In Game 3, with the scored deadlocked at 1-1 and the ice tilted against the Boston Bruins early in the extra frame in their second-round series against the NY Islanders, Marchand took a Charlie McAvoy pass inside the offensive blue line, skated down the left wall and zipped a high shot that whizzed over Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov’s shoulder, hit the corner of the far post and crossbar and ricocheted down and into the cage.
Just like that, a game that the Bruins deserved to win in regulation, but had lost all momentum in late and in the early minutes of overtime, was over on Marchand’s fifth goal (in 8 playoff games) and third career playoff sudden death tally.
It moved him into a tie with Mel “Sudden Death” Hill, for second all-time in franchise history. Keep in mind- Hill scored all three of his OT goals in the same 1939 semifinal playoff series against the NY Rangers, getting extra session strikes in Games 1 and 2, then the deciding triple OT tally in Game 7. The B’s went on to win the Stanley Cup.
One could argue, that given how much more jump the Islanders had in overtime last night, Marchand’s goal was the embodiment of the term- sudden death. Just like that, it was over, as No. 63 circled the net, arms raised and fists pumping the air, while Islanders forward Kyle Palmieri (who scored his own wondrous OT snipe in Game 1 of the 2021 playoffs against the Pittsburgh Penguins and Tristan Jarry) looked on in dejected befuddlement.
“Any puck, especially in overtime, has a chance to go in,” Marchand said. “Can’t pass up a shot, and that’s another example of it. I tried to get it on net and it found its way in.”
How did that go in?
How. Did. That. Go. In?
Short answer is: It’s hockey.
Longer answer: Shooters shoot, and winners win.
Even longer one: The Bruins lead their series 2 games to 1 with a chance to go up 3-1 on Long Island Saturday night.
Marchand has been helping the Bruins win big hockey games in spring for a decade now- he arrived in 2011 and his performance in the Stanley Cup Final series against the Vancouver Canucks keyed Boston to its first championship parade in 39 years. The B’s haven’t won another one since, but two other trips to the final and 102 career playoff points, puts Marchand in select company with current teammates David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron. They are the NHL’s only active trio with more than 100 career playoff points, a nod to just how good this Bruins organization has been since the three of them started playing full-time on the roster in 2010-11.
Marchand is highly polarizing, having entered the league as a rat who stirred up controversy in junior as a skilled, productive player who didn’t always put the best interests of the team ahead of his own. In the years since he established himself first on the B’s bottom line before working himself into bona fide NHL superstar status and the first player since Joe Thornton in 2003 to notch a 100-point season two years ago, Marchand has grown and matured. He’s always been a good guy and teammate, it’s just that most outsiders didn’t know it. Like many young, even immature players with a chip on their shoulder- and Marchand had a big chip as a player who had first-round talent but slipped to the third round of the 2006 NHL draft- the public persona didn’t jive with who he was behind the scenes in Boston.
He’s no saint- some of the things he did earlier in his NHL career were unacceptable and hurt people. The league held him accountable for that and he paid a price for it. And while some would say it wasn’t enough, that was how the NHL chose to handle things. You can’t defend it, but you can at least acknowledge that for the most part, he changed the way he plays.
Several things did not change, however: Marchand always put in the work. He practiced and played hard. And, as his career progressed, the results followed. After developing a reputation as a pure agitator (read: dirty player that everyone loves to hate), along with a penchant for streaky scoring in his first several seasons, Marchand has toned the self-destructive on-ice behavior down while growing into one of the most consistent and dangerous scorers in the NHL over the past five years. It didn’t happen overnight, and there are times when he can be pulled down into the kind of negative shenanigans that don’t help, but last night was a microcosm of who he is as a 33-year-old veteran and one of Boston’s purest clutch players, not only in the modern era, but perhaps of all time.
Marchand knows he plays on the edge and that sometimes, his emotions and the devil on his shoulder get the best of him. Last night, he took another bad penalty. But, the Boston PK had his back and killed it. He then returned the favor with a shot that ended the debate about who was the better team on this night.
The OT goal was the second of this spring for Marchand- he tallied in Game 2 against Washington. It’s just the third of his career, but is proof that he’s a worthy addition of Krejci (whose 120 career playoff points lead the current B’s and are second only to Hall of Fame icon Ray Bourque) and Bergeron (who has 119 points and leads the Boston franchise with four career OT strikes in the postseason).
Boston fans no doubt relish that the rest of the NHL let out a collective groan, perhaps threw their TV remote, or kicked a chair when Marchand’s shot went in last night. Anyone but him…please, Hockey Gods…anyone but HIM!
And, as great as the shot was, you can’t really fault Varlamov. Craig Smith’s first period goal on a nifty feed from Taylor Hall was an absolute bullet. The ghost of Terry Sawchuk, Patrick Roy AND Martin Brodeur all in the crease together wouldn’t have stopped that shot. After that, it was lights out for the rest of the 60-minute contest.
He was tremendous in regulation, especially in the third period, when the B’s were peppering him with shots from all areas of the ice, but he held his team in, long enough for Mat Barzal to score his first goal of the playoffs to tie it with some 5 minutes and change left in the game. It was a nice play by Barzal, but let’s be honest- Connor Clifton took the wrong angle and Chris Wagner stood beside him and ineffectively reached in with his stick rather than put his body into Barzal and knock him away from the doorstep. But hey- credit where due. Barzal is one player you don’t want to let whack away at a puck in tight and he made the most of the time and space he was given.
After that, the Islanders seized momentum and were helped by a mind-numbingly bad Sean Kuraly cross-checking penalty on Palmieri with 2:15 remaining in the third. Even if Palmieri got away with something in a battle seconds earlier, Kuraly who is rapidly burning away the goodwill of past strong playoff performances (exhibit A for why you don’t pay a lot to role players for past performances, btw), had no excuse for putting his team in that spot.
Thanks to Tuukka Rask, whom we haven’t yet mentioned in this space today, but who got his 6th win with some tremendous saves late and in OT on Barzal, the score remained tied, setting the stage for Marchand’s heroics.
“That one from there finally found its way in,” Bruce Cassidy quipped, underscoring the volatile nature of a playoff game in the NHL.
Marchand finished third in regular season scoring and won some respect and consideration for league MVP honors, even though he has no shot to beat out Connor McDavid. He’s fast, hard, skilled and most of all- productive. He’s the one player that fans around the league will scream about never wanting on their team publicly, but secretly would kill for. He’s on a great contract, and like Bergeron, is playing better hockey in his 30’s than he did in his 20’s.
Brad Marchand is a winner.
Brandon Carlo exited the game after taking a hit from Islanders grinder Cal Clutterbuck. Boston’s update on him after the game sounded optimistic, but make no mistake- if the big, mobile shutdown D is out for an extended period of time, the B’s will have their hands full. Assuming he can’t go, and that’s probably the right answer based on what we know. That means Jarred Tinordi or Urho Vaakanainen is next man up.
Game 2 goat (not the Tom Brady kind of GOAT) Jeremy Lauzon rebounded from a tough Game 2 with a solid defensive performance and no glaring mistakes or miscues. He has to keep things simple and the coaches showed a lot of trust in him to go back with No. 55. Trust…key word. Young players and fans don’t always understand that when it comes to hockey and coaching, trust is pretty much it. You want to play more? Earn your coach’s trust. You want to play less or not at all? Break that trust. That’s it. So, when fans get on social media and want to know why the B’s could possibly give Lauzon another shot in the lineup after so disastrous an outcome the game before, there’s your answer. They trust him. You aren’t there. Neither am I. None of us save those in the Bruins room knows or understands. So, you may not like it, but the world doesn’t work the way we want it to, sometimes. Cassidy and Co. trust Lauzon. For better or worse. And last night, he rewarded that trust.
Elsewhere in the NHL…
Three jeers for the league in giving Winnipeg Jets veteran Mark Scheifele a four-game suspension for his charge on Montreal’s Jake Evans Wednesday night. Look, it was an unnecessary hit, and you could even be justified in calling it a bad hit, but the outcome is what is being judged here. If you have to suspend him, and the NHL probably did given the outrage, give him a game and move on. But the farce of this all is that this same league watched Washington’s Tom Wilson grab a star player from behind, slam him to the ice, end his season, then mock the response and show zero contrition. The league’s response? A $5,000 fine…and the scorn and figurative black eye for another mind-numbingly incomprehensible decision.
With supplemental disciplinary decisions like this one, clearly aimed to address the abject failure of dealing with Wilson vs. Artemi Panarin, where the NHL failed to protect one of its own, you can’t help but feel that Director of Player Safety George Parros was under orders on this one to make an example out of Scheifele, but if that is indeed the case here, it’s a massive and unjust overcorrection. We all feel for Evans, but we felt for Panarin, too. What about Carlo? His suffering and loss of games to another concussion from Wilson’s forearm to the head was deemed worthy of a seven-game ban for a known and repeat offender. Now, every time Carlo takes a hit, we have to hold our collective breath, wondering if this could be it for his career. He’s 24 years old, by the way.
The NHL’s real efforts need to be on changing the culture. Scheifele has not made a career of running guys and injuring them. He made a mistake and will now pay for it. But what message does that send to the nimrods of the league who repeatedly cross the line and see no major impact to their livelihood?
We look forward to a 25+-game ban for Wilson the next time said repeat offender hurts someone. After all, a player with no track record like Scheifele got four games for his first offense, right? Sadly, not holding our breath on that one… The Capitals and NHL by extension, have been enablers for Wilson’s antics and he shows little sign that he’s going to change his ways.
The Boston Bruins won their fourth straight game Sunday in the opening round of the 2021 NHL Playoffs, winning 2 out of 3 games on the road to eliminate the Washington Capitals by a 3-1 score.
Led by captain and future first-ballot Hockey Hall of Fame tenant Patrice Bergeron (two goals) and Tuukka Rask (40 saves), the B’s made it look easy in a game that could have gone the other way.
After taking a 2-0 lead into the third period, Conor Sheary scored 11 seconds in to give his club some hope, but Bergeron answered later in the period with his second tally of the contest. Although Lars Eller appeared to have scored a few minutes later to pull the Caps again to within one, the goal was disallowed on the ice due to goalie interference by Evgeni Kuznetsov.
The game completed an impressive surge for the Bruins, needing overtime to win their first two contests of the series, but then handling business in wins 3 and 4 to finish them off.
The 2018 Stanley Cup champion Capitals, who took Game 1 in overtime on a Nic Dowd deflection goal, went out with a whimper. Few of the core members of that championship squad stepped up to accomplish much of anything in the series loss, leaving it to the bottom two lines and role players to get the bulk of Washington’s production.
It was bittersweet for many fans to see Zdeno Chara go through the handshake line wearing Washington red and seeing his 23rd NHL seasons come to an end. He was capable in the series, but not a difference-maker for the Capitals and the B’s had success by putting pucks behind him and forcing him to turn, skate and defend under pressure. It’s a shame he didn’t stay in Boston and was on the other side of the result, but at the same time- what’s the point in having such a debate? He opted to go where he felt he could have a bigger role, and the Bruins opted not to do what it took to keep him. Hockey is a business, and if you didn’t believe that, then look no further than what transpired between the B’s and their former captain. In the end, both positions should be respected, and in this case- Chara now gets to rejoin his family in Boston while his former teammates await their next opponent.
Here are some thoughts on the highlights and lowlights:
1. Tuukka Rask Boston’s wins leader dropped Game 1 and took heat for allowing the winning score, but was near-perfect the rest of the way, posting a .940 save percentage in the four victories and raising his career postseason save percentage to .927 (75 games minimum) in 98 career games, good for No. 1 in NHL history (for now). He’s healthy and has his patented swagger back. In Game 5, the Bruins were outshot by a wide margin, but he made it look easy. In his final two starts, he stifled the Caps at nearly every turn, and it was his ability to make the big saves in the overtime games 2 and 3 that allowed his club to take control of the series. We recognize that there are some out there who are simply never going to get on board with Rask, but in this case, we’re giving full credit where due.
