Looking Ahead to the Playoffs, Where Were the Bruins’ Strengths and Weaknesses Defensively in the Regular Season?

( Photo Credit: Maddie Meyer/Getty Images )

By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me On Twitter @lydia_murray12

Earlier today, I published an article using an offensive shot heatmap from on the Bruins’ 2019-20 season to analyze their shot patterns and identify areas for them to work on in the playoffs. You can check that out here. Now, let’s take a look at how they were defensively in the 2019-20 season, and what areas they need to work on in the playoffs. Keep an eye out for another article coming later some heatmaps of power play and penalty kill. Also, be on the look for a deep dive one using skater good/bad/fun/dull graphs!

A Short Introduction to Shot Heatmaps

Before I begin, here’s a short overview of how to read these heatmaps for those of you who don’t know or need a refresher. This is the exact same intro I did on my first article, as is the “defining areas” of the ice section. So, if you’ve already read that one, you can probably skip right over this. But, if you didn’t, or just want another refresher, read on.

This is just a basic overview of how these heatmaps work. If you want to see a really in-depth analysis, you can check one out (albeit of the San Jose Sharks) here. But anyway, these maps illustrate the number of unblocked shots (not necessarily on goal) for or against a team compared to the league average, and where those shots are coming from. Blue means that fewer unblocked shots are generated from a given spot than the league average, whereas red means more are generated than the league average. The deeper the color, the further away from the league average a team is from that spot. White means that shots are being generated at the league average from that particular spot. 

With this in mind, on offensive graphs, blue is good, and red is bad. Obviously, you want your team to be generating a ton of shots, and ideally, they’ll be producing more than most other teams. On the other hand, for defensive graphs, the opposite is true. When an area is blue, it means that team is letting less unblocked shots through than the league average. It goes without saying that’s a great thing. The fewer shots that get through unblocked, the fewer chances an opponent gets to score. 

Defining Areas of the Ice

Heatmap Taken From HockeyViz.com Courtesy of Micah Black McCurdy

Before I get started with the actual heatmaps, there’s just a few more things I want to go over. Pictured above is an example of the heatmaps you’ll see in this article as it was directly on the website. This is great on its own, but I decided to add a few more things to aid in my analysis. 

Original Heatmap Taken From HockeyViz.com Courtesy of Micah Black McCurdy

As you’ll see, I’ve added a box and a trapezoid to the above graph (as well as made the crease more obvious). My apologies for the subpar photo editing job, I don’t have access to the best software and I’m not too skilled at it either. But, it’s good enough for the purposes of this article. Please note, these outlines may be off a little bit, but if they are, it’s not by much as I was as exact as possible with the tools I had. 

I’ve added these areas to aid in my analysis of these graphs. The box area I have outlined is known as the “slot”, and shots from this area are considered “high danger”. The trapezoid is known as just that, and shots from that area are considered “medium danger”. Shots from anywhere else on the ice are considered “low danger.” According to this article, in the high danger area, shots have at least a 10% chance of going in. The article also says that shots from the medium danger area have a 3-10% chance of going in, while low danger shots have at most a 3% chance of going in. 

To be clear, those percentages are averages, as some shots obviously stand a better chance of going in than others, even from within those areas. For example, a shot from the backdoor of the net that’s wide open has a much better shot than one that’s coming from right out front with the goalie square to it. But anyway, with all of that out of the way now, let’s get into the actual analysis these things.

Now, Onto the Actual Analysis

Original Heatmap Taken From HockeyViz.com Courtesy of Micah Black McCurdy

Outstanding Defense in the Slot

The first thing that sticks out to me here is the same thing that stuck out to me on the offensive map, except this time, it’s good. The Bruins do an incredible job of suppressing or blocking shots throughout the entire slot. In most of the slot, the excess shots per hour rate is -0.5. That’s 5 fewer shots that get through per hour from those spots than the league average. That may not sound like a lot, but it’s actually incredible. Think about it, teams usually average 30-40 shots a game. So, to have, on average, five fewer shots than the league average getting through from one particular area of the ice, is outstanding.

The slot is the area the “high danger” shots come from. That means statistically, it’s the most dangerous area of the ice for goals off the initial shot. So, for the Bruins to be defending it that well is an excellent sign. Between that and how good their goalies are, it’s no surprise the Bruins let up as few goals as they do.

Excellent in the Left Circle Too

Another area the Bruins are excellent at defending according to this map is the left circle. There’s a red spot in the left of the circle, but it’s in the “low danger” scoring chance area and at a bad angle to the net, so it’s really not a concern. They can’t defend everywhere on the ice above league average, and if there’s a good spot to defend a little below the league average, that’s it.  

Other than that spot, the Bruins do an excellent job of defending the left circle. They’re not as good there as they are in the slot, but it’s close. They also don’t have to be as good defending there, as it’s statistically a less dangerous area of the ice for initial shots. They let about two or three less unblocked shots get through from that spot in an average game, and that’s great. It means they don’t let a lot of one-timers through on the left side, as the circles are really popular places for them, which is good news. One-timers are the initial shots that beat goalies the most because they have way less time to react and then get their feet set before the puck is there. So, the less of them they let through, the better.

Left Point Good and Bad

The Bruins defend the lower right portion of the left point about as well as they defend most of the left circle. That’s great news because it means they’re getting in the primary lane to the net from the point. That means a lot less unblocked shots are getting through from the point than would otherwise, which means fewer chances for players to pounce on the big, juicy rebounds those shots often produce. That’s always a good thing.

That being said, the lower left side of the left point could use some work. But, I am far less concerned about this spot than the right point (more on that later). Most of the red area over there is at a weird angle to the net. While that could make it more likely to sneak past the goalie on the first shot than one that’s straight on, not a lot of goals are scored on initial point shots. It’s statistically a “low danger” area of the ice, so it isn’t a huge concern. Point shots are really only dangerous because of the great (for the attacking team) rebounds they often produce. But, shots from that particular spot on the point will most likely produce a weird rebound or one that’s easily cleared away by defenders due to the bad angle it’s at to the net. So, while it’s a bit of a concern and should be worked on a little bit, it shouldn’t be as high of a priority as some of the other spots.

Right Circle Could Be Better, Could Be Worse

As for the right circle on the ice, the Bruins defend at about the league average for most of it. That’s not bad, but it could always be better. Who wants to be average when you can be above average? Thankfully, there are also a few random blue spots (albeit light ones) in the “medium danger” trapezoid. This likely means that they’re right at the top of the league average, right on the edge of being slightly above average. That’s obviously a good thing.

However, in the “low danger” portion of it, there’s a sizeable red spot. But, it’s a light red, meaning they aren’t too much worse than the league average from there. Plus, it’s statistically a “low danger” area for initial shots, so it’s not that big of a deal. Plus, it’s at a weird angle to the net, which means there won’t be good rebounds from it. So, it’s really not that big of a deal. Obviously, it’d be nice if they’d work on it a bit, as you can never defend too well. But, they can’t possibly defend at or above the league average all over the ice. If there’s such a thing as a good spot to defend worse than league average, that’d be one of the big ones (same would be true of the left side, but the Bruins are good there).

