go, B’s!