2. Patrice Bergeron The captain presided over his first playoff series win with the Bruins wearing the ‘C’ and led by example by potting two goals, including the winner. Boston fans have been spoiled by his 18 years of excellence in the Black and Gold. Remember, he came in and made the team as an 18-year-old, looking like a seasoned veteran. That seems like a lifetime ago, and while he’s never put up an 80-point regular season, he’s been the model of consistency and success as this generation’s greatest two-way center who can do it all, even if he lacks the pure production of other NHL super stars. To put it another way, if you’re in overtime of a Game 7 final series for all the marbles, who do you want as your center over Bergeron? There aren’t many names you can come up with if you’re being intellectually honest in that exercise. The veteran who grew up in Quebec City admiring Joe Sakic, has cemented a similar legacy of greatness like his idol, all accomplished with the franchise that drafted him in 2003. His 44 postseason goals are the most among active players for the team, and his 115 points trail David Krejci by just two. For the record, Ray Bourque is the team’s all-time playoff scoring leader with 161 points, but Bergeron and Krejci have all surpassed franchise icons like Phil Esposito, Johnny Bucyk and Rick Middleton.
3. Charlie McAvoy As the series went on, Boston’s top defenseman asserted himself more and more. When he turns the wheel and plays his best hockey, he can impact the game positively in all zones. His three power play assists in Game 4 was instrumental in giving the Capitals a spirit-crushing loss and setting the stage for Game 5, and McAvoy’s ability to log big minutes in all situations makes him the latest in a long line of top blue liners who have worn the spoked B. He’s still prone to turning pucks over because he wants to push the envelope at times with more risk in his play than he should, but the aggression is good, and as the old saying goes, you can tame a tiger but you can’t paint stripes on a pussycat and expect it to rule the jungle. His next contract is going to be a big one, so get ready for that, but to the young former Boston University product’s credit, he’s earning it. Every top team needs a bell cow defenseman, and McAvoy stepped out of Chara’s shadow in this series to assume that responsibility. So far, so good.
4. Brad Marchand The 21st century version of Ken Linseman built a reputation with his antics, but in recent seasons toned his act down. When his abrasiveness threatened to cross the line and put his team at a disadvantage, Marchand pulled it together (assist to Bergeron, btw) and scored two critical goals to get his club back in control of the series. His three goals in 5 games led the B’s, but it speaks to his MVP-worthy season that he’s been able to keep the scoring going after finishing third in the regular campaign with 29 goals and 69 points in 53 games. His overtime one-timer in Game 2 came just 39 seconds into the extra frame and set a franchise record, breaking Bobby Orr’s famous flying Mother’s Day tally to win the Bruins the 1970 Stanley Cup. That alone deserves recognition on this list, but Marchand played hard, fast and put his team first when he had to. That’s a sign of his veteran maturity and ability to understand how fine a line it is, making sure he stayed on the right side of things to secure another series victory. With 98 career points, Marchand is close to joining Bergeron and David Krejci in the Playoff Century Club.
4. Taylor Hall Since the B’s acquired the 2010 first overall selection at the trade deadline, the team has gone 16-4-2 with No. 71 in the lineup. He scored what is arguably the biggest goal of the series late in the third period of Game 2 as the B’s were down 3-2 with the seconds ticking off the clock towards a crushing 0-2 series deficit. Then, Hall flashed his trademark speed to grab the puck and gain the offensive zone, flying past Washington’s top D John Carlson, and sending it to the front of the net. He then circled the cage, located the puck lying in the paint amidst player-induced chaos in the crease, and jammed at it until it went in. The speed, pace and skill Hall brings when he’s on top of his game is something not seen in Boston very often, and his presence has electrified the offense and second line. He didn’t always play his best hockey throughout the series, so there’s definitely room for improvement, but he came through in the clutch with a critical goal when his team needed it the most. It sure looks like the B’s will be able to find a way to extend the pending unrestricted free agent when the time comes (be patient- the expansion draft complicates things and stow the fast food mentality to get something done now). We’ll leave that to Don Sweeney and his capologist Evan Gold to sort out, but Hall is proving himself to be a valuable commodity, and the veteran is enjoying the kind of success he’s having as the right kind of fit at this stage of his professional career.
5. Connor Clifton When Jeremy Lauzon went out of the lineup early in the series with a hand injury suffered in Game 1, it opened the door for Clifton, who in his third playoff spring with the Bruins, has once again elevated his play when it matters most by eclipsing his up-and-down regular season performances. The small but speedy and physical New Jersey native drew the tough assignment of containing Alex Ovechkin and sent a message in his first game against No. 8, hitting him, disrupting his rhythm and blocking his shots. His stats line of no points in 4 games doesn’t tell the story, but Clifton was able to stabilize the left side and make an impact with his fast, hard play. He shined in Game 4 on one particular penalty kill when he blocked three big shots in the same sequence. Players love that stuff, and Clifton is clearly a big man trapped in a small man’s body. The ability to play your best hockey when the games get so much faster and tougher is the sign of a true competitor.
6. David Pastrnak After getting off to a sluggish start, Boston’s most skilled scoring forward racked up 4 points in his final two games, ending the series on the top with 6 points in 5 games. His goal to break the scoreless tie in the second period of Game 5 was a thing of beauty as he went through the legs to avoid Dowd, then beat defenseman Nick Jensen to the front of the net and tuck the puck inside the far post. Though Pastrnak struggled late in the season and his 20 goals in 48 games was well off his 48 goals in 70 from a year ago, he’s getting his confidence and swagger back. When Pastrnak is going, the B’s can skate with the best offensive clubs in the NHL because they have the speed and depth to do it.
7. Bruce Cassidy Let’s face it- the man can coach a hockey team. His winning percentage with the Bruins since taking over for Claude Julien in 2017 is north of .650, and his 2019 club came to within one victory of the ultimate prize. He’s a student of the game who has built a winning culture through structure, discipline/buy-in and by demanding accountability, starting with himself and his staff. He’s an astute game manager who made the right adjustments throughout the series and did a good job with handling injuries to the club throughout the season and the playoff carryover. He’s learned a great deal since failing with the Washington Capitals, so you know this series win felt so good for him to beat his old team. He wasn’t ready to be a NHL head coach when the Capitals hired him in 2002, but in the years since his firing in 2004 and when he got the Boston job 13 years later, he learned from his past experiences. Cassidy consistently presides over winning teams because he employs the right kind of structure, motivation and leadership. Coaching a professional hockey is no easy task if you expect to do it right and achieve top success, but one of the most important aspects of it is that the players will show up every night and play hard for you. That just doesn’t happen by being a nice guy- they have to respect your knowledge of the game, connect with you personally and believe that by buying in to your systems and methods, they will have the best chance at capturing a championship. Cassidy has done that in Boston, and the way his team took control of the series after a devastating Game 1 loss has reinforced his mettle behind the bench along with the contributions of his staff to the entire process.
8. Jake DeBrusk When the top guns were struggling to find their offense, it was DeBrusk who came forward. Although he didn’t sustain the scoring as Boston started racking up the wins, he used his speed and played with energy and effort to be a disruptive force, create chances and back check with authority to prevent opportunities on his own net. It hasn’t been a good year for him, but instead of pouting and continuing to be a black hole, the 23-year-old put up a respectable 2 goals and 3 points while showing he can be an effective 200-foot player when he sets his mind to it. That, more than anything, could be a key factor in getting his career back on the rails after his confidence took a big hit.
9. Ilya Samsonov The Russian rookie showed why he was a first-round pick a few years ago by playing hard and keeping the Bruins from turning the series into a blood bath on the scoreboard in Games 3 and 4. He has tremendous ability, though he did whiff on Bergeron’s first goal of Game 5- a shot he needed to stop. His ability to move laterally and locate/track pucks is elite. On the downside, Samsonov reportedly got into some hot water with his off-ice conduct, landing him in COVID-19 jail, which hurt his standing with his team and fans a bit. However, in watching him from a pure hockey standpoint, as he matures and gains experience, he will make the Capitals a better team in the net if he can maintain his focus and learn from mistakes.
1. Nicklas Backstrom The long time superstar center was, to put it mildly, putrid in this series and in his last two playoff years, has produced just two assists in 10 games. It isn’t just the lack of scoring- he was on the perimeter a lot and looked and played soft. For a player of his caliber, that is unacceptable, and barring some kind of injury he’s dealing with the Capitals and their fans are right to demand accountability from him for two years of no-shows after being such a critical cog in that machine for so long.
2. Evgeni Kuznetsov In a word, gross. This player is far too talented to put up the zero of a performance he did. From missing the first two games because of being in COVID protocol, to barely making a ripple on the pace and flow of the games as the series went on, going pointless. He had a poor year overall, and looked at times like he was just punching the time card. All of this from a guy who had 32 points the year the Capitals won it all. It looks like his days in Washington may be numbered, as the team and GM Brian MacLellan may decide to go in a different direction in building the next roster.
3. Peter Laviolette If Cassidy showed you what right looked like in a coach, Laviolette’s performance in his first playoffs with the Capitals was found to be…wanting. For whatever reason, he was unable to get top performances out of his best players, and it showed in the lackluster power play and the inability for Laviolette to get what had been the third-best PP unit in the regular season going with any kind of consistency. The reality is- if that power play is even half as better than it was, with all the penalties the Bruins took, it could have been a whole different series. Whatever the reason, the perception from afar was that his team just wasn’t in synch and following the program. The Franklin, Mass. product is a winning coach with one ring in Carolina and two more trips to the Stanley Cup final with the Flyers and Predators, but he looked overmatched and not up to the task in this one. To be honest, the team didn’t exactly do their part either.
4. Tom Wilson The NHL’s lightning rod has a world of talent, but diminishes himself with unnecessary self-sabotage instead of just playing the game hard…and the right way. Look, just about everybody respects hard skill and being tough to play against, and there’s no doubt that every team would love a Wilson on their roster, but this playoff version scored the first goal, and then went largely MIA, unless he was doing things that were either cheap/unwarranted or hurt his team. Unlike Marchand, Wilson has yet to figure out that he needs to let his offensive play do the talking rather allowing himself to become a distraction by being…offensive. And the Capitals as an organization have their own role to play as enablers- from the GM and coaches to even the social media staff- they have encouraged Wilson’s buffoonery, instead of realizing that when focused and on his game, he’s a lethal weapon, and getting him to play more of a ‘we’ game than a ‘look at me’ game. Wilson needs to step back and look in the mirror at the farce of a player he ended up being in this series, but so should the rest of the Caps- they allowed it to happen.
5. Boston Bruins team discipline A largely ineffective Washington power play prevented a closer-run series, but the B’s on the whole are going to have to clean up their penalty game going forward. Sure, some of the calls went from silly (Marchand’s roughing call in Game 5) to egregious (Washington getting a PP after Wilson cross-checked Nick Ritchie from behind after Charlie Coyle’s goal in Game 4), but that doesn’t change the fact that too many penalties that went against the B’s were self-inflicted through lapses in attention and discipline. Fans have been watching this team long enough to know that Boston doesn’t often get the benefit of the doubt from officials, so the players will have to put extra attention in avoiding the lazy stick fouls from not moving their feet, control their lumber so as not to draw high-sticking infractions and generally do a better job of staying out of the box. The penalty killing units (led by Rask) did their job, but its going to catch up with them in the next round if it continues.
6. Nick Ritchie Let’s face it- he’s capable of a lot more and the team needs it from the ‘Big Rig.’ He did have a glittering scoring chance in Game 5 on a between-the-hashmarks laser that Samsonov picked up and stopped as he slid laterally to absorb the puck in his pants, but other than a deflected shot on the PP off him and into the net in Game 1, Ritchie didn’t get a whole lot accomplished despite a respectable 3 points in the 5 games. He’s got to get to the net more often and with greater urgency and authority. When he drives the net, he’s a load to contain and with his hands and ability to finish plays in tight spaces, the chances will be had if he turns the wheel more.
7. David Krejci This is not a knock on Krejci, as there were times he showed his experience and made some savvy plays offensively and defensively. But there were a few examples where he was off in his play, especially handling passes cleanly on the PP and protecting the puck in tight spots like he so often does. The purpose of putting him here in the down section is not to criticize, but to point out that the Bruins won four games in a row without much of a contribution from No. 46. We all know that his best hockey comes out in the spring months, so this is an acknowledgement of that and the fact that for the B’s to keep advancing in the postseason, they will need more out of their No. 2 center.