Right Point Needs Work

The Bruins are significantly below average in shot suppression or blocking shots coming from the right point. That’s not good. While point shots on their own are not particularly dangerous, they often produce big rebounds that are. Shots from that far away are extremely hard for a goalie to control. So, they often pop out in what end up being perfect spots for an opponent to pounce on and bury before the goalie has a chance to reset. Rebounds are the most common way goals are scored, so gifting them to the other team is not a good idea. 

If the Bruins are going to pick any particular area to work on defending better, it needs to be the right point. It apparently didn’t hurt them that much in the regular season, as they had the fewest goals against in the entire league for the entire season. But, in the playoffs, that could get exposed, as teams have more time to figure out their opponent’s weaknesses, and they’ll surely notice it and take advantage of it. So, it’s something that should really be worked on before it starts to cost them.

Summary

In short, the Bruins did a lot good defensively this season. That’s not surprising given they led the league in the fewest goals against for the entire season. They deny the shots at a rate of five fewer a game (on average) for much of the slot, which is absolutely incredible. ’re They’re also strong in the left circle, as well as parts of the left point, albeit at not quite as strong as they are in the slot. But, it’s not quite as big of a deal there, as it’s statistically a lower danger area of the ice.

On the other hand, the right side of the ice could use some work, most notably the right point. If they don’t improve the right point at least, it will most likely be exposed in the playoffs, and they’ll end up paying for it. So, hopefully they work on it. As for the rest of the right side, even though they’re largely league average there, it would benefit them to improve. You can never defend too well. Although that being said, it’s impossible for them to defend above league average (or even at the league average) all over the ice. So, it’s expected that they have some spots where they aren’t as good.

But, overall, the Bruins were excellent defensively this season. They did a great job of defending the most dangerous areas of the ice with the exception of the right point. If they can improve that, they’ll be even harder to score on these playoffs than they were in the regular season. That should seriously scare any team who may have to play. But, for us as Bruins fans, it’s certainly a wonderful thing.

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 187 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

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With An Eye On the Playoffs, What Were The Bruins’ Shot Patterns In 2019-20?

( Photo Credit: Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports )

By: Lydia Murray | Follow Me On Twitter @lydia_murray12

Advanced stats are becoming more common in hockey analysis these days. I’m a firm believer that you should never just pay attention to them but instead watch the player as a whole and do the good old-fashioned eye test. But, advanced stats do have a lot of merit, especially when trying to figure out why things are happening the way they are. With the round-robin tournament just two days away now, I decided to take a deeper dive into this Bruins team. In this article, I’ll be taking a look at some shot heatmaps for the Bruins offense at 5v5. Keep an eye out for an article coming soon with a heatmap of their defense and another with some heatmaps of power play and penalty kill. Also, be on the look for a deep dive one using skater good/bad/fun/dull graphs!

A Short Introduction to Shot Heatmaps

Before I begin, here’s a short overview of how to read these heatmaps for those of you who don’t know or need a refresher. This is just a basic overview of how these heatmaps work. If you want to see a really in-depth analysis, you can check one out (albeit of the San Jose Sharks) here. But anyway, these maps illustrate the number of unblocked shots (not necessarily on goal) for or against a team compared to the league average, and where those shots are coming from. Blue means that fewer unblocked shots are generated from a given spot than the league average, whereas red means more are generated than the league average. The deeper the color, the further away from the league average a team is from that spot. White means that shots are being generated at the league average from that particular spot. 

With this in mind, on offensive graphs, blue is good, and red is bad. Obviously, you want your team to be generating a ton of shots, and ideally, they’ll be producing more than most other teams. On the other hand, for defensive graphs, the opposite is true. When an area is blue, it means that team is letting less unblocked shots through than the league average. It goes without saying that’s a great thing. The fewer shots that get through unblocked, the fewer chances an opponent gets to score. 

Defining Areas of the Ice

Heatmap Taken From hockeyviz.com Courtesy of Micah Black McCurdy

Before I get started with the actual heatmaps, there’s just a few more things I want to go over. Pictured above is an example of the heatmaps you’ll see in this article as it was directly on the website. This is great on its own, but I decided to add a few more things to aid in my analysis. 

Original Heatmap Taken From HockeyViz.com Courtesy of Micah Black McCurdy

As you’ll see, I’ve add a box and a trapezoid to the above graph (as well as made the crease more obvious). My apologies for the subpar photo editing job, I don’t have access to the best software and I’m not too skilled at it either. But, it’s good enough for the purposes of this article. Please note, these outlines may be off a little bit, but if they are, it’s not by much as I was as exact as possible with the tools I had. 

( Graphic Credit: War-On-Ice.com )

I’ve added these areas to aid in my analysis of these graphs. The box area I have outlined is known as the “slot”, and shots from this area are considered “high danger”. The trapezoid is known as just that, and shots from that area are considered “medium danger”. Shots from anywhere else on the ice are considered “low danger.” According to this article, in the high danger area, shots have at least a 10% chance of going in. The article also says that shots from the medium danger area have a 3-10% chance of going in, while low danger shots have at most a 3% chance of going in. 

To be clear, those percentages are averages, as some shots obviously stand a better chance of going in than others, even from within those areas. For example, a shot from the backdoor of the net that’s wide open has a much better shot than one that’s coming from right out front with the goalie square to it. But anyway, with all of that out of the way now, let’s get into the actual analysis these things.

Now, It’s Time To Analyze This Heatmap

Original Heatmap Taken From HockeyViz.com Courtesy of Micah Black McCurdy

Low Slot Bad, High Slot Good

The first thing that pops out to me when looking at this map is unfortunately not a good thing. As you can see, the Bruins are significantly below the league average in getting unblocked shots off in the slot, particularly right in front of the net. Granted, it’s a difficult task since there’s usually a lot of bodies there, but that’s not an excuse given they’re doing worse than most other teams. It’s disappointing. However, what this map doesn’t count is rebounds, and the Bruins get a lot of those in front of the net, so I don’t think they’re as bad there as this map makes them look. But regardless, it’s something they can definitely work on in the playoffs.

But, at the same time, they’re above the league average right at the top of the slot, and in my opinion, that’s a more dangerous spot. I’ve been taught to move out towards this area as a high school player, as it often results in more goals being scored. The same is true in the pros. Defensemen typically stay closer to the net, as there’s usually at least one player there, so the further out you move, the less likely they are to stick right to you. You often become the center’s problem at that point. So, you’re still covered by a player, but, it’s better to be covered by the center. 

Why is it better to be covered by a center than a defenseman you may ask? Well, sometimes they’re easier to get away from, but that’s not always the case (Bergeron is a prime example of this). So, the biggest reason that being covered by the center is better is if the defensemen are closer to the net, as well as a forward or two, that’s a lot of bodies that you can use as screens for the goalie. If a goalie can’t see the puck, they can’t stop it (unless it hits them). So, while it’s disappointing to see so much blue closer the net, it’s nice to see a higher volume of shots from a little further out.

Bumper/High Slot Area Good

That whole red blob that’s mainly in the trapezoid but spills into the slot a little bit (right in the power play bumper area) is nice to see. It’s a great spot to shoot from because if the initial shot doesn’t go in, there’s typically a good rebound from that far out. Rebounds are how most goals are scored, and once you get in too close, there usually isn’t a good one. Goalies are better able to control shots from close in, and even if they can’t, it usually gets cleared by defensemen. Shooting from further out and getting those big rebounds means there’s a much better chance that someone will be able to jump on it and bury it. So, even though those aren’t technically considered “high danger” shots, they can be more dangerous than those that are, because most goals, especially in the NHL, don’t come from the initial shot, but from rebounds.

