By Leon Lifschutz | Follow me on Twitter @LeonLifschutz
Well, here we are Bruins fans, forced to jump on the bandwagon of a new team now that the Bs have been vanquished by the rival Lightning. At least there is some consolation in the fact that the Maple Leafs and Canadians have also been bounced from the bubble.
My colleague Michael Digiorgio wrote yesterday about some of the stories and moments that led to the Bruins playoff exit. The topics include lackluster efforts in the round robin and game three against the Lightning and lineup decisions by head coach Bruce Cassidy that sparked heated conversations on #BruinsTwitter. In the aftermath of Boston’s defeat, questions abound about key players, especially long time captain Zdeno Chara, not to mention the longevity of the current core. With all that in mind, let’s take a step back and look under the analytical hood to better understand what went off the rails against a talented Tampa Bay Team.
At even strength the Lightning drove play substantially throughout this series. The Bruins came out in the red in shot attempts, scoring chances, and expected goals. More importantly they lost the goals for battle by a sizable margin. As we peel back this data a couple of items emerge.
In games one through three the Lightning were head and shoulders the stronger team. The Bruins could not handle the dual threat of Tampa Bay’s ability to carry the puck in or chip and retrieve it. However, in games four and five, Boston did a much better job in the neutral zone, slowing down the attack and creating more favorable circumstances. In general, they were more patient, clogging the middle of the ice and not allowing Lightning forwards to wind up with speed. In turn, the Bruins were able to better control the play with games four and five largely a wash from an analytical standpoint and extremely close on the scoreboard.
The other key stats are shooting percentage, save percentage, and PDO (a simple combination of shooting and save percentage). PDOs typically should be around 1.00. Higher or lower numbers suggest either immense talent or a string of luck. The Bruins in the regular season exceeded 1.00 on the backs of strong goaltending and talented shooters. In this series their PDO comes in at 0.937, a scary number. Part of this has to do with the 7-1 thrashing in game three but the even worse culprit is an even strength shooting percentage of 4.03%. While some of this can be blamed on variance and luck, quite a bit of credit has to be given to Andrei Vasilevskiy and the Lightning defenders. The Lightning goaltender made some big saves and for the most part his defenders kept the Bruins from second chance opportunities.
As just mentioned, the Lightning defenders had an excellent series. In an ideal world you’d love to take every shot from right on top of the spoked B logo in the diagram. The Bruins did not get many opportunities from there at all. They also had few rebound attempts when Vasilevskiy did pop pucks back out. In contrast, the Lightning were able to penetrate the Bruins defensive posture. Their forwards combined quickness and toughness to win position in the center of the ice. In turn they scored a number of goals on screens, tips, and rebounds.
|David Pastrnak||2 G, 4 A, 40% xGF||Nikita Kucherov||2 G, 5 A, 71% xGF|
|Patrice Bergeron||0 G, 2 A, 45% xGF||Brayden Point||1 G, 7 A, 70% xGF|
|Brad Marchand||4 G, 1 A, 41% xGF||Ondrej Palat||5 G, 2 A, 73% xGF|
|Charlie McAvoy||0 G, 0 A, 39% xGF||Victor Hedman||4 G, 2 A, 52% xGF|
|Torey Krug||0 G, 3A, 46% xGF||Mikhail Sergachev||1 G, 2 A, 63% xGF|
|Jaroslav Halak||3.12 GAA, .896 SV%, -2 GSAA||Andrei Vasilevskiy||1.79 GAA, .936 SV%, +2 GSAA|
In The Athletic, Fluto Shinzawa discussed how the Lightning’s top players were outshining the Bruins’ stars prior to game five. After game five, the contrasting play remained part of the story line. Tampa Bay’s top line drove play against every matchup. Cassidy tried several options throughout the series with David Krejci getting the assignment in game five. The “perfection line” (as NBC must have trademarked by now) was less than perfect when head to head against the Lightning’s top line or future Selke trophy candidate Alex Killorn. While the Bruins stars did get on the board, it was almost exclusively on the powerplay.
The second wave of offense further differentiated the two teams. Tampa Bay received contributions from the likes of Yanni Gourde and Blake Coleman. They also got big contributions from their defenders who regularly walked the blue line and found seams to the net through heavy traffic. The Bruins, other than David Krejci, got virtually no secondary offense from their forwards or their defensemen.
In the goalie duel, Vasilevskiy is the clear winner. Halak put up his best effort in the elimination game, but at the end of the day his performance was not good enough. Despite some moments of strong play, reflections on his playoff run will largely be marred by a couple major guffaws. The Big Cat in Tampa’s net inspired more confidence and made big saves when needed.
Performance By Lines and Pairshttps://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js
A key caveat of the above chart is that it includes the whole time in the bubble, round robin and all. Having said that, it still has some value in assessing the Bruins’ demise. My colleague Lydia Murray recently did a great article on reading these charts and I encourage you to read it. For now, just know the upper right is the best and upper left is fine too. Lower on the chart is not where you want to be, particularity the bottom left.
The Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line still ends up in the good quadrant but did not distinguish itself as much as usual. The line of Debrusk-Krejci-Kase performed well enough in their matchups but land in the dull quadrant as they didn’t necessarily move the needle much other than a couple big games against the Hurricanes. The Bruins fourth line struggled regardless of the musical chairs of players. You’ll also notice Charlie Coyle is not on the chart. That is because he had such a revolving door of wingers that no combination had enough minutes together to qualify. Coach Cassidy’s tinkering finally seemed to land on a winning combination in the final game with Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka, but it was a little too late to make a difference in the series.
The Bruins defenders struggled. The speed and tenacity of Carolina and Tampa Bay were too much for Chara and Brandon Carlo to handle. Torey Krug was exposed in a number of tough matchups against top talent. Charlie McAvoy did his best work in limited minutes with mobile puck mover Matt Grzelcyk but otherwise was on his heels defending the other team’s best players, alongside long time partner Chara.
Boston: 5 out of 17; 26:33 minutes; 21 shots; 3.14 xG; 5 goals
Tampa Bay: 4 out of 20; 33:28 minutes; 28 shots; 3.35 xG; 4 goals
Special teams is where the Bruins had the marked advantage coming into the series. They have a number of dominant players on both units. In general they performed alright. With the exception of a three goal output in game three, the Lightning only scored one other goal with the man advantage despite ample opportunity. The Bruins even had a number of chances while shorthanded. Boston scored a powerplay goal in every contest. In general, that is a key ingredient for the Bruins. They keep games simple, low-event, and close before finishing teams off with their lethal power play.
However, in this series, Tampa Bay’s advantage at 5v5 was just too overwhelming and the Bruins’ time in the bubble has come to an end.