We could go on, but time to leave it here.
The Bruins will now get some time to rest, heal and await their next opponent, be it the Pittsburgh Penguins or New York Islanders.
For more insights on the Bruins/NHL and hockey in general, follow me on Twitter at @kluedeke29
As the first round of the NHL playoffs shifts to Washington for Game 5, thought we would take a moment to look at the younger (ages 23 and under) Bruins prospects who had a chance to play in Boston this season, either in a more established role or limited action via call-up. Before we begin, here is the obligatory disclaimer- We’re just calling it as we see it. Understand- this is designed to provide observations and feedback- it is not intended to be the final word on anyone, good or not-as-good. Here’s the review, ranked in order of performance and impact.
Urho Vaakanainen, Oskar Steen and Jack Ahcan are not included in order to focus on the “big 5” instead.
1. Jeremy Swayman, G- No player did more to boost his stock within the organization and across the league the way the rookie goaltender did, appearing in 10 games near the end of the season and going 7-3 with an eye-popping 1.50 GAA and .945 save percentage with a pair of shutouts…in the NHL! Prior to that, he was off to a dominant start to his pro career with the Providence Bruins in the AHL going 8-1 in 9 games with a 1.89 GAA and .933 save percentage. He turned his Boston audition into a spot as Tuukka Rask’s backup in the playoffs, supplanting veteran Jaroslav Halak and essentially staking a claim to a spot on the 2021-22 Boston Bruins.
The Boston Bruins easily handled business in Game 4 on home ice, beating the Washington Capitals decisively by a 4-1 score (that could have been way more out of hand if rookie Ilya Samsonov had been just a little off last night). With the first regulation victory in four tries, the Bruins have taken control of the series, which shifts back to the nation’s capital on Sunday night.
The B’s got goals from Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Charlie Coyle and Matt Grzelcyk. Tuukka Rask was perfect if not for an Alex Ovechkin broken stick off-speed shot that hit Brandon Carlo’s lumber in front of the net and deflected in. The B’s were fast and physical and their power play tallied three times, taking advantage of Washington’s miscues. Charlie McAvoy had a 3-assist effort, and played a superb game at both ends of the ice. The only black mark on the night was Boston losing veteran D Kevan Miller on a Dmitri Orlov cheap shot, where the latter clearly left his feet and hit Miller late, sending No. 86 to the hospital for what sounds like concussion testing per an in-game team report. More on that later, but here are the observations:
1. Tuukka Time- Rask claims sole possession of 1st place with 54th career playoff victory. At TSP, we like to think we’ve been honest and fair about Rask over the years. At one point in 2016, we proposed that trading him was an option worth exploring, and in hindsight, that was foolish. We’ve also been willing to give him the just respect he’s due when he plays like the No. 1 he has been for the Bruins in the last decade. This is one of those times. He has simply been superb in the first four games, going 3-1 and stopping 93% of the shots he’s faced, 8 of 9 goals allowed coming on some kind of tip, deflection or redirection. That’s just stunning when you think about it. We know, we know- some out there are so conditioned to throw out the reflexive, knee-jerk response that he’s a choke artist, not an elite goaltender or what have you, no matter what he does. It’s a shame that people like that can’t simply acknowledge excellence and seem to rather be right and see Rask fail. At TSP, we’re not going to be fundamentally dishonest bomb-throwers, so we’ll simply salute the franchise all-time wins leader in both regular and post season play for his 19-save effort, and wish Rask the best. He’s earned it and people who engage in the “yeah but-ism” that happens when celebrating this milestone deserve to be mocked and scorned- they shouldn’t be taken seriously any more than the “Tuukka can do no wrong” crowd out there.
2. Special teams were special pt. 1- PK went 6-of-7 to smother a top PP. New memo going around the Bruins offices- Avoid giving the Capitals 7 power plays going forward, please. However, a good chunk of that was classic NHL officiating and game mismanagement by the men in stripes- they got into a ticky-tack rut of calling marginal penalties and then had their hands forced when bigger infractions occurred. We don’t want to make more of it than it is, because this is about Boston’s excellence in killing the penalties last night. Connor Clifton was a mad man at times, making 3-4 shot blocks during one crucial kill, and the B’s used superior stick positioning, anticipation and sharp angling to keep the Capitals at bay. The lone blemish was Ovechkin’s third period PP strike off of Carlo while Marchand was serving a questionable interference infraction while battling for inside position with John Carlson. All in all, the Bruins can’t afford to put themselves into similar situations going forward, but the Caps’ PP has been curious, as they remain largely static and try to funnel pucks to Ovechkin for his vicious one-timers from the top of the circle. Problem is, the B’s killers have sniffed that out and are doing a great job of filling that shooting lane, so it is a tactic that has produced just two PP markers for the Washington captain in four games. Nicklas Backstrom is a giant goose egg, too- which has hurt the Caps in the series. The Boston PK effort/motor has been high, and their goaltender has been the best killer of them all, denying the majority of shots that get through.
3. Special teams were special pt. 2 –Boston’s PP tallied three. The B’s came alive with the man advantage, getting three goals last night. Marchand struck first, standing right by the post and deflecting a Pastrnak shot through Samsonov to finally break a 0-0 in the second period. That was a big goal because it was scored with the PP the Bruins got from Orlov’s double-minor. Then, Pastrnak netted his first goal of the series early in the third period with the man advantage thanks to an Anthony Mantha brain freeze cross-check late in the second that carried over into the final frame. Mantha’s nit-wittery continued in the third when he appeared to lose awareness of where he was on a net drive (or did he?) and ran Rask. Grzelcyk ended the hopes of a comeback with a missile of a shot top shelf. Coming into the series, Washington’s vaunted PP had the bulk of the coverage attention, but the Caps have not gotten it done with the man advantage. The inability of their coaching staff to shake things up is far more confounding than Boston’s taking advantage of the situation to hang 3 of 4 goals on the Caps in Game 4 on special teams.
4. The Orlov hit on Miller was uncalled for, as was response from the on-ice officials. Let’s get this out of the way right now- the NHL has an obligation to protect its players. If they are not going to do that, then everyone just needs to stow the platitudes and understand that players are going to continue to have their careers and lives put in jeopardy when the guys we depend on to enforce the rules get it wrong in critical situations. In the second period, the Boston veteran defender, who has had tremendous injury obstacles to overcome in the past 3 years, was gaining a zone entry and moved the puck as he crossed the blue line. The video doesn’t lie: Orlov a. clearly left his feet to hit Miller b. late, and c. high causing Miller to hit his head on the ice hard. The officials initially called a major infraction only to review it and reverse themselves- basically making a dangerous and potentially career-ending play a 2-minute call. Orlov got to stay in the game and Miller went to the hospital for observation and tests.
It didn’t stop there… When Coyle scored to make it 3-1, Wilson cross-checked Nick Ritchie from behind and a scrum ensued, with Brendan Dillon joining the fray and getting some shots in. Somehow, the “curious” judgment of the officiating continued, with Washington getting a power play out of it when Wilson was the clear aggressor and Dillon at the least should have been sent to the box for injecting himself into the fracas. Instead, the refs hid behind the rule book to put Carlo in the box with Ritchie for going back on the ice for a cowardly too many men call. Look, this isn’t hard- if you’re not going to punish the real infractions in the game, then players and their coaches are simply going to take that as a green light to continue their “edgy” play. We have no issue with good, hard physical hockey, but dangerous, unnecessary hits not being penalized, or officials picking and choosing what they feel like calling based on the score of the game is the issue here. It should have been a 4-on-4 situation there…it’s a joke that the Caps got a PP out of it and the refs opened the door for Wilson to do it again in Game 5. Good job, guys.
With Miller likely out of the lineup on Sunday, watch for Boston to dress Jarred Tinordi in anticipation of more physical rough stuff or they could go with Jeremy Lauzon if he’s cleared to return to the lineup. They could go with Steven Kampfer too, and his experience could provide the trump card in the decision. At the same time, the B’s are up in the series, so the staff could decide that Tinordi’s size/toughness is more important than the playoff experience of Kampfer or Lauzon’s all-around play. Regardless, it will be tough to replicate what Miller does for the room, so the B’s will likely have to rally around their fallen teammate and make Washington pay on the scoreboard as they did last night.
5. Brad Marchand is playing like a Hart Trophy candidate. Of course Connor McDavid will win the award for NHL MVP and rightfully so, but Marchand has stepped up and is playing like a man possessed in this series. After finishing third overall in league scoring, Marchand has three goals in three games and is playing as hard as we’ve seen him, save for a dud of a first game. He’s gotten himself into penalty trouble, but he’s made amends every time with key goals to directly or indirectly secure wins in Games 2 and 3. Last night, he was flying and when Ovechkin blew him up with a third period big hit in the o-zone, he came right back at Ovechkin later on after Pastrnak had hit the captain from behind, preventing him from getting a high-danger shot off in the slot. It prompted us to go back and look at some scouting reports on Marchand from his draft season. We found this gem in the April edition of Red Line Report, and it speaks volumes to how good the independent scouting service’s track record has been in the 22 years since Kyle Woodlief took over as chief scout and publisher.
Gotta admit- 15 years later, that write-up looks pretty good, and Red Line hit on Claude Giroux too. Those players have gone from being “smallish Q scorers” to 2 of the most productive and successful forwards in the entire NHL Draft Class of 2006. Where would the Bruins be without Marchand over the past decade?
Final thoughts: It is easy to get caught up in the 3-1 series lead, but you need four wins to advance, so the Bruins will need to be prepared for a Capitals team that is going to come at them hard. It’s not over, and with Samsonov playing the way he has, he’s capable of stealing a game or two. Boot on the neck time- don’t give the Capitals any ability to get up off the mat.
The 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs have begun and aside from the first three contests all going to overtime, there are always winners and losers in hockey, especially come springtime. The Boston Bruins lost Game 1 on a Nic Dowd deflected shot from T.J. Oshie that he got a piece of before the puck rolled in, breaking a 2-2 deadlock in the first extra session. It was a game there for the taking from the B’s perspective, but they instead find themselves in an 0-1 hole. Here are some observations about the game and what the team can do about it to generate a better outcome in Game 2.
1. The Bruins were unable to match Washington’s physicality to start the game. The Capitals came at the Bruins hard, leveling them with big, clean hits early on and dictating the pace/tempo. This in turn fired up the home crowd. Boston was able weather the storm, but to set the conditions for a different result tonight, they will need to take the initiative and be ready for the runs that the heavier Capitals players are sure to take at them. One way they can mitigate that is by going to the net as hard as possible and initiating some scrums with Caps players to take away the momentum gained by big, open-ice hits. It’s a fine line, so the B’s will have to make sure their sticks don’t get up or that they don’t do anything undisciplined like running Craig Anderson, but with the proverbial wind in their faces, they need a better start, and earning the first lead of the series wouldn’t hurt.
2. 21 missed shots against a goalie playing in just his fourth contest of the season.Wayne Gretzky famously said that you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take. The same holds true of shots attempted that miss the net entirely, and that played a significant role in Boston’s loss Saturday night. Whether the B’s had first game jitters or the Caps simply disrupted their time and space, the fact of the matter is- the visiting team failed to take advantage of a golden opportunity after Jake DeBrusk chased starter Vitek Vanecek from the game with his goal that forced the netminder to do an awkward split and incur a lower body injury. Another way to look at Anderson coming in is that it was a blessing in disguise for Washington. Anderson is a playoff veteran with a career .929 save percentage, knocking Boston out of the first round of the postseason in Bruce Cassidy’s first year. Either way, the ghosts of Hardy Astrom and Andre Racicot would have won a game in which his opponent didn’t force him to make 21 stops- the B’s made it easy on Anderson, who if anything, lacks sharpness and timing in his game. The Bruins must focus their efforts on shooting pucks at every opportunity and avoid falling into the trap of making the extra pass or trying to make the perfect shot- get it to the net early and often and bring the forwards down below the dots as much as possible to capitalize (no pun intended) on rebounds and get some dirty goals. The most important thing for the Bruins right now is to not let Anderson get comfortable- he’s only going to get better as he settles in, so figure out a way to pepper him early or the slog only becomes more difficult. They’d be better off against Vanecek to be honest (and Ilya Samsonov is out of COVID protocol and an option for the Caps as well).