Left Circle Unsurprisingly Excellent

Another solid spot the Bruins shoot from according to this map is the left circle. This is unsurprising, as the Bruins have a lot of big shooters on that side. In particular, that’s where Pastrnak typically lets off his one-timer. For those that are a bit confused by that since he’s a right wing, it’s common to see players switch sides in the offensive zone, especially if they shoot different ways. That way, their sticks are in the center of the ice, meaning their forehand is towards the net. Otherwise, they have shoot across their body, which is not ideal from an angle standpoint, and it gives goalies that extra split second to get ready, which can make all the difference. It’s also much more difficult to one-time a puck on your off-hand, so all around it just makes sense to switch sides.

As good as most of the left circle is, there’s a big spot starting in the top of the left circle where the Bruins are shooting a little below the league average. That’s never great, but, the Bruins are never going to be shooting league average or above from every inch of the ice. It’s impossible for them to. So, with that in mind, if there are good spots for them to be shooting below league average from, that’s one of the big ones.

For the most part, it’s a weird angle to the net, especially if it’s a left shot player. Weird angle shots are not good because it’s lucky if it goes in on the initial shot, and if it doesn’t, it isn’t going to produce a good rebound. The angle a puck goes in at is the angle it comes back out at, so in all likelihood, that puck would be heading to the corner off a rebound (if it goes anywhere). It’s no good to anyone over there. So, yeah, it’s an area they could work on. But, it’s not a concern for me, even though much of it’s considered “medium danger” scoring chances. I’m sure it’s not for them either, as it’s not a big spot goals are scored or good rebounds are produced from.

Lots of Shots From the Left Point Too

One final spot the Bruins are particularly good at getting unblocked shots off in is the left point (up by/on the blue line). Again, this is not surprising. For starters, Chara fires off his slapshots from that spot, and those aren’t typically blocked. They’re so hard players don’t have time to react and step in front of them before they’re through (not that they’d want to). Plus, he usually doesn’t shoot unless he has a clear line.

But, the bigger reason the Bruins shoot from such a high volume at that spot is Krug. He’s the Bruins top offensive defenseman and is certainly not afraid to let a lot of shots fly. Yes, they get blocked sometimes, but he shoots so often, he makes up for the ones that are. His shots are also hard enough that, like Chara’s, players don’t typically have enough time to react and step in front of it once he lets it loose. 

So, it makes perfect sense that the Bruins would be significantly above league average in this spot. It’s also a good thing because even though point shots don’t go in that often (despite the screens that typically form), they produce massive rebounds that can easily be pounced on by another player. Again, most goals in the NHL come from rebounds, not the initial shot, so shots from anywhere that typically produce good rebounds are great in my book.

Shooting More From the Right Circle Would Be Great

One area they should work on shooting at least a little more from in the playoffs is the right side. In a playoff series, it’ll be easier for a team to figure out how to shut them down from one particular spot, and they’ll almost certainly focus on that left circle. Yes, they (and especially Pastrnak) will probably still get a lot of shots through. But, if they can start shooting more from the right circle, it’ll catch the other team off guard. That’s a good thing. Plus, it’ll make it a lot harder for them to focus on just shutting down the left side.

The more they can spread out the defensemen, the better off they’ll be. Less concentrated defensive coverage will mean even more unblocked shots get through from the left than already are, which will almost certainly result in more goals. Plus, an increased volume of shots from the right should mean more will get through unblocked, which should result in a lot more goals too. 

The Same Goes For the Right Point

I’d like to see them get more shots off from the right point in the playoffs for the same reasons I want to see more from the right circle. According to the heatmap, they’re around league average for most of it. That’s not awful obviously, but it’s a missed opportunity. Just like shooting from the right circle more will, shooting more from the right point will spread their opponents out more.

This will open up more lanes on both sides to get shots through, which almost surely means more goals. This is especially true for shots from the left point because they were already getting a lot of shots through from there despite already having a little more focus on them. So, if that side starts getting defended looser, they’ll be able to get even more through.

Summary

In short, the Bruins did a lot of things well shooting-wise this season. But, there are also a few areas they could work on for the playoffs. For the most part, they did a great job of getting a lot of unblocked shot through from the left side of the ice. They also did a good job of shooting from the bumper/high slot area, which, even though it’s classified as “medium danger,” is a really dangerous spot to shoot from. It usually produces decent rebounds if the initial shot doesn’t go in, which is always a good thing since the most common way goals are scored in the NHL (and really at all levels of hockey) is off of rebounds.

As for things the Bruins need to work on shooting-wise, they really need to start shooting more from the right side of the ice. As you can see from the map, they’re mostly league average over there. Obviously, that’s not terrible. But, if they start shooting more from that side, it’ll catch teams off guard. It’ll also make it so defenders have to spread out more and not just focus on one side of the ice, which will result in more shots getting through unblocked from all sides. Obviously, that’s a good thing, and it should result in a lot more goals for the team, which is something everybody wants.

They could also stand to shoot from right in front of the net a lot more. They were really bad at getting initial shots off from there this season. But, they did get a lot of rebounds there, which were not accounted for in this heatmap. So, it’s nowhere near as bad as it seems. However, it never hurts to shoot more, especially from a “high danger” area such as that.

Overall, the Bruins did a good job of shooting from dangerous areas of the ice this season. That’s unsurprising given how good they were this season. But, it’s nice to know that in this case, the advanced stats agree with everything else. Now there’s really no denying that the Bruins were really that good offensively this past season. Let’s hope they can keep that up throughout the playoffs!

Check out the new Black N’ Gold Hockey Podcast episode 187 that we recorded below! You can find our show on many worldwide platforms such as Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, iHeart Radio, Spotify, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.

Please subscribe to our new Black N’ Gold Hockey YouTube channel! We’d really appreciate the continued support. Click HERE for exciting Black N’ Gold online content!!

Bruins Could Really Use…Sean Kuraly?

(Photo Credit: Michael Dwyer/AP)

By: Jack McCarthy  |  Follow Me On Twitter @73johnnymac

The Boston Bruins skated off the ice at Scotiabank Arena last night, left to lick their wounds and contemplate what it will take to recapture the momentum in their best-of-7 opening round playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs.  Much of the attention following the loss was focused on the lack of production from the top-line trio, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.   Having opened up last year’s opening round series with a combined 20 points in the first two games at TD Garden, the line has only managed to amass a combined 6 points through three games in the series.

With much of the fan base and media speculating that the answer is now to split up the top line by moving Pastrnak down to David Krejci’s right wing, a close look at some of the indicators through three games suggests the Bruins true woes may be found a lot further down the lineup.  One of the Bruins strengths in the regular season was the relatively effective play of its fourth line, a line that when healthy features Sean Kuraly centering Noel Acciari and Chris Wagner.  Kuraly went down with a hand injury suffered on a blocked shot in a game against the New Jersey Devils on March 21st.  The Bruins had indicated that Kuraly was expected to miss at least 4 weeks with the injury.