3. The top lines didn’t have their best stuff. That is putting it mildly. Whether mishandling pucks, missing on passes, turning pucks over or generally failing to get anything going offensively, the first and second forward units were a no-show, and that is a recipe for a loss for any team. Brad Marchand, in particular, had a rough one; he’s so fast, slippery and dynamic, but for whatever reason, he was unable to handle the puck cleanly all night and made bad decisions with his reads and subsequent passes. Patrice Bergeron worked hard, but wasn’t able to get to the net consistently, while David Pastrnak had some perimeter shots, but was unable to find the quiet ice for one-timers and quick release shots that make him so dangerous. The second unit, aside from Taylor Hall drawing several penalties at the offensive blue line with his fast feet and quick hands, was even less effective. If playoff David Krejci is the best Krejci, then the B’s are right to expect more from him. There is simply too much talent, intelligence and effort on that line with Craig Smith for the second line to not generate sustained offensive pressure. That DeBrusk and Nick Ritchie scored the Boston goals to generate secondary scoring for a team that has long relied on its top forwards to create the offense was a good sign, but even the most ardent defenders of the B’s have to take a step back and recognize that they simply didn’t get it done. It isn’t like they were creating chances and Anderson was snuffing them out- they looked sluggish and ineffective, playing most of their hockey on the perimeter and not able to get to the middle of the ice where the real goals in this game are scored. Whatever happened in Game 1 is done, things have to change tonight, or you can expect the team to return to Boston in a bigger hole. We think Marchand and Co. are primed for a big comeback and if not, Krejci’s unit could ably carry the offensive load- they have it in them to do it.
4. Stick on puck, stick on puck, stick on puck! The Boston defense, especially the Jeremy Lauzon-Kevan Miller pairing, struggled with this, allowing the Capitals to enter the zone cleanly too many times. On the flip side, the Caps disrupted Boston’s rushes for the most part, because their defenders gapped up well and aggressively used their sticks to disrupt the north-south flow. The most effective defensemen in the game all share one trait in common: they have a “good stick,” meaning that they are able to negate scoring chances consistently using their lumber and not necessarily their body. The Boston defense as a whole needs to focus on making sure their stick on puck is better in Game 2 and not allow Washington to simply get to the net uncontested. One example of this in Game 1 was the Tom Wilson goal. When Charlie McAvoy broke his stick at the Washington blue line and allowed the odd-man rush, he was without his most important tool to defend his own net, but Matt Grzelcyk had a chance to break up the play had he employed a more aggressive stick on puck approach. As he backed in, he may have thought that Daniel Sprong posed a threat on the far side, but with Sean Kuraly beating feet back, there was a split-second window when he could have knocked the puck off of Oshie’s stick *before* he made the pass to Wilson for the score. It’s easy to second guess at this point, but a more aggressive defensive play as opposed to backing in and giving Oshie the ice in front of him uncontested was a key factor in Washington drawing first blood and seizing momentum. Boston’s overall defense was sound, but it is the little things that can turn the tide in Game 2, and better stick on puck won’t hurt. As an aside- Lauzon took a shot off the hand and is questionable tonight, meaning we are likely to see Connor Clifton in the lineup to take his place. Jarred Tinordi is another option, but with Clifton’s postseason experience, he’s got the edge if Lauzon can’t go.
5. More movement on the power play. Yes, the B’s got a power play goal from Ritchie and held Washington’s top units with the man advantage off the scoring ledger, but you can bet the Capitals will find their mojo. To counter, Boston’s power play unit simply must get better and is starts with improved movement. In Game 1, the PP was largely static, especially on the point with Grzelcyk not taking advantage of the time and space to walk laterally along the blue line to open up the penalty killers down low and create better shooting lanes (hat tip to Reed Duthie for that observation, btw). The B’s got their one power play tally due to a sheer effort and hustle play by Smith to win a footrace and keep the puck in the zone, but the reality is- the man advantage was never much of a threat in this one, when just one other goal would have secured a regulation victory for Boston. Any successful power play starts with effective movement to loosen up the PKers, and then gets pucks to the net so that the PP can employ the extra player to max advantage. If you don’t force the opposition out of their structure, they can simply sit back and clog the high danger areas and keep the puck to the outside. Its about movement and puck possession- forcing the killers to move and expend energy, while getting them out of position to create shooting/passing lanes and then capitalizing on the outnumbered situation. The Bruins didn’t do this enough and were fortunate to get the one goal. If they don’t alter their approach, they won’t have much success with the man advantage in the series. Another Reed suggestion- consider using Mike Reilly (who struggled with his defensive play Saturday) up top on the PP where he can use his lateral agility and vision to generate that movement.
You will note that goaltending is not one of the five observations. Tuukka Rask wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t great, either. He can and should be better, but there is no reason to spend any more time pointing that out. He gave his team a chance, and while the optics on the winning goal wasn’t great, it’s a team game, and for our money- the above factors had more with the Bruins losing a close-run overtime game than the inability of the veteran netminder to make that stop. Again, not absolving Rask of his part in the loss here, it’s just that he could have been lights out in OT, and Washington still could have won the game because the B’s were deficient in other areas. That’s hockey.
Onto Game 2- no one ever said winning a playoff series in the NHL was easy.
Dominic Tiano follows up his Seattle Kraken mock expansion draft piece with something closer to home, by analyzing what trade deadline acquisition Mike Reilly has done for the Boston Bruins and the team’s defense. Reilly has been a revelation, the former Shattuck St. Mary’s and Minnesota Gopher standout proving that you don’t have to be a flashy, dynamic skater and puckhandler to be effective. Dom breaks it down further to show us all why Reilly is a perfect fit for the Bruins and why the team would do well to invest in him long-term going forward.- KL
As much as the arrivals of TaylorHall and CurtisLazar have changed the complexion of the Boston Bruins second line (and powerplay) and the fourth line respectively, so to has MikeReilly to the defence.
We all know by now how Coach BruceCassidy wants to employ his defenders. And perhaps, no National Hockey League coach knows better than Cassidy.
My fellow Amigos had this discussion just after the trade deadline acquisitions by the Bruins about Cassidy. As an offensive defenseman who could transition just as good as anyone, Cassidy would have been the perfect blueliner in today’s NHL. As one of the Amigos put it “Cassidy would be perfect in today’s game. He was 20 years ahead of his time.”
We also know that at different times this season, the Bruins blueline has been decimated by injuries. Now, only BrandonCarlo and JohnMoore are walking wounded, the latter finished for the season after surgery.
The most important thing to take notice of is that he wasn’t just a body to fill a hole and a need. More importantly, it allowed Cassidy and his coaching staff to do is slot everyone appropriately.
JeremyLauzon started the year off on the top pair with CharlieMcAvoy and just as soon as they were finally starting to build some chemistry, Lauzon went down with an injury. As much as I am a fan of Lauzon (and I know a lot of you are as well), he’s not a top pair defenseman. He’s a guy you can use to shut down the opposition on the bottom pair while providing excellent penalty killing minutes for you and when Carlo eventually returns, they will be a formidable pair on the PK.
Instead, McAvoy is now paired with MattGrzelcyk and the pair are analytics darlings together. The arrival of Reilly allows Cassidy to keep the two puck moving defenders together. There’s no need to break them up to get a puck mover on another pair.
JakubZboril, finding himself as a heathy scratch lately was paired with KevanMiller to start the season. We understand the plan and it was something we wrote about here on The Scouting Post in the preseason. Pair up a puck mover with a defensively responsible defender.
And while Zboril showed flashes of skill and ability, he lacked consistency not only from game-to-game, but many nights shift-to-shift. If you follow me on Twitter, you know I have been harping all season long that Zboril needs to really improve on getting his shots thru. To his credit, he acknowledged as much just two weeks ago. But when you have a blueline worst 1.98 attempted shots on goal per game and a second worst success rate of getting it on target at 41.8% all while getting the most offensive zone starts at 58.2% well, I hope you get the picture.
Reilly’s arrival not only allowed the other blueliners to slot in more appropriate positions, but allowed them to face competition that they are suited for. And that has also shown up statistically.
Last season, the Bruins blueline scored 32 goals and added 112 assists for 144 points in the 70-game shortened season. Prior to Reilly’s arrival, the Bruins blueline had scored 11 goals with 52 helpers in 39 games. That projects to 20 goals, 93 assists and 113 points over 70 games.
Since Reilly put on the Black and Gold jersey, the Bruins blueline has recorded 4 goals, 14 assists and 18 points in 8 games. Over a 70-game schedule, that projects to 35 goals, 122 assists and 157 points.
A place for everyone and everyone in their place!
Reilly is tied with Carlo for the fewest offensive zone starts with 45.7% of faceoffs beginning in the O-zone. Compare that to McAvoy who gets 54.3% of the O-zone starts. Yet Reilly only trails McAvoy in attempted shots per game with 3.75 compared to McAvoy’s 3.81.
But it’s not about quantity, but quality. No other defender, let me repeat that: No other defender reaches the level of Reilly when it comes to getting his shot on target. A whopping 70% of his attempted shots make it thru to the goalkeeper. It’s up to the forwards to create havoc in front of the opposition net to make those count. Grzelcyk trails Reilly in that department at 63.9%. If you’re wondering where McAvoy is at, he’s 5th at 48.2% (not including Ahcan, Vaakanainen or Moore).
Reilly has also been a big minute eating defenseman so that Lauzon isn’t playing 20 minutes a night (or whoever else while also giving Grzelcyk some relief.
Just to finish it off, Reilly leads the Bruins blueline in CF% at 59.1% and FF% at 59.9% and 4th in PDO at 100.3
If 8 games are any indication, Reilly is a must-sign for General Manager Don Sweeney this offseason.
Dominic Tiano is back with his assessment of how the Boston Bruins defense has played through one quarter of the 2021 NHL season. Enjoy!- KL
When ToreyKrug signed with the St Louis Blues and ZdenoChara ultimately decided to sign with the Washington Capitals, there was nothing but unanswered questions surrounding the Boston Bruins blue line for the 2020-21 National Hockey League season.
Who was going to replace Krug on the powerplay? Who is going to replace the offense from the blue line? Who was going to replace Chara on the penalty kill? Who was going to shut down the opposition’s top lines? Who was going to replace Chara’s leadership? It was question after question after question, and when you tried to answer them, fans didn’t like the answers.
We are officially at the quarter-way point of the season, so this is a good sample size to look at how the young defense has performed thus far.
The 2019-20 President’s Trophy winners dressed ten different defensemen and they combined for a total of 32 goals and 112 assists in the 70-game shortened season.
This season, the Bruins have dressed eight defensemen and only because of the injuries to MattGrzelcyk and have scored 3 goals and 21 assists. That projects to 12 goals and 84 assists for the season. Pro-rated over 70 games, that is 15 goals and 105 assists. The helpers are fine, but they are on pace to score half of what last year’s blue line did and despite the 10-2-2 start, it could be a problem moving forward.
Last season, the Bruins had the third best penalty kill with an 84.19% success rate Mostly on the backs of Chara and BrandonCarlo. To date this season, the Bruins rank second with an 88.0% success rate largely on the backs of Carlo and JeremyLauzon. They are backed up by CharlieMcAvoy and KevanMiller, with Lauzon and Miller picking up the Chara minutes.
At the other end of the ice is where the loss of Krug was thought to be most impactful, especially the powerplay. Coach BruceCassidy has tried different things including five forwards at times. A year ago, with Krug manning the point, the Bruins had the second best powerplay in the league converting on 25.22% of their opportunities. This season they rank eighth but are converting on 27.27% of their chances, an increase of 2.02%. But they need a blueliner that can take the reigns there and the injuries to Grzelcyk don’t help. As we saw last against the Islanders, using 5 forwards can cost you.
The loss of Chara on the blue line, and Krug for that matter, takes away some leadership on the back end, but you can’t underestimate the leadership of Miller, now the grey-beard on the team. He can keep his teammates calm and cool under pressure. Not to mention the young guys stepping into the role. Carlo has over 300 games under his belt and Grzelcyk and McAvoy around 200. They will be counted on to take up some of the leadership slack left by Chara’s departure.
Cassidy and his coaching staff have also adjusted the system employed now that he has a more mobile unit on the backend. First off, they’ve tried to employ a more traditional shut-down defender with a puck mover on each pair, something that has worked so far.
Secondly, when defending, the defense has the green light for both guys to activate below their own goal line with the centerman usually covering the net in front of TuukkaRask or JaroslavHalak. Third, they all have the green light to skate out of the zone. And finally, because of the young legs, they can all activate at the offensive blue line and pinch down deep, something the coaching staff keeps encouraging them to do.
Coming into the season we preached how young this defense was going to be and that there would be growing pains. The growing pains have been evident, but not consistently and it has yet to hurt the team but, there is a long way to go.
Here’s a look at the Bruins defense, our Grade, and what we’ve seen so far:
CHARLIE MCAVOY Grade: A
I will be the first to admit it: Charlie McAvoy should be an A+. But for me, to earn an A+ you need to excel in every area of the game and McAvoy is doing that in every situation except one and that is the power play, although that is through no fault of his own. Cassidy prefers a left shot defender up top on the first unit which is why, when Grzelcyk is healthy, he gets those opportunities first. Cassidy has also used five forwards (at times) in the absence of Grzelcyk instead of McAvoy with David Krejci (who happens to be a right shot) at the point.
In the absence of Krug, McAvoy has taken his game to another level offensively. He is on pace to set career highs in goals, assists and points – all in just a 56-game schedule. He leads the team in assists and points, shot attempts and shots on goal and he can drive the offense from the back end like few others can.
It’s not just about offense though. He’s trusted to defend, almost always going up against the opposition’s top players. He kills penalties, he’s physical, he’s a one-man breakout machine and he easily leads his fellow blue liners in blocked shots with 29.
McAvoy is a minute eating defender who does it with quality. He leads the blue line averaging 24:19 in time on ice – 4:34 more per game than the next closest, his partner Lauzon. He leads them by a wide margin in even strength time on ice, exactly 20 minutes and he averages 2:09 in powerplay time and 2:14 in penalty kill time per game.
McAvoy will get some serious consideration for the Norris Trophy this season. Well deserved consideration. His time as a true number one defenseman in the NHL has arrived.
JEREMY LAUZON Grade: B
A lot of eyebrows were raised when it was suggested here, and the coaching staff gave Lauzon the duties of skating beside McAvoy. Has he disappointed anyone? Lauzon has been the steady defensive defenseman that can be relied upon and that in turn, gives McAvoy the opportunity to concentrate more on offense. He refuses to be outworked and leads his team in hits with 39.
He’s been winning the majority of his battles along the walls and in front of the net. Not only is he good at clearing his zone, he can make a good first pass as well and usually makes the right decisions. He’s become a staple in the penalty kill leading all Bruins blueliners in PK time on a PK that had an efficiency of 84.19% a season ago to 88.0% this season. The coaching staff is showing they are gaining more and more confidence in him and it is reflected in his average time on ice. Averaging 19:45 TOI, Lauzon trails only McAvoy at 24:19 in that department.
As we saw against the Washington Capitals on February 1, Lauzon does have some offensive abilities. Where the coaching staff used him mostly for defensive zone draws prior to that, they have been giving him more and more offensive starts lately, to the point where is starts are virtually even. Again, he trails only McAvoy in attempted shots on goal with 41 and shots on goal with 21 and Grzelcyk in percentage that get on goal with 51.2%.
MATT GRZELCYK Grade: B-
Playing in just one game in between two injuries has limited Grzelcyk to just six games on the season. Despite his size, we know what we get from him. Quick on his skates, retrieves pucks quickly and transitions even faster. Uses his positioning and his stick to defend well. His metrics across the board are very good and there is no denying that.
I know many people will question this grade but hear me out. Grzelcyk is suppose to be the guy to replace Krug on the point on the first powerplay unit. Six games just aren’t enough of a sample size to determine if he is that guy – yet. But if he is, then an A Grade is definitely on the horizon.
What we do know is Grzelcyk can sure pass and he can make smart plays. While he doesn’t posses the same kind of shot from the point that can beat a goaltender like Krug can, Grzelcyk shoots smartly. He likes to send pucks towards the goal and in just six games has directed 20 shots towards the net. A whopping 65% of those shots have reached the netminder. How good is that? Only one other defenceman is above 50% (Lauzon, 51.2%). Even McAvoy is firing at 46.4%.
That’s an important skill for a point man to have, especially since the Bruins appear to have found their permanent net front presence in Nick Ritchie. If Grzelcyk can come back and take the reigns and be effective on the powerplay, his grade can only go up.
BRANDON CARLO Grade: B
Carlo is quite simply one of the premier shut down defenders in the NHL. At 6’5” and over 210 pounds, he is a superb skater. Although he isn’t as physical as many fans want him to be, Carlo has some amazing strength that makes him a force in front of his goaltenders and a defender that the opposition doesn’t relish battling along the walls. He can go up against the oppositions best and paired with Lauzon on the penalty kill, form on of the better PK pairs in the NHL.
It’s noticeable that Carlo wants to be more involved in the offense and he has taken it upon himself to do just that. Carlo could very well surpass his career high of 19 points from a season ago, and do it in the shortened 56-game schedule.
Carlo has somewhat slowed that offensive down lately, largely due to the turnstile of partners he’s had, with little chance to get some chemistry going. He’s usually paired with Grzelcyk, but injuries have limited him to just 6 games. When the latter was out, it was with Clifton and then on what was a back-to-back situation, John Moore. And as mentioned, he is usually paired with Lauzon on the PK but also with Miller at times.
We fully expect that once Grzelcyk returns and Carlo gets a regular partner, that he will continue to push forward offensively.
JAKUB ZBORIL Grade: B-
Perhaps the growing pains are more evident in Zboril than any of the other d-men. And that is not a knock on him. He is the least experience of the group and the talent he possesses is clearly evident. But once in a while he might make you want to throw your remote through your 72” TV.
Again, they were expected to happen. But if you can set them aside for a moment and look at the good things, then we should be happy with what we are seeing. It’s true that Cassidy is somewhat sheltering him with the most offensive zone starts on the blue line at 63.4%, but the coach is also trying to get him accustomed to the NHL at the same time. When Lauzon was serving his 5 plus 10 with his fight in New York, Cassidy had no hesitation in throwing Zboril out there to kill a penalty. It’s in him, but it is evident the coach wants to take it slowly.
Cassidy is also willing to use Zboril on the powerplay and eventually, Zboril might just excel at it. He has an excellent shot from the point but he definitely needs to work on getting it through. He’s third among the blueliners with 36 attempted shots on goal, but is a team worst 36.1% getting it on the net, either missing the target or having it blocked. It’s not a matter of if, but when he gets better at that, good things will happen for him.
In his own zone, he’s good at retrieving pucks and transitioning, makes a good first pass, but more importantly, he can skate out of danger. He’s learning how strong NHL players are as compared to AHL players, but that to will come and some of the misfortunes he’s had will become less and less frequent.
KEVAN MILLER Grade: B-
When General Manager Don Sweeney inked Miller to his contract there was an uproar through Bruins Nation. Many eyebrows were raised and many questions were asked. Why sign Miller before Chara? Why sign a player that has not played in almost two years? And more importantly, why sign a player that is coming off of two major knee surgeries?
Well, 14 games into the season things have changed, and might I add, dramatically. In a poll I conducted on Twitter with over 500 hundred votes, Miller was the overwhelming choice by fans as the 7th Player Award winner to date with over 40% of the vote. (He was followed by Nick Ritchie with 28%)
However, it’s more than just being able to skate in 14 games when there was doubt (in the minds of fans) that he could not just play quality hockey, but play at all. Miller can play both sides of the ice with little difference when on his weak side. We’ve seen it a lot when paired with McAvoy on the second pair killing penalties. He’s physical and hits hard, trailing only Lauzon in hits with 30.
He’s a guy the coaches can depend on to defend a one goal lead in the last minute. He wins his battles along the walls and is hard to move. As we saw against the Rangers, down a man and the Rangers goaltender pulled for an extra attacker, Miller on his off side paired with Carlo, ate up a lot of the time remaining on the clock buy keeping the puck along the boards behind the goal line.
Despite Miller’s superb work on the PK and in key defensive situations, he and his usual partner in Zboril are getting some sheltered starts from Coach Cassidy, with over 61% of the pair’s zone starts being in the offensive zone.
CONNOR CLIFTON Grade: B-
Cliffy Hockey, what can we say? If there is one player in the NHL that plays much bigger than 5’11” and 175 pounds, it’s Clifton. While Lauzon leads the team in hits, it’s actually Clifton that leads the squad in hits per game with 3.3. He plays physical, he can defend and he can skate. He’s pretty underrated in some circles as a puck carrier, but he can move the puck. And he will stand up for a teammate.
Clifton doesn’t get much specialty team time on ice. The coaching staff use him primarily in 5 on 5 situations, but when one of the other d-men are in the box, they have no hesitation in using him on the PK.
It’s hard to imagine that on many teams he wouldn’t be a starter in the top six. For now, he is the 7th defenseman on this squad who will see time when someone goes down with an injury or is in need of a break.
With Clifton what you see is what you get: 100% effort on every shift, accountability and determination. You couldn’t ask for more from a player in his spot.
John Moore was left off the list because one game just isn’t enough to grade him on, even though he had a very good first game of the season against the Islanders.
We’ve sometimes repetitively said there would be growing pains with this young defence. And there has been on any given night one guy is not at his best. What we haven’t seen is those growing pains as a group. When one is struggling, the other five pick up the slack, and that is part of the reason they sit 10-2-2 one-quarter of the way through the season.
We’re a couple of days into the 2021 season training camp and for a change of pace, we got the amigos (KL, Dom Tiano, Anthony Kwetkowski and Reed Duthie) together to answer 5 questions about the Boston Bruins going into the new season.
1. What does the defense look like on opening night?
And that is the million-dollar question. I’m not a traditionalist when it comes to naming your number one defenceman, then number two, and so on. I prefer first pair, second pair and third pair.
The right-side seams to be set with Charlie McAvoy anchoring your first pair, Brandon Carlo the second pair and a healthy Kevan Miller on the third pair. All three can kill penalties but I think you’ll see Carlo and Miller get the bulk of that saving McAvoy for more 5 on 5 duty and powerplay time.
But where the questions on the blue line are is on the left side. I’d be tempted to try Jeremy Lauzon with McAvoy. It appears Bruce Cassidy and the Bruins brain trust are at least willing to give that a look on the first day of camp. Lauzon has shown he is a capable penalty killer.
Joining Carlo on the second pair would be Matt Grzelcyk. They’ve spent some time together and have shown some great chemistry when paired. Gryz can also kill penalties and like McAvoy, will be given powerplay minutes.
I think Jakub Zboril will be given every opportunity to grab that third pair minutes alongside Miller. Zboril can also kill penalties, but a bulk of that time should go to Lauzon and Grzelcyk. If he were to reach his potential, he could one day quarterback the powerplay. If Zboril falters, John Moore can fill that spot.
Each pair gives you a puck mover along with a guy capable of taking on the defensive responsibilities should his partner decide to “go with it.”- Dominic Tiano
No matter how promising young, unproven talent might be, coaches and general managers are in business to win hockey games, so you’ll likely see the NHL/pro veteran defenders get first crack at rotational play, with the less-experienced blue liners seeing more spot duty unless injuries or preseason play forces the staff to rethink the depth chart.
McAvoy is Boston’s top defender now, and he’ll be given every opportunity to log the top minutes in all situations and see where that leads. He’s ready to be an anchor, but the question remains as to how productive he will be both at even strength and on the power play. The left side of that top pairing is currently open, with fellow BU Terrier product Matt Grzelcyk an option, though the Charlestown native might be better suited to slot down to the second pairing if, as Dom mentioned (and the early practices have shown), the B’s want to give Lauzon’s defense-first approach with some bite/jam a chance out of the gate.