As the Bruins made their way through the regular season and skated to the second best record in the Eastern Conference, they were buoyed by the solid play of their fourth line.  Often sent out to match up against the opposition’s top line, the Kuraly line has proven particularly effective at hemming opposing teams into their own zone, being strong on the puck and providing valuable wear and tear on opposing defense corps.  In turn, by spending their shifts 200 feet from their own goal, despite often starting in the defensive zone, they were effective in neutralizing opposing scoring threats while creating favorable matchups for the Bergeron line.

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With Kuraly currently sidelined, that line now finds Acciari centering Wagner and Joakim Nordstrom.  Through three games of the current series against Toronto, the play and effectiveness of the so-called fourth line have been highly effective in Boston’s Game 2 win and far from it in their two losses.

One indicator of a player’s effectiveness (I won’t debate the merits of the metric here, but it is generally accepted as a reasonable measure despite some limitations) is his Shot Attempts Percentage (SAT%, also known as Corsi).  The SAT% is the percentage of shot attempts that the team takes out of total shot attempts.  The calculation of SAT% = SAT For/(SAT For + SAT Against).  As a general indicator players are looking to be above the 50% mark in this metric, considered to be above average.  As mentioned there are limitations but generally speaking, the indicator is reliable.

A look at this analytic through three games in the series tells an interesting story about the Bruins fourth line.

Regular
Season SAT%
Playoff SAT%
Through 3
Games
Game 1 Game 2 Game 3
Acciari 49.96 50.00 36.4 64.3 30.4
Wagner 49.78 48.57 42.3 73.9 27.6
Nordstrom 50.04 45.31 43.5 53.6 22.7
Kuraly 49.74

(Stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com and NHL.com)

Nordstrom’s regular season SAT% is slightly higher than that of Acciari, Wagner, and Kuraly and this is attributable to his having played further up the line up for much of the season and a higher percentage of offensive zone starts.  Nordstrom starts in the offensive zone for 49.17% of draws compared to the others taking only about one-third of their draws in the offensive zone, averaging 34.51% between them.  Starting shifts in the offensive zone gives a greater chance of accumulating shot attempts for, hence their effect on this statistic.

So What Does It All Say? 

In a nutshell, the Bruins success in Game 2 was in direct correlation with the effectiveness of the fourth line.  Coach Cassidy’s decision to start them against the Tavares, Marner, Hyman line had Maple Leafs Coach Mike Babcock pulling his line from the ice in the opening seconds and setting a tone that would have the game played on the Bruins’ terms all night.  The Corsi numbers for the Boston’s fourth liners was off the charts in Game 2, Acciari at 64.3, Wagner at a mind-boggling 73.9, and Nordstrom at an above average 53.6.  As a result, the Bruins exerted pressure on the Maple Leafs defense all game long, forced turnovers, and forced their best players to play far more in their defensive zone than they would prefer.  By playing with the lead most of the night, all three players were able to log minutes in line with their regular season average.

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In Boston’s two losses in this series, however, the fancy stats are far less glamorous for the fourth line.  In Game 1, Acciari was at 36.4, Wagner at 42.3 and Nordstrom at 43.5.  The result as we all know was a game played very much on Toronto’s terms.  The Maple Leafs were able to overcome an early deficit to play with the lead most of the night and used their highly publicized speed to create several breakaways and odd-man rushes that kept the Bruins chasing the game most of the night.

In game three, the effectiveness of the fourth line was even worse.  Acciari led the line with a SAT% of 30.4, Wagner was 27.6, and Nordstrom was 22.7.  Those numbers are simply not going to get the job done.  If the Bruins are going to be successful, I would argue that the key is not going to be breaking up the top line.  Rather, they need a more effective contribution from the bottom of their forward group.  If the fourth line can re-establish their identity as a hard-working, effective, forechecking group and force the Maple Leafs back into their own zone, effectively helping tilt the ice, the Bruins are going to be just fine in this series.  The middle forward lines have been effective thus far, and you have to feel that the top line is not going to be held in check much longer, they are simply too good.

A return to the line-up of Sean Kuraly would go a long way to getting the fourth line back on track.  Kuraly combines speed and strength and a bull-like tenacity to hunt the puck and contain it.  His energy is infectious and is arguably what has been lacking on the fourth unit in the two losses against Toronto.  If the Bruins are to regain momentum and bring this series back to Boston on even terms, the fourth line needs to lift.  It is unknown when Kuraly may return to the line-up, but he will unquestionably be a welcome addition when he does.  In the meantime, the Bruins are looking for an effort reminiscent of the one provided in Game 2.  Anything less and the return of Kuraly to the fold may be too little, too late.

Why A Wildcard Spot May Not Be The Worst Scenario For The Bruins

Image result for boston bruins

Photo Credit: Christopher Evans/Boston Herald

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

We are midway through December, and there is plenty of panic in Boston.

“We need an enforcer!”

“Our goaltending sucks!”

“We can’t score!”

OK, can everyone just take a deep breath, please? By having the injury bug eviscerate this roster early, the Bruins may just have stumbled into their best-case scenario come the playoffs. Also, the goaltending hasn’t been the problem, and ENFORCERS ARE NEVER THE ANSWER. So, what do I mean?

Well, the Bruins are currently 5th in the Atlantic Division. Before you get your pants in a knot, let’s put some context into the equation. While they are 5th in the Atlantic, they have played one game fewer than fourth place Montreal, and are trailing the Habs by only a point. They are a significantly better team than the Canadiens, whom I am unconvinced can maintain their current level of play. That’s not even the interesting part. Despite having played two more games than the Bruins, the 6th place Detroit Red Wings trail the B’s by 5 points. Ottawa has played the same number of games like Detroit, and are 6 points behind Boston. Boston has played one more game than the Florida Panthers, but they sit dead last in the division, a full eight points behind the Bruins. They aren’t going to get caught from behind in the Atlantic.

Atlantic Standings

They should inevitably pass the Canadiens, so that begs the question – how close are they to the guaranteed divisional playoff spot? At the moment, the Bruins have a game in hand on every team above them in the Atlantic Division and trail the 3rd place Buffalo Sabres by 5 points, the Toronto Maple Leafs by 6, and the Tampa Bay Lightning by 13. Nobody is catching Tampa. In any division. That team is well on its way to a President’s Trophy. If you had said Buffalo would be only a point behind the Maple Leafs in third place in the Atlantic at this point in the season, well, please get in contact with me, I could use the services of someone who can see the future.

So, the Bruins are fifth in their division. But they currently occupy the 2nd wildcard spot. As it stands, it is pretty clear that Tampa Bay is going to be the top seed in the Eastern Conference, and will, therefore, host the second wildcard team. As previously noted, there is no reason to think that Boston won’t finish the season ahead of the Canadiens. They are not in danger of dropping out of a wildcard spot either. Currently, the Bruins sit with 38 points in 32 games. That is 5th in the Atlantic Division, but would be SECOND in the Metropolitan Division. No, that is not a typo. The Bruins are 5th in the division, but only 6th in the conference. Believe it or not, they are actually a Top 10 team in the entire league. They just happen to play in one of the most stacked divisions in recent memory.

League Standings

So, why should they WANT to finish in the first wildcard spot? Well, they almost certainly would need to face the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals in the first round. That’s no easy task. But finishing in a divisional spot means they have to face two of Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Buffalo to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals. The current Metropolitan Division playoff teams are Pittsburgh and Columbus (who isn’t on board for ANOTHER Pittsburgh/Columbus throw-down), either of whom is a significantly easier matchup than the juggernauts in the Atlantic. Currently, Tampa Bay is #1 in the league, Toronto is 5th, and Buffalo is 7th. Washington is 6th, but Columbus is 15th, and Pittsburgh is 17th. That’s a pretty simple bit of math.