This is where the departures of Krug and Chara hurt the B’s in the short term, but another option could be to try Brandon Carlo on the left or his “off” side to give the team more experience and defensive acumen on that top pair with McAvoy, but it would probably mean that Kevan Miller would have to play on the second pair in Carlo’s spot on the right side with Grzelcyk- not ideal. Moore is the other defender with the most NHL experience, and while he’s a fan favorite whipping boy, he’s at least mobile and keeps things simple enough. I like the idea of a Moore-Miller third pairing or Moore-Connor Clifton duo.
Zboril and/or Urho Vaakanainen will likely have to break in more gradually and have their roles and time managed at least initially- both lack the experience to be the kind of player you can count on to play 15+ minutes a night right away, but you could see a revolving door of left-shot D moving in and out of the rotational pairings based on their game play and how practices go…at least until they prove they can or can’t play. The B’s have much riding on the success of both of Zboril and Vaakanainen, so now is the time for them to establish themselves as roster regulars.- Kirk Luedeke
Well, like Dom said above, isn’t this the million dollar question? I think there’s a lot of ways that this could play out, but using the benefit of training camp pairings, it would appear that Jeremy Lauzon could ride shotgun with Charlie McAvoy. I know, I know— but, but, but what about Grzelcyk?! Well, there’s definitely merit behind the idea of a Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing, especially when considering their mutual time at Boston University together.
With that said, I’m still not sure that Grzelcyk is the long-term solution for Boston’s top defensive pairing. Yes, the metrics and underlying numbers grade heavily in their favor. However, I think Lauzon-McAvoy, which also carries short-sample size positives, is much more natural to what the Bruins need to replace. Zdeno Chara, Boston’s 14-year captain and top-pair defender, signed with Washington and left the reins to to McAvoy. Lauzon, 6’3”, has more size, reach and coverage than Grzelcyk.
The dynamic of Lauzon-McAvoy, on paper, is much more similar to what McAvoy has been playing with since entering the NHL compared to that of Grzelcyk-McAvoy. With Lauzon as his partner, McAvoy can do his own thing as a two-way threat as the bigger, rangier, tougher Lauzon stays defense-first on the backend.
The rest of the pairings would then fall into place as follows:
Again, there’s also some issues with this setup given that it doesn’t account for John Moore or newly resigned Kevan Miller. These are some obstacles that Bruce Cassidy will have to answer for himself one way or another. – Anthony Kwetkowski
With the changes over the off-season on to the Bruins defense corps and young players knocking on the door for spots, opening night will look different on the back end than any season in recent memory.
Lauzon – McAvoy: It’s Charlie McAvoy’s defense now and the now veteran rearguard picks up the 6’2’’ 196lbs rugged Jeremy Lauzon, it will take some time for McAvoy to adjust to a new regular partner and although Lauzon isn’t 6’9” he brings the same attitude to the defensive zone and will allow McAvoy to get up ice and contribute to 5-on-5 offense.
Grzelcyk – Carlo: Brandon Carlo is used to being the defensive minded member of his pair and now picks up the developing Matt Grzelcyk. Although Grzelcyk hasn’t been the offensive force that Torey Krug is, he is a better skater and advanced metrics have shown in a 3rd pairing role that he could likely handle more. Much like with Lauzon & McAvoy, Carlo’s defensive acumen and speed for his massive frame will allow the smooth skating Grzelcyk to get up ice 5-on-5.
Zboril – Miller: The maligned 2015 1st round pick teams up with a defender who’s missed 21 months due to injury. That could sound crazy, however, Jakub Zboril has found the chip on his shoulder and is using it as motivation. A revelation in Providence for the 2019-20 season, Zboril took that momentum and was the best defenceman in the Czech Extraliga to open up the season and looks ready to take on a serious NHL role. Kevan Miller meanwhile, is a warrior, coming back from injury in what’s been described as the best shape of his career, his size and physicality will be an asset in a sprint of a season, making life miserable for any who step past his blueline.- Reed Duthie
2. Did the team do enough to shore up the forwards in the offseason?
I was happy about the Craig Smith signing and think he will fit in well. But when it comes to the forwards there are a lot of questions that can only be answered in time. How will the surgeries to David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand affect them? Can Jake DeBrusk finally find his consistency? Will Anders Bjork finally break out? Does father time slow down David Krejci and Patrice Bergeron? Will Ondrej Kase be Kase with a full camp in Boston? Jack Studnicka has proven he is ready for the NHL and will get his chance while Pastrnak is recovering, but can he stick on the roster for the full season and who comes out when No. 88 returns?
We don’t know what the taxi squad will look like, but how will guys like Trent Frederic or Zach Senyshyn handle it if the need arises to insert them into the lineup? Are they even going to be on the taxi squad?
In a best-case scenario, I think the forwards are fine, maybe even an improvement over last season. But it’s 2021 and if we’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s to expect the unexpected.– D.T.
In a word, no. There isn’t enough depth and a safety net to counterbalance the significant changes in the defense, at least on paper.
Smith was the team’s marquee free agent signing and it evokes some memories of Steve Begin in 2009, after the B’s were coming off a great regular season only to lose in the second round of the playoffs. While Smith is not a direct comparison to Begin the player, but more to the situation in 2009, Smith is a good complementary winger and will provide a stable presence playing alongside Charlie Coyle. The Bruins are mainly counting on a few things to happen: Marchand’s hernia surgery to bring him back to 100%, Bergeron and Krejci to have another strong season without any major offensive fall-off (or injuries to test the thin depth chart), Kase to provide more production given his skill/shot and Studnicka to seamlessly slot into a top-six wing spot until Pastrnak returns to the lineup. If all of that happens, the Bruins will be fine. If not, there isn’t a lot of depth to bail them out. I’m not all that keen on Kase- I want to see results and production…in an admittedly small sample size, we haven’t gotten that from him. Don’t talk to me about potential- the B’s need scoring from Kase right now.
In getting back to Begin, the B’s took a big step back in 2009-10 and barely squeaked into the playoffs, upsetting Buffalo in R1 on the back of Rask before dropping the 3-0 lead in R2 to the Flyers. We all know what happened in 2011, but this offseason is reminiscent of that one- not much new talent in, but counting on the pieces in place to carry them for another year. Only thing is- the 2021 Bruins don’t have a still-in-his-prime Zdeno Chara on the back end to help cover up for deficiencies elsewhere.- K.L.
Contrary to what the doom and gloom brigade on Twitter has been saying for months now, I think the Bruins did well with forwards recently. No, they didn’t land a “big fish” like Taylor Hall or even Mike Hoffman, however, they landed exactly what they needed— enter Craig Smith. Being one of the top play-driving forwards at 5-on-5 in the entire NHL, Smith, 31, is exactly the kind of contagious forward that Boston needs. Smith is someone who has wheels, density and a killer shot. He’s a North-South forward and can play anywhere needed in the top-nine, though being the right-wing on the third-line is most ideal.
Something the Bruins have been lacking recently, especially in the RTP bubble, is selfish players who want to shoot the puck. Smith is the type of player to take matters into his own hands and shoot from wherever he deems fit. This type of play and attitude will also be contagious amongst the younger Boston forwards like Bjork, DeBrusk, Studnicka and even Kase.
Speaking of Ondrej Kase, let’s not forget about him. Limited to a handful of games after being acquired for David Backes, Axel Andersson and a first-round pick, Kase is another play-driving winger who likes to shoot and generate offense. Like Smith, Kase is exactly the type of forward this team was missing. Unfortunately, he was injured before being acquired and then the COVID-19 shutdown kind of derailed the season for him. When he returned, he played rather well alongside Krejci and DeBrusk, but the numbers were never posted.
Moving forward with a full season under his belt, I think Kase will be a great addition for the Bruins provided he can remain healthy. These two right-shot forwards are exactly what this team needed and I don’t think they’ve received nearly enough credit as roster additions. – A.K.
Much has been made about the Bruins chase of Taylor Hall or Mike Hoffman in the off-season, and while those are the “sexy” names that fans clamoured for, they already had more than enough up front to improve where the team needed it most, 5-on-5 offense. Ondrej Kase arriving last year from Anaheim will go a long way and has the track record of NHL offence with a previous 20 goal season and 30 goal pace season. Due to injury and illness we didn’t get to see the best of Kase in 19-20 but with a full camp next to David Krejci & Jake DeBrusk they should be able to build on the chemistry we saw really begin in the Carolina series.
Additionally, Craig Smith steps in as the major off-season acquisition from Nashville having averaged over 20 goals a season since the 13-14 campaign, with only two seasons below the 20 mark (16-17 and the pandemic shortened 19-20) over that time. Comparing to where the Bruins forward group was on opening night for the 19-20 season compared to the 2021 season, this year’s group is far, far improved.- R.D.
3. What is the next phase of Boston’s goaltending situation?
This is the hardest Bruins related question one could ask.
Both of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak are unrestricted free agents after the season and will turn 34 and 36 years of age respectively. Rask certainly has more game in him if he wishes to sign an extension with the Bruins. It may be time to move on from Halak considering Dan Vladar will require waivers beginning with the 2021-22 season.
But it’s Jeremy Swayman who looks to have that future number 1 status. I would have said the same thing about Kyle Keyser, but injuries last season have derailed his development for the time being.
For the Bruins to have success in the blue paint for the short-term future, they absolutely need to lock Rask into an extension until Vladar or Swayman are ready. Otherwise, they may be forced to look at the free agent pool or seek a trade.– D.T.
The Rask and Halak tandem goes one more round this season and will likely see more rubber than they did in the previous two campaigns. The clock is ticking on both players. Rask will be 34 in March, but it looks like his workload will increase with the shortened season and travel schedule. Halak turns 36 in May, and is a capable player, though not a No. 1 as evidenced by the 2020 playoffs. Look for the Bruins keep one of their veterans in net with an extension, but not both going forward in 21-22.
Vladar was drafted with a third-round selection in 2015, and he’s gotten his development firmly on track after some early pro hiccups. Is he capable of being an NHL No. 1? He certainly looks the part with his size and has a pedigree for it, even though Swayman has enjoyed more consistent excellence at the lower levels. The B’s are probably hoping to groom either player as their future top option in net, but Keyser is the wild card who we hope can get back on track and playing again after regaining his health.- K.L.
Another interesting question with many moving parts, one of In thwhich is the outcome of this season. If the Bruins win it all this season, I could certainly see a situation where they’re heading into a rebuild-like era whether drastic or not. Given that Tuukka Rask is in the final year of his $7m AAV contract, I think Don Sweeney would be okay with moving on following ultimate victory. However, I think this is something that they’ll realistically face when they get to it this summer.
Rask, who’s had his ups and downs in Boston including a recently opted out playoffs, has remained Boston’s go-to net minder for essentially the last decade. His backup, Jaroslav Halak, is also an aging player who’s on the back nine of his career. I think it makes sense for the Bruins to possibly explore having Rask back on short-term contracts if mutual interest is there. Otherwise, they’ll be turning to the system.
Leading the professional charge in that regard is Dan Vladar— Providence’s standout goalie from last year. As someone who watched every game he played in, some multiple times, I can tell you he’s turned into a legitimate NHL prospect. Goalies are weird, man, you know? Vladar, selected in 2015 by Boston, is still in his prime developmental years for a goalie. He was also lights-out last year in Providence where he posted a 1.79 GAA and .936 SV% in 25 games. Vladar needs another full-year in Providence before we can fairly evaluate him further, but that might be tough.
Provided that two of Providence’s top-four defenders and multiple top-nine forwards are slated to potentiallybe in Boston, the P-Bruins might have to ice a non-optimized roster in front of their netminder. This is going to be a weird season, but also a good one because we get to see Jeremy Swayman in Providence as well. Swayman is coming off an exceptional year playing for UMaine in the NCAA. He has been the back bone of the Black Bears while playing behind a shoddy defense and structure.