Wildcard Standings

What killed the Bruins when they got to Tampa Bay last postseason was the 7-game death-match that was their First Round series against the Toronto Maple Leafs. They were exhausted, beat-up, and could not keep up. They are guaranteed to have a similarly difficult matchup if they finish in either 2nd or 3rd in the Atlantic Division this year. Don’t do that. This team is good enough to be in the playoffs and do some damage once fully healthy, so don’t rush anyone back. Let Bergeron and Chara take as long as they need to be fully healthy. Use this time to experiment with line combinations, and see what you have in some depth pieces. Acclimate Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson to the NHL game, as the kid line with JFK between Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato has begun to look good the last few games. You still have Anders Bjork shredding the American Hockey League. Don’t make a massive trade for a short-term piece. Stay the course, finish fourth, take the easier path to the Stanley Cup Final. You may be thanking me if you do.

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How Do the Bruins Survive Without Patrice Bergeron?

Image result for David Krejci

Photo Credit: Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

The frustrating part for Bruins fans about losing Patrice Bergeron for at least a month is the loss of the most dominant 200-foot line in hockey. David Krejci between the two feels like the natural fix, but that decision is made more complicated by the lack of a defined #3 center on the roster. This has lead to a myriad of bizarre line combinations, including seeing Joakim Nordstrom, a career left-winger, centering a Top 6 line, Colby Cave, an undrafted career minor-leaguer, between Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak, and completely splitting Marchand and Pastrnak and rolling out a Frankenstein-esque amalgamation of forwards in their Top 6. I decided to take a deeper look at how the Bruins have fared with different line combinations in their Top 6, and attempt to determine what the best setup they have tried it thus far.

Using the data provided by Corsica.hockey’s line tool, I gathered every line the Bruins have iced this year. As I am looking at 5-on-5 data only, and the typical limiter of 50 minutes of on-ice time together only gave me five total line combinations, I expanded the parameters and limited lines to having spent at least 10 minutes of 5-on-5 time on ice as a group. That gave me the following lines:

Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen, David Krejci, Jake DeBrusk
Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Joakim Nordstrom
Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari
Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly, David Backes
Anders Bjork, David Backes, Danton Heinen
Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Danton Heinen
Brad Marchand, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen, David Krejci, David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, Ryan Donato
Anders Bjork, Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner
Brad Marchand, Joakim Nordstrom, Jake DeBrusk
Anders Bjork, David Backes, Ryan Donato
Brad Marchand, Colby Cave, David Pastrnak
Noel Acciari, Sean Kuraly, Anders Bjork
Anders Bjork, Joakim Nordstrom, Ryan Donato
Joakim Nordstrom, Colby Cave, Noel Acciari
Anders Bjork, Sean Kuraly, Danton Heinen
Joakim Nordstrom, Sean Kuraly, Noel Acciari
Joakim Nordstrom, Chris Wagner, Noel Acciari
Brad Marchand, David Krejci, David Pastrnak
Anders Bjork, David Krejci, David Pastrnak
Danton Heinen, Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, Noel Acciari
Joakim Nordstrom, David Backes, Noel Acciari
Ryan Donato, Sean Kuraly, David Backes
Brad Marchand, Sean Kuraly, David Pastrnak

Here is a breakdown of the time on ice spent together as a line for each combination.

Time on Ice

 

Of the 27 different combinations, here is what I can conclude:

Goals For vs Expected Goals For

When looking at the difference between each line’s expected goals for percentage and their goals for percentage (the total goals scored by the team while that line is on the ice as a percentage of all goals scored while that line is on the ice), a few things stand out. For one, Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci are really good together, but having Ryan Donato ride with them is really not a good idea. As much as Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson may eventually be a good middle 6 center, he was a decidedly BAD fit between Marchand and Pastrnak. Surprisingly, having Colby Cave in that spot instead of JFK has produced excellent results so far, bordering on the line underperforming their expected numbers.

The key to this chart is actually how the rest of the lineup should be structured based on the numbers. Chris Wagner, Sean Kuraly, and David Backes have been very good when put together as a line, and realistically should be able to handle 3rd line minutes if necessary. Wagner with Joakim Nordstrom and Anders Bjork has been an even better line in fewer minutes, but with how effective Wagner is with the Kuraly/Backes duo, I would suggest this is a place where you play Ryan Donato in the middle, heavily shelter his zone starts, and let him and Bjork learn the defensive side with Nordstrom and be available for the second powerplay unit.

This allows you to see whether or not Donato can realistically be an NHL centerman, and gives you Nordstrom as a faceoff option if Donato struggles in the dot. That leaves Danton Heinen as the 3rd member of the Krejci/DeBrusk line, which has been the best combo the Bruins have had on the second line, and it isn’t incredibly close. The trio actually is out-performing the Bergeron line in fewer minutes.

PDO vs Expected PDO

How lucky have they been? Krejci in the Bergeron spot has been extremely lucky in a small sample, so I don’t put a ton of stock into their performance. Likewise, JFK in that spot wasn’t lucky and bordered on unlucky. Again, though, Cave there is a conundrum; that grouping has outperformed their EXPECTED PDO a ton, but have a very low expected PDO, which tells me their results are RIDICULOUSLY lucky.

Shots For Differential per 60

What about the shot differentials? I accounted for time on ice in this case, which gives a better approximation of individual impact as a line. In this case, Cave shows extremely well as a Bergeron replacement, and we see that Heinen/Krejci/DeBrusk and the original Bergeron line are both very good. Nordstrom between DeBrusk and Marchand has been decidedly bad, and putting Krejci between Marchand and Pastrnak has produced plenty of offense, but have been disastrous in terms of shot suppression. Nordstrom/Acciari/Kuraly have interesting numbers, and the Bjork/Wagner/Nordstrom line has been REALLY good. Granted, so has Wagner/Kuraly/Backes, so I think the real trick will be deciding where to slot Ryan Donato into the bottom 6. Once again, this allows for the sheltered 3rd line theory proposed above.

COOL. NUMBERS. YAY.

BUT WHAT DOES IT MEAN?

Well, let’s boil this down a bit. I think that, if the lineup is fully healthy, it should look something like this:

Marchand                                             Bergeron                                 Pastrnak


Heinen                                                   Krejci                                       DeBrusk


Bjork                                                      Donato                                     Nordstrom


Wagner                                                  Kuraly                                      Backes


 

So, this presents a few questions. For one, you now have a $6 million right winger. Backes’ contract was an albatross when it was signed, and that doesn’t change now. I’d rather put him in a position where his skill set is best utilized rather than attempting to jam a square peg into a round hole. His foot speed has diminished to the point where he is no longer an effective center, and he doesn’t fit as an offensive player in the Top 9. Additionally, the third line should get almost no defensive zone starts. Focus on playing them in the offensive zone, allow Bjork and Donato to go wild and be creative, and Nordstrom is there to make sure the line isn’t a complete black hole defensively. This allows you to make sure Donato can or can’t be an NHL centerman without a ton of stress on him to produce.

Image result for Colby Cave

Photo Credit: NHL.com

But what about Bergeron not being there? Well, for now (and I can’t believe I’m saying this), I think leaving Colby Cave there for a bit wouldn’t hurt. Realistically, he isn’t an NHL scorer, so he is there to win faceoffs, be defensively responsible, screen the goaltender, and allow Marchand and Pastrnak to be magicians. This is only 5-on-5 so I would not use him in overtime (Bruce…), and he wouldn’t get a sniff on the man-advantage. This allows the other three lines to try and get rolling and find some chemistry for when the Bergeron line is fully healthy. That way, when Bergy returns, secondary scoring doesn’t return to being a massive problem for the team.

Want to SEE these lines in action? There’s plenty of options, but I recommend that you check out the available tickets from our advertising partner SeatGiant for your next Boston Bruins game. Click the link below, and when purchasing any event ticket, from the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL to concerts and shows, please use discount code BNGP to save a little money. Thank You!

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The Bruins’ Underrated: D Matt Grzelcyk

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PHOTO CREDITS: (nhl.com)

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

The National Hockey League has passed over the American Thanksgiving – a common milestone date for tracking the progress of teams and players alike. Twenty-four games into the 2018-19 season, some major storylines have been present across the league, but even more so with the Boston Bruins. The dominance of the first-line, the struggling depth scoring, the goalie “controversy” and of course, the injuries.

Flashing back to the offseason, the Bruins seemed to have more than enough defencemen to role throughout the season with some spares for the inevitable injuries. Unfortunately, that was not even close to being the case. Below are every single blueliner that has been injured at some point this year.

  • Torey Krug – September 29th – ankle injury – missed 11 games
  • Kevan Miller – October 18th – hand injury – missed 13 games
  • Charlie McAvoy – October 20th – concussion – unlikely he returns on road trip
  • Urho Vaakanainen – October 23rd – concussion – unlikely he returns on road trip
  • Matt Grzelcyk – October 27th – lower-body – missed 2 games
  • Brandon Carlo – November 11th – upper-body – unlikely he returns on road trip
  • Zdeno Chara – November 15th – knee – expected to miss four-to-six weeks
  • John Moore – November 16th – lower-body – missed 3 games

At one point, Jakub Zboril, Connor Clifton, and Jeremy Lauzon were all on Boston’s roster making it look like the Providence Bruins were all of a sudden in the NHL. All gentle humour aside, the Bruins have been rocked with injuries to key defencemen and we are only less than two whole months into the year.

One of the members of the “original” defensive core, the one who missed the least amount of games, Massachusetts’ own – Matt Grzelcyk, has been one of the few positives that the injury bug has provided us.

Surprisingly, Grzelcyk was one of the question marks within Boston’s lineup before the first puck drop of the season. With the offseason addition of John Moore, trade rumours were already being brainstormed for a possible top-six winger to add to the goal scoring threats that the team seemed to be lacking since the departure of Rick Nash. Quite often, however, those hypothetical deals included either Krug or Grzelcyk.

boston-bruins-v-new-jersey-devils-fc841dae48d7ea13.jpg

PHOTO CREDITS: (Steven Ryan/Getty Images)

As the season progressed and the injuries continued to pile up way higher than expected or hoped, those trade ideas rapidly vanished from the fanbase’s mindset – and for good reason. For a moment in time, the injury bug appeared to be an actual contagious virus that every and any player on the team can contract. Trading a player on a position that is using players from your AHL affiliate on your top-four defensive pairing does not make a ton of sense.

Matt Grzelcyk has been handed the task of manning the top pairing ever since Chara has been out of the lineup. In every game between November 14th and November 23rd (five games), Grzelcyk played over twenty minutes of ice time – hitting the 25-minute mark against the Stars on the sixteenth of November.

Of course, when watching the Boston Bruins on television or listening live on the radio, you most commonly hear Matt Grzelcyk’s name or see his #48 on the back of his sweater on an offensive play, such as a breakout pass or a power-play set-up and that is most definitely one of Grzelcyk’s strong suits.

As a defenseman, Grzelcyk is able to handle the puck with a great deal of fluidity around the area of the net. He is able to use good skating to weave his way around defenders – always looking for that first pass to start a rush. Many writers and analysts throughout the industry have associated that element of Matt’s game to Torey Krug, his fellow teammate.

Krug, as most of us already know, can do that exact same thing with ease. Both defenders clock in at around five-foot-nine forcing them to be quick with their skates and their stick or else one of the big-bodied forwards will level into them. Grzelcyk recently reiterated what I just said in an article on the Boston Herald by Marisa Ingemi

“It’s about getting back into skating with the puck and using my hockey IQ to shove players off in the D-zone and create offence in the neutral zone moving my feet,”

That aspect alone is commonly undervalued in Grzelcyk’s game – solely because the Bruins have Krug, who have we said is very similar in that way. However, for Krug, there is one consistent negative it seems like, his defence. At first, it may seem strange to have a defenseman that is not terrific at playing, well, defence. But in a day and age where speed and skill overtakes size and strength, the defensive side of a player may not stand out as much as it should.

matt-grzelcyk-916714ee2649f36f.jpg

PHOTO CREDITS: (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

For Grzelcyk, he is able to make solid defensive plays when needed and he often is able to use that precision skating to either catch up to an opposing player on an odd-man rush or a breakaway or he can use his feet to get back in position or even bail out one of his linemates who may have found themselves out of position.

On Friday, November 23rd against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Boston, Penguins forward Bryan Rust managed to free himself from the Bruins defensemen, (one of which being Grzelcyk), going in all alone on Jaroslav Halak for the breakaway. However, due to Grzelcyk’s speed and skating as mentioned, he was able to strategically hit the stick of Rust and the puck went wide before Rust could even get a shot off of his stick.

In the process, Grzelcyk managed to avoid taking a penalty on the play – which would have most likely been a penalty shot. See the play below (apologies for poor audio as I was forced to screen record the video on my computer from the NHL.com YouTube page.

 

Original Video (Grzelcyk play at 6:15):

This is not the only time this season that Grzelcyk has done that as well. Sure, he may have allowed Rust to get behind him – creating the chance to occur, but he was able to recover and stop that mistake. That characteristic in an offensive d-man often goes unnoticed. In most situations where a defenceman loses sight of a forward, it’ll lead towards a goal or a good scoring opportunity and the blame falls on the defender.

All that combined, Matt Grzelcyk has the remainder of this season and all of the 2019-2020 season under contract with the Bruins, making $1.4 million annually. His current deal is closest comparable to Erik Gustafsson’s two-year contract with the Chicago Blackhawks. Rob Hagg of the Philadelphia Flyers is also a 95.7% match with Grzelcyk’s contract – and Hagg only has nine points in 71 games since the signing date while Matt has fifteen in 63 NHL games since the deal.

It could very well be a case as time goes on, that Matt Grzelcyk is trusted more and more, even when the cluster of injured players on the blueline eventually come back to the full-time roster. With the lack of depth scoring on the Bruins so far this season as well, it could be possible that Torey Krug gets traded for that top-six forward.

So, I beg the question to all of you Boston Bruins fanatics, is Matt Grzelcyk underappreciated by the fanbase as a whole or is he just an average NHL defenceman? Let me know via my Twitter poll @tkdmaxbjj. 