Swayman, in my opinion, is as legitimate a number one goalie prospect as anyone else around the league. He’s tall, lanky, athletic and skilled. Swayman is a competitor and capable of making the tough and easy saves— all night long. I think Swayman is going to be the future of Boston goaltending in a few years from now. Another intriguing prospect is Kyle Keyser, currently shaking off some post-injury rust in the ECHL this season.
Keyser is a prospect that Dom, is very familiar with and high on after following him extensively throughout his OHL career. That said, although Keyser has struggled with injuries and concussions, I also believe he has the skill set and intangibles of a number one goalie. Unfortunately, he’s had some bad luck and will take more time than probably anticipated. Let’s see how he does this year seeing a ton of rubber in the ECHL and Providence next year. – A.K.
With the Tuukka Rask & Jaroslav Halak aging, the question of where will the Bruins go in net has loomed large.
Digging in to the future of the crease, the Bruins appear to be in solid shape. Despite an ugly outing in his emergency NHL debut, Dan Vladar has been incredible over the last year sporting a 1.79 GAA / .936 SV% with 3 shutouts over 25 games with Providence last season, Vladar continued his momentum in the Czech Extraliga to open this season with an eye-popping 1.29 GAA / .965 SV% over 6 starts for Dynamo Pardubice before returning to Boston. With another season at the professional level under his belt the towering Czech keeper of the crease will be ready for the NHL jump, likely serving as backup to Tuukka Rask in 2021-22. Meanwhile, behind Vladar, NCAA star Jeremy Swayman will step into a major role in Providence, coming off a year which saw him garner a laundry list of accolades including the Mike Richter award as the NCAA’s top goaltender. Finally- Kyle Keyser, who actually might be the most naturally talented of the trio, appears to have put concussions problems behind and the former Oshawa General who has stolen not just games but playoff series at the junior level looks prepared to start his pro ascent.- R.D.
4. How will key departures (Chara, Krug) and injuries (Pastrnak) impact the team in the immediate and longer-terms?
Short term, I think they will all hurt. Especially Pastrnak and Torey Krug on the powerplay. And if Pastrnak doesn’t come back 100%, that’ll really hurt.
Zdeno Chara I am torn on. I think the transition game will improve as a team without him. Certainly, everyone is questioning how much their defence will hurt without him. With the defensive system the Bruins deploy, I think eventually it will be fine, but there will be growing pains and there will be nights Rask and Halak will have to bail them out. Where it will hurt the most is on the penalty kill. No one can replace the wingspan of Chara’s to be able to take away passing lanes with little movement. Miller can replace some of the net front strength required on the PK and Carlo will really need to step up that part of his game. But let’s face reality, there is no one like Chara in the NHL who can match up physically with anyone the way he can.
Krug’s departure will hurt in both transition and the powerplay. His ability to transition by either skating or making a great first pass will surely be missed, as well as his vision and how he can process the game quickly. McAvoy will surely further develop those things and Grzelcyk will be asked to take on a bigger role. Gryz will also turn 27 on January 5th so there isn’t much room for development at that stage. Whether the tools he possesses for the expanded role are enough to take up some of the slack is yet to be determined.
The departure of Krug and Chara also means the leadership will take a hit. I believe there are enough leaders in the group that in time, they can overcome that. Many of the players on the roster learned from one of the greatest captains in the history of the game and what it takes to be a great teammate and leader. They won’t forget that overnight.– D.T.
The Bruins lost a lot of experience and production (especially on the PP) with the key departures on defense, and Pastrnak is one of the NHL’s best young players under 25, and would have been Boston’s first 50-goal scorer since Cam Neely in 1994 if not for the season being paused when it was. Replacing his production (especially on the PP) won’t be easy, so fans should be ready for it.
The B’s will need top-shelf performances from the goaltending- Rask and Halak will almost certainly see an increase in volume shots on goal and shot quality as well, so they will need to hold the fort. The Boston forwards are experienced enough to counter the weaker defense, but this isn’t a team that can win a lot of games if they become track meets, so key to Boston’s success will be in the coaching staff managing the players and getting the most out of the lineup while handling the various in-game situations and adjustments appropriately to mitigate the losses until Pastrnak returns and some of the younger players in the lineup can get their feet under them. Tall order, but the B’s are still a good team, even with the departures. Good teams don’t win the Stanley Cup, however…great teams do. – K.L.
In the present, I think the departures of Chara and Krug will have an impact that’s both good and bad. For sake of readability and time, please forgive my brevity when discussing the departure of the 14-year captain, but I think we’re going to see younger players on the roster respond by bringing energy and providing some sparks.
Players like McAvoy, Carlo and Grzelcyk have already been here for several years behind Chara and will know that they need to turn it up a notch without him. Lauzon, who was around last year, will now be tasked with the bearing the weight of “replacing” Chara in some capacity as well. This is a good thing for someone like Lauzon as he’s got a natural chip on his shoulder as it is. Jakub Zboril, who’s had his ups and downs, also falls into the same category.
The same goes for Torey Krug, as McAvoy and Grzelcyk will look to replace his offense from the backend at both even strength and the power play. Granted it won’t be as easy as it sounds, replacing someone like Krug that is, but the Bruins still have plenty of talent around to make it work. Even if things are a little different, I think there’s potential for newer structures and game plans that emphasizes the youth and in some cases, more size on the roster.
On the flip side, the loss of Chara and Krug will definitely be felt. We’re going to see more mistakes and growing pains from the younger defensive core. We’re going to see nights where this team is outmatched and overpowered. Replacing the 14-year captain on top of the longtime PP QB is quite the task, even if the Bruins have plenty of talent to step in and take the next step.– A.K.
The departures for the Bruins will have an effect in both the immediate and long-term but it may not all be negative. While the majority of Bruins fans will agree its not the way they would have liked to see Zdeno Chara leave the Bruins and there will be a learning curve for the young defenders, it creates a massive opportunity for the likes of Jeremy Lauzon, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, etc. to step forward and make their claim to an NHL spot. Torey Krug will be the hardest to replace, his ability to QB the PP and move the puck isn’t obviously replaced by any member of the current Bruins defense group, but the additions of players like Ondrej Kase & Craig Smith should up the 5-on-5 offense for the team, hopefully covering for the loss of Krug in a different fashion. The injury to David Pastrnak is another potential opportunity, although the Bruins lose their leading goal-scorer, even for a short length of time, it does allow Jack Studnicka to step to the Bergeron line and potentially begin to realize some of his massive potential at the NHL level and in a long-term thought, allow the Bruins to see the type of player they can hopefully build around for years to come.- R.D.
5. Who will be the surprise performers who elevate themselves early and earn an opportunity to contribute right away?
I’m going to pick a defenceman and a forward here.
On defence I am going with Lauzon. He got a taste of the NHL and I believe the Bruins brass really like him. At camp, he was given the first opportunity on the top pair with McAvoy and if he sticks to his game, he can succeed there. The only question I have is whether he can sustain it over a condensed 56-game season. It’s probably too much to ask.
Up front I am going with everyone’s choice to replace Pastrnak while he recovers – Jack Studnicka. I think Studnicka is going to make it extremely difficult to take him out of the lineup once Pastrnak returns and an even more difficult decision on who to take out of the lineup. I’ll go out on a limb and say Studnicka even gets some Calder votes. He won’t win it, but he’ll get some votes.– D.T.
I would like to see John Moore emerge as a solid middle-of-the-roster option, as he’s been much-maligned since signing with the Bruins in 2018. The former first-round pick in 2009 has over 500 games of NHL experience, can wheel and is a better player than he’s gotten credit for. His $2.75M cap hit through 2023 is a reasonable figure for what he can provide and the feeling here is that with a bigger role, he can take some of the pressure off the younger players at least in the short term. No one is ever going to confuse him with Chara or Krug with the impact he’s likely to make, but this team needs Moore to be a stabilizing presence right off the bat. Whether retrieving pucks and moving them up and out in quick transition or keeping it simple defensively, if he does that, fans might gain a new appreciation for him. Of course, there is always that segment of folks who aren’t going to like Moore no matter what he does, and that’s the world we live in.- K.L.
Players to step up and make an impact immediately this season include Bjork, Studnicka, Kase, Frederic and Lauzon. I think Studnicka is ready and able to contribute right now whether he’s at wing or center. The dynamic, Jack of all trades type (see what I did there?) forward is exactly the type of player Bruins fans have wanted to see for years now. He’s finally going to get his shot and it’s well deserved to boot.
Trent Frederic saw time in the NHL with Boston, but not after his excellent run he went on towards the end of the year in Providence. Frederic is faster, more agile and aggressive than he was during that ~15-game sample we saw him in. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and I think he’s the type of player to really own the moment and do whatever it takes to stick around this season. – A.K.
In looking at a player who will surprise and take the next step for the Bruins, I believe Jakub Zboril will be a breakout player. Long known as a great skater through his junior career Zboril is also an underappreciated puck mover having led the Czech Republic in scoring at the 2017 World Junior Hockey Championship and posting 41 points in 50 games in his last season in the QMJHL, Zboril became more of a defensive player at the pro level. Growing into and learning how to use his now 6’1” 196lbs frame took time but the always mean Czech defender appears to have figured that part of his game out and has grown into his skill set. Taking a big step forward as a top defenceman in the AHL a season ago and opening this season as the best defenceman in the Czech Extraliga, it appears the mountain sized chip on Zboril’s shoulder is working in his favour and now looks to be an imposing figure on the Bruins blueline who is right on the cusp of a breakout at the NHL level. – R.D.
As 2020 came to a merciful end, (many) Boston Bruins fans were greeted with one more bit of unwelcome news this week as captain Zdeno Chara’s 14-season run with the team came to an end with news he accepted a one-year offer from the Washington Capitals at age 43.
It seems both unimaginable and inevitable that the greatest free agent signing in team history would end in a whimper the way it did with a sudden announcement that after months of little to no movement on the renewal of a contract that most supporters felt was sure to happen. Like former Red Sox pitcher Tim Wakefield at the end of his major league career, it appeared as if the team and player had an unofficial deal to stay in Boston until both agreed that Chara’s playing days were over.
Clearly, that was not the case, as initial news brought anger and disbelief, especially when the base salary of $795,000 for the new season to exchange the black and gold for red, white and blue, came out. Chara’s deal calls for performance bonuses that would bring his total compensation to a $1.5 million AAV (per CapFriendly.com), but it was understandable that most fans would think it ridiculous that the Bruins weren’t willing to find the money to re-sign their captain, a player who had inked four separate contracts in Boston since he first came to town at age 29 in 2006.
However, as things are often the case with Hall of Fame-caliber players, and let’s be clear- four years after Chara calls it a career, whether in 2021 or later, he will be enshrined in Toronto- the truth of the matter is rarely black and white.
As the news has settled and more has come out on the negotiations that took place between Boston and Chara, both have said complimentary things and it appears that the following are both true:
The Bruins wanted Chara back for a 15th season as captain, but with caveats.
Chara was not willing to return to the team he cemented his legendary status with in a reduced role.
The purpose of this post is not to defend the organization for what did or didn’t happen to facilitate an icon’s departure, but to add context and provide food for thought to those fair-minded observers who are interested in what might have happened and why the team and player took positions they did. We weren’t there, so while we have been given some information based on sources familiar with the negotiations, this is merely one view on what might have happened.
It is fair to be disappointed that Chara and the team his greatest collective and individual accomplishments happened with couldn’t find a way to keep him until age 44 or when he finally calls it a stellar career. It is also fair to be okay with the realization that Chara is no longer the player he was and that his lack of mobility and inability to play in all situations like he once did means that the organization had to make a tough choice about answering the player’s questions about how he would be employed should he sign a fifth contract and third one-year extension since 2018.
The biggest challenge the Bruins face right now is with expectations for 2021. The team is coming off of a President’s Trophy as top regular season club in 2019-20 until COVID-19 forced the campaign’s pause in March. Prior to that, they took the St. Louis Blues to a seventh game of what would have been a second Stanley Cup championship team under Chara’s captaincy out of three trips to the final series. Given Torey Krug’s departure to those very Blues via free agency, fans have a right to be concerned about how the B’s power play and penalty kill special teams units will fare without two key anchors from a season ago.