Check out the available tickets from our advertising partner SeatGaint for your next Boston Bruins game. Click the link below and when purchasing any event ticket, from the NHL, NBA, MLB, NFL to concerts and shows, please use discount code BNGP to save a little money. Thank You!

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PuckNerd’s Bruins Analysis: The Unpredictability of David Pastrnak

David-Pastrnak-2

Photo Credit: The Hockey News/Getty Images

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

My most recent piece, which broke down a unique aspect of Patrice Bergeron’s offensive game, got some pretty positive early returns, so I thought I’d take a shot at analyzing the most dynamic player the Bruins have had in about half of a decade – David Pastrnak.

How this guy fell as far as he did in the 2014 draft is mind-boggling. The pure skill and creativity he possesses are unmatched in this lineup, and he really began turning a corner last year when he came into camp having spent an entire summer strengthening his base. His lower body is incredibly explosive. Check out one of his highlight reel goals from last year.

David Pastrnak 1

Watch below as he accelerates to full speed in one move, going inside out on a forechecking forward in the neutral zone. It takes him two steps to go from a light cruise to full song. Then, he has the presence of mind not to jam the shot into the defender. Rather, he makes a quick move inside of Michael Del Zotto, and fools Jakob Markstrom.

In the goal below, he again reaches full speed quickly, but rather than doing so off of a quick move with the puck, watch his strides between the bluelines. He makes the change in speed as soon as the penalty killer activates to put pressure on the oncoming Torey Krug, so by the time he can recover, Krug now has an option to his right on the rush.

David Pastrnak 2

He recognizes how to pick his spots too. Watch him identify the loose puck, and decide to win the race. He comes almost out of nowhere to beat a pivoting Ron Hainsey to the puck but doesn’t try to take the shot immediately upon picking it up or trying a wrap around.

David Pastrnak 3

Instead, he carries the puck a step or two deeper than a goalie would typically expect a shot to come from and notices Frederik Andersen beginning to cheat across the crease in anticipation of what he thinks is a wrap-around attempt. Seeing this, Pastrnak deftly chips the puck over his shoulder short side for the tally.

His game is much more than his straight-line speed, however, and he isn’t an offense-only type of guy. I imagine this is the result of playing so much time alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron. Watch the defensive play he makes to create this important goal in the ridiculous comeback the B’s had against Carolina last year.

David Pastrnak 4

He does his job at the blue line covering for a changing defenseman, holding the puck at the blue line not once, but twice using nothing but his stick. The second time, he creates a turnover and activates from that position on the blueline. The wrister he takes after that is just absurd. Scott Darling has lost his posts just a bit, and Pastrnak fits a cannon of a wrist shot into a tiny space short side. What makes this possible is the slight change of angle he creates for the shot with a small curl and drag release, incredibly deceptive for goaltenders to try and handle.

I’m not even going to analyze this next one, the hand-eye coordination he displays here is off the charts. Enjoy.

David Pastrnak 5

Pastrnak’s vision has become a little underrated due to the highlight reel goals he has a propensity for producing. Watch this transition play.

David Pastrnak 6

Rather than ripping off a one-timer, Pastrnak recognizes that David Krejci has found an open space in front of the net. He adjusts his release point to uncork a shot-pass instead of a big one-time shot. It is pinpoint, tape-to-tape, and just hard enough to keep its momentum once being tipped, but not too hard to prevent Krejci from controlling the tip.

Watch Pastrnak take the extra second of time in the goal below to create the perfect scoring chance.

David Pastrnak 7

Instead of trying to surprise the goaltender by jamming the puck short side, Pastrnak has the presence of mind to hold onto the puck for an extra second or two with three Maple Leafs converging on him, and pull Andersen out of position. This allows him to chip the puck into the top corner short side.

No analysis on the last one either. This is just dirty. The guy is an absolute human cheat code.

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David Pastrnak represents much of the new-age NHL; he attacks you with speed, smarts, and a willingness to try something you normally would see in pond hockey on the biggest stage. It doesn’t always work, but he creates so much offense on his own that it doesn’t really matter. I seriously cannot figure out how he is only making $6.67 million against the salary cap for another 5 years.

Wait, Bergeron is getting paid HOW MUCH?

Never mind.

***All GIF images created by the author using GIPHY.com, utilizing videos from YouTube users Hatrickane and GoCanucksGo. Be sure to check out their content and subscribe if you haven’t.

Boston Bruins: The Bergeron Spot

Image result for patrice bergeron

Photo Credit: Paul Sancya/AP Sports

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

You’d have to live under a rock in the hockey world not to know of “the Ovechkin Spot.” It has become his signature play, setting up at the top of the left circle and bombing one-timers in lightning-like fashion. You may, however, be surprised to know that Patrice Bergeron has his own signature play in the offensive zone.

Regardless of who is passing him the puck, Bergeron is excellent at getting lost in coverage, then finding a dead zone within the right circle for a quick-release one-timer. What am I talking about? Check out the play below.

Patrice Bergeron 1

Marchand and Bergeron have been playing together for so long that this play is second nature to both. Watch in particular how Bergeron identifies the open area between four Leafs defenders, all of whom are focused on Marchand. He doesn’t set up for the one-timer until AFTER Marchand has started the process of passing the puck, and is in the right position, at the right time, in order to let the shot go.

Bergeron has also made a home for himself in the bumper position on the power-play, and has free reign to move around as he sees fit, as such:

Patrice Bergeron 5

Watch in particular how he stays close to the penalty killing forward until Pastrnak starts looking to make a pass. As soon as he identifies that Pastrnak needs an option, he takes one hard stride that instantly puts him into that dead space between all four defenders, and the puck is on and off his stick in less than a second. Once again, he doesn’t get set until after Pastrnak has released the puck.

This time, the Bruins are on a 5-on-3. They do a good job of moving the puck around the perimeter quickly, and Bergeron has set himself up much lower in the slot than on the 5-on-4. This puts him flush with two of the three defenders until he sees an opening. As the puck gets moved from high to low, the penalty killers all shift their focus to Brad Marchand below the circle. As their eyes move towards the bottom of the zone, Bergeron moves against the grain, giving him just enough open space to be a viable passing option for Marchand. The defenseman is less than two inches from getting a stick on that shot, but Bergeron is able to get enough velocity and accuracy on the shot, despite shooting off of his back foot (and on one leg for that matter) to beat Cory Schneider.

Patrice Bergeron 4

 

He does this at 5-on-5 just as often. Watch Marchand lose the defender with a sharp curl towards the boards, giving himself about a second or two of separation.

Patrice Bergeron 3

Bergeron, who has moved with the play and is heading towards the net, pulls up and suddenly shifts backward. He is moving towards Jeff Skinner but has timed it perfectly so that his shot is not interrupted. Once again, his release is pinpoint, and lightning-quick. He is able to do this because he recognizes the Carolina centerman has drifted a touch too deep into the zone, likely puck-watching a little bit, allowing Bergeron to find the necessary separation.

This one is just brilliant. On the power-play again, but look at where the defender is as Bergeron releases the shot.

Patrice Bergeron 2

He has sat directly next to Brooks Orpik while the puck is up high in the zone. As soon as Danton Heinen moves it down low to Marchand, Orpik moves to pressure him below the circle. As soon as he does so, Bergeron literally takes a step to the right, and, despite Alex Chiasson being in good position and recognizing what is about to happen, gets the shot off. The key here is how he has altered his release point. Instead of winding up for a full one-timer, Bergeron significantly shortens up his windup, only raising his stick to his knees. This gets the shot off much quick (and more accurately), but with a little less power. In this case, he does this in the timespan of about 3 seconds. Brilliance.

So, yes. While Patrice Bergeron is a perennial Selke Trophy candidate and has a legitimate argument for being the greatest defensive forward in the history of the NHL (certainly of this generation), he has become a true two-way force. Hopefully, other teams don’t see this though, I don’t want them getting clued into the gameplan for Bergeron to hit 30 goals again this year.

**All GIFs were created by the author, utilizing GIPHY.com, and a YouTube video from YouTube user Hatrickane. Please be sure to check out his other compilations, and like/subscribe to his channel!

What’s Bugging Me about the B’s Injuries?

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Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

Another season and the Bruins are down to their 8th defenseman again-WAIT, I’m getting word that it’s now their 9th-AGAIN??-OK, their 10th defenseman. Why on Earth does this keep happening? Now we have 1st pairing defenseman John Moore, which is not an ideal situation for anybody. Steven Kampfer worries me nearly every time he gets near the puck. But, unlike in the past, where the Bruins have preferred to rely on replacement-level veterans, they are filling the holes with their young defensemen.

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Photo Credit: Bill Wippert/Getty Images

Brandon Carlo has legitimately been the best defenseman on this roster this season (3-on-3 OT notwithstanding). I’ve been extremely impressed with his willingness to (finally) use his skating ability to his advantage. Yes, he’s big and strong, but if he isn’t moving his feet, that’s not really an asset. He’s jumping into the play offensively more, he is the rock he has always been on the penalty kill, and he is taking a leadership role with some of the young defensemen. This is the Brandon Carlo we have been waiting for.

Grzelcyk

Photo Credit: Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports

I have been on the Matt Grzelcyk train since before the Brian Colangelo debacle. He is not Torey Krug. Let’s reaffirm that right here, right now. He does not possess the dynamic, offensive creativity that Krug does, and will therefore not be a massive point producer in his career. But he makes one of the best first passes I’ve seen, his stickwork in the defensive end is already excellent, and he does a good job of understanding how to position himself to win 50/50 puck battles despite his smaller stature. Oh, and he still is one of the best shot suppression defensemen in the league, despite getting elevated minutes.

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Photo Credit: Brian Fluharty – USA TODAY

The B’s have had two rookies make their NHL debuts in this deluge of pain, and both have looked like they are already NHL defensemen. Jeremy Lauzon (52nd Overall, 2015) is part of the less talked about the trio of 2015 picks by Boston (Lauzon, Carlo, and Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, all of whom were taken in the 2nd Round), but looks like he is coming along nicely. He is an excellent skater, and he is not afraid to engage physically. However, he also is more than capable of jumping into the offense and has a rocket of a shot when he is able to get a clean look. It is quite telling that Bruce Cassidy felt comfortable enough with his play to put him out on the penalty kill in his second NHL game.

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Photo Credit: Matt West

Urho Vaakanainen (18th Overall, 2017) was every bit the smooth-skating, calm presence he has been hyped as. He looked instantly comfortable in the lineup, and if it weren’t for a cheap right hook to the face by Mark Borowiecki and the ensuing concussion it caused, he might just have forced Don Sweeney to consider keeping him long-term.

So, yes. Torey Krug is expected back relatively soon. Charlie McAvoy and Kevan Miller were just placed on IR. So the kids are what we’ve got right now. I think Vaakanainen and Lauzon are both better options than Kampfer in the lineup, and I wouldn’t mind John Moore taking a seat (or at least a lesser role) either. He concerns me far too much in every aspect of play and is an absolute black hole in his own end. But the kids? The kids have given me hope. Now, if only they can stay health-WHAT DO YOU MEAN COLBY CAVE GOT AN EMERGENCY RECALL TOO?

Crap. Here we go again.

Is All Of This Rask Hate Warranted From Bruins’ Fans?

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Photo Credit: Nancy Lane

By: Spencer Fascetta | Follow Me on Twitter @PuckNerdHockey

Short answer?

No.

Let’s be honest. It wouldn’t be a hockey season in New England without the constant “Tuukka Rask Sucks” hit pieces. I think this is due to a few different factors. For one, Boston, and, by extension, the New England region, is a spoiled sports fanbase. The Patriots have been the most successful NFL franchise in the history of the league. The Celtics have long been the envy of the NBA. And after the Curse of the Bambino was struck in 2004, the Red Sox have found their way to three World Series titles, and are gunning for a fourth this October. Mixed into all of that craziness is the Bruins, who had a run in the early 1970s, made the finals twice in 3 years at the end of the Oilers/Islanders decade of dominance, and added another Stanley Cup in 2011. But there has been plenty of futility mixed in.

The other reasons stem from this initial one. When the Bruins won the Cup in 2011, they did so with a historically atrocious powerplay and dominated teams with a combination of intimidating the opposition into submission and one of the greatest displays of goaltending in the history of the National Hockey League from Tim Thomas. So this new-fangled, high-octane offense is troubling to some in the area. It is why there is an uproar when a below-replacement-level, bruising depth defenseman making far too much money is traded.

It’s why there is a constant need to call players “soft.” We see it with David Krejci, who hadn’t actually missed a considerable amount of time in his career due to injury until last year, and who has missed less time than Patrice Bergeron in his career, or David Backes, who has struggled to stay healthy in his Boston tenure. But Bergeron is a god amongst men (deservedly so), and Backes is given praise for his play because he hits hard and is willing to drop the gloves. I will skip the innate yet subtle xenophobic undertones that are present in this scenario. But Rask is not Tim Thomas.

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Boston Bruins

Photo Credit: Greg M. Smith/USA TODAY Sports

Might I remind everyone that while no goaltender is perfect, Tim Thomas did not have the superstar career we like to think he did in Boston? He LOST his starting job to Rask the year after the Cup victory, and his “throw everything at the wall and hope something sticks” style of goaltending led to plenty of unnecessary and bone-crushing goals. He also literally quit the team, forcing them to trade him away for pennies on the dollar. Rask has already lead the team to a President’s Trophy (Thomas never did that) and a Cup Final.

Speaking of that Cup Final, that is the other issue people have with Tuukka. “He can’t win the big games” is the favorite line of anyone trying to explain away his regular season success. But the breakdown in the final minute and a half in 2013 was not on Tuukka. A complete defensive implosion isn’t something that a goaltender can possibly be responsible for. Yet they like to berate him whenever they get the chance to.

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Photo Credit: Matt Stone

Let’s discuss the elephant in the room. Tuukka is not the greatest goaltender in the history of hockey. He has his moments of terror-inducing screw-ups. So does every goaltender. The facts don’t lie though. Rask has been a Top 5 goaltender in the league in the past half-decade. He has seen a slow decline over that timeframe, but it seems tied to the fact that he has been asked to start upwards of 65 games in recent years. That will wear down most goaltenders. So having a guy in Jaroslav Halak to eat 20-25 starts effectively and keep Rask fresh for the postseason is a positive. But that does not mean that Jaroslav Halak is better than Tuukka Rask. So, let’s take a deep breath, and calm the heck down. Please. Thank you.