From this view in the saddle, the issue so much isn’t Chara’s departure due to a fundamental disagreement between player and team over usage going forward and how to better manage the development other players in the organization, but more of a realization that without Chara and Krug, the Boston defense as a unit is almost certain to take steps backwards in 2021. In a few short months, we’ve gone from a team many thought might win a championship after the COVID pause resumed, to one that is on the outside looking in right now and in the immediate future.
Even if one or more of Matt Grzelcyk, Jakub Zboril, Urho Vaakanainen, Jeremy Lauzon and even Jack Ahcan were all primed to step in and fill those roles vacated by Chara and Krug with much more certainty than what we’re currently dealing with, there would still be questions about their basic experience and ability to replicate the x-factor that such battle-tested veterans provided Boston over the last 5-7 years. That, in our view, is what is really at the heart of the negativity surrounding Chara’s departure. More than anything else, it’s a harbinger of darker times and a window that has essentially closed after the team watched other teams around the league get better while Boston’s biggest name addition in the offseason was complementary forward Craig Smith.
Boston lost the opportunity for a second championship in three years when they dropped a six-game series to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2013, the dawn of Krug’s era as a PP staple in Boston, while Chara was still at the height of his two-way productivity as an all-situations stalwart. The B’s followed up that disappointment with a President’s Trophy in 2014, then lost in the second round of the playoffs to their hated rival Montreal Canadiens and subsequently missed the playoffs for two years before a renaissance largely sparked by Patrice Bergeron’s continued excellence, plus the emergence of Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak as offensive forces from 2017-20 brought the team back into contention. Charlie McAvoy is the heir apparent on defense as potentially the next top/franchise cornerstone defenseman in Boston.
And it is right for those who see the parallels between the B’s teams from 2013-14 and 2019-20 to point out that by allowing Chara to leave like this, things are setting up for another precipitous fall like the one we witnessed in 2015 and 2016.
Five years hence, the 2015 draft was a major missed opportunity. Though all three first-round picks are still in the fold and Jake DeBrusk has become a solid complementary scorer with the B’s, the chance to draft three driver-types didn’t happen, and has exacerbated the concerns surrounding the club’s current fortunes. We’ll not open that can of worms in the Chara piece at present, as the 2015 draft’s failings deserves its own treatment at some point soon, but the reality is- as the 2021 season dawns, the B’s have far more question marks on the left side of their defense corps than answers at present, and that is at the heart of the angst surrounding Chara’s exit.
Also at issue is the captain’s legacy and how things should have ended in Boston. One can certainly argue that he deserved better- a final curtain call in Boston and the ability to close out a two-plus decade career in the NHL that saw him endure as the league’s tallest player who evolved into a curious project into a dominant, Norris Trophy-winning, franchise icon who helped the Bruins organization to its first championship in nearly four decades, the first such accomplishment since Bobby Orr manned the Boston blue line. On several levels, it doesn’t make sense that the Bruins as a whole- whether you’re talking Cam Neely, Don Sweeney, Bruce Cassidy or even ownership as a collective brain trust, wouldn’t see the black clouds gathering on the horizon and know that they would take a major PR hit by not closing the deal to keep Chara in the fold.
At the same time, we have to admire the team’s courage for looking at the situation and deciding that simply offering him a new contract to maintain a status quo in Boston and turn 44 in the midst of the new season without addressing what has been a declining return on investment, was a bridge too far. Right or wrong, what is always lost on fans and media members, no matter how well sourced they may be, are the team dynamics of what goes on behind the scenes. They are not sitting in the meetings that take place when leaders lay out the depth chart and talk through the myriad scenarios of player usage combined with future financial constraints and contract negotiations. No one is privy to the discussions that talk about who the team is likely to lose when the NHL’s newest expansion club, the Seattle Kraken gets to leverage the changed rules to build a far more competitive roster than all of the other NHL’s expansion clubs in history. We all watched the Las Vegas Golden Knights create a blue print for in 2017, and the Bruins are trying to manage the challenge of not losing a driver-type of player to Seattle because they didn’t know what they had in order to make the right decision when it comes to whom they protect and those who get exposed in the impending expansion draft.
Sound like excuse making? Perhaps. But, ask yourselves this: If Chara returned and continued to log key minutes in the rotation and on the PK and another player further down the depth chart departed either to Seattle or other club only to blossom as a top performer there, many of those same people unhappy about Chara’s departure would also savage the Bruins organization for allowing an aging veteran to hang on for so long and hindering the development of others in the system or at least- camouflaging their potential and preventing the B’s from making an informed decision on who to protect.
Building a winning team is a never-ending master-level jigsaw puzzle. It isn’t just about acquiring talent and skill but supplementing those stars with the right kinds of players who can come together and embrace a team’s structure and organizational values. Some fans might scoff at this quaint notion of the herculean task managers face at all meaningful levels, but the reality is- that’s why they’re fans. They might build a successful Twitter following, but they’ll never be part of a high-level team, nor will they understand the constant challenges of juggling the many dynamics needed to build a winning, championship team. For them, it is more about pointing fingers and playing to a crowd of like-minded toadies and sycophants in a social media echo chamber than thoughtful analysis and a fair-minded approach to what is going on. Like barking, clapping seals, they speak in absolutes they know nothing about. And that’s fine- it’s the world we live in, but it is also completely fair to point this out and call out some of the mind-numbing nitwits who have the loudest voices on matters they haven’t earned a shred of credibility to comment on.
What does seem to be playing out is this: the Bruins have put themselves at a disadvantage by selling off draft capital to remain competitive for playoff runs in recent years, but the time has come for them to start accruing picks and looking at building a better system. Prospects like Jack Studnicka and Mason Lohrei show significant promise as two of Boston’s most likely candidates to be drivers one day, but unlike many other teams around the league, Boston lacks the volume/depth of star power and pure skill/dynamic upside players in other systems who are on their way to the NHL in the next 3-5 years. The B’s have long done pretty well with savvy undrafted free agent signings to help bolster their draft misses and disappointments, but this puts tremendous pressure on the organization to find the rare players everyone else has not identified, and causes the GM to expend assets and capital on talent acquisition via trades and the bloated unrestricted free agent market.
Losing Chara to Washington stings, because he had so many amazing moments as a Bruin and was in many cases, the face of a franchise that had fallen on hard times when he was signed, and played a major role in a resurrection that ended with the Stanley Cup five years later and a near 10+ year run of sustained success. Just about everyone who rooted heart and soul for the Boston Bruins should be sad to see him go and appreciate what he did when he was here. But nothing, especially those lives spent in professional sports, lasts forever. Et tu, Tom Brady?
Those who are upset that Chara and the current core didn’t bring more championships to Boston have a point. Those who feel that Chara should have been treated a little differently so that he wouldn’t have felt the need to take his game elsewhere in the twilight of a tremendous career are also right. But so are those who understand that the business side of hockey sometimes means that you lose these battles and teams have to make highly unpalatable decisions because they truly feel that those are in the best interest of the club. No one has a crystal ball…sometimes, those tough decisions pay off and sometimes they don’t. But the Bruins felt that keeping the status quo for another year without addressing it with the captain was the wrong thing to do. Even if they had agreed to give him the role he was used to, would fans have demanded a change if he was unable to keep up, unable to make the plays needed for success at age 44? It’s easy to say that the team *should* have done what it took to keep him, but remember- Chara himself had a choice to stay and perform in the role that the team had for him. He chose a different path. It’s not just on the Bruins for that.
In the end, it may be precisely true that the Bruins take steps backwards in 2021. It seems a certainty in fact, that they will. But even if that happens, it does not stand as proof that the leadership lacks a plan or vision. Sweeney and his staff dug the club out of the malaise of 2015 and 2016 and built a squad that was three periods away from a championship just 1.5 years ago. History is never kind to those who are unable to close it out and attain ultimate victory, and those with an agenda to do so will almost certainly continue to overlook that or harp on the failures of the 2015 draft (without ever citing the multiple successes of 2014), but just because you feel strongly about something does not make it true.
We wish Zdeno Chara the best as he embarks on what could be one last hurrah with a new team. It’s a shame that he couldn’t finish his storied run in Boston, but like Ray Bourque before him, the show will go on.
Thanks for everything, Big Z- You were everything we thought you would be when you signed 14+ years ago…and then some.
The Boston Bruins season didn’t end as they or their fans had hoped it would when the Tampa Bay Lightning defeated the Bruins in 5 games in the second round of the NHL Playoffs. Since then, we’ve heard President Cam Neely and General Manager Don Sweeney talk about “change”. We’ve heard Zdeno Chara speak about wanting to return for the 2020-2021 season. And of course, there are the few words spoken from both sides of the Torey Krug situation.
Depending on where you look (and it’s more about the rosters that different cap sites use) the Bruins have around $15.5 million in cap space to use this offseason. That’s around the 10th most in the league so, there is an opportunity for some movement there.
The Bruins were charged with a performance bonus overage of $1,928,445 in which they can take the cap hit entirely during the 2020-2021 season or split it over 2 seasons. For this conversation we have chosen the latter.
Below you will see our roster comprised of players under contract, restricted free agents and players that will require waivers to be sent to the AHL or other leagues. Some of you will certainly ask “where is KarsonKuhlman?” (much to the chagrin of my fellow Amigos, he is absent). Well Kuhlman does not require waivers, that is until he plays 11 more NHL games, so it is likely he will begin the season in Providence (or elsewhere depending on which leagues will be paying).
Our roster also doesn’t include Chara, Krug or JoakimNordstrom, all unrestricted free agents. (We don’t believe Nordstrom will be offered a contract to return).
If both Chara and Krug return, it will almost certainly cost the Bruins over 50% of the cap space they have today. That will also mean that they would have to loan two bodies to other leagues to get down to the 23-man roster. That would leave the Bruins somewhere between $5 million and $8 million to sign RFA’s Jake DeBrusk, Jakub Zboril, Matt Grzelcyk and Zach Senyshyn. That’s certainly do-able, but leaves little to no room to improve on the forward group.
If only Chara were to return, that may paint a rosier picture as they would have in the $14 million range to sign the RFA’s and fill that green square next to CharlieMcAvoy as Chara’s days there should be over and to improve on the forward group.
It is imperative that the Bruins find a way to move out JohnMoore and his $2,750,00 cap hit as ConnorClifton and JeremyLauzon have shown they are ready to play bigger roles on the backend. Not to mention that it may be time to see if Zboril can play, even in a bottom pairing role. In the end, the extra $2.75 million can only help in improving the squad overall.
Then there is NickRitchie and his $1,498,925 cap hit and what to do if he is not able to break the lineup next season or has not taken the necessary steps to do so. The obvious answer would be to loan him to another league and save $1,125,000 of his cap hit. (This is an increase from last season because of the increase to the minimum league salary to $750,000. (Minimum league salary plus $375,000 is the new cap relief). This would put the Ritchie cap hit at $373,925 while costing the team $2 million in real dollars – his salary for 2020-2021.
What might make more sense for the Bruins in terms of both real dollars and in cap hit is a buyout. But because the buyout window is not yet confirmed, the Bruins would have to make a premature decision on Ritchie.
Why might it make sense?
CapFriendly and its buyout calculator will explain. Because Ritchie is under 26 and only 1/3 of his remaining salary would have to be paid, the Bruins would only have to pay $666,667 in real money. Where it gets a little complicated is the cap hit, which would be spread out over two seasons. Next season, the Bruins would receive a credit of $167,742 and a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.
Effectively what this does is removes Ritchie’s cap hit for 2020-2021 and gives them a small credit to use towards the bonus overage incurred. In other words, $1,666,667 more cap flexibility next season for a cap hit of $333,333 in 2021-2022.
Then there is the situation surrounding TuukkaRask. Others have called it a dilemma. There are conversations among fans and media about retirement. There are many that believe the Bruins should trade him.
Certainly, any team would welcome $7 million in cap space, but in this case the Bruins would have to find another goaltender capable of carrying the load as the number one goaltender, and what is that going to cost? And if you trade him, what are you bringing back in salary and how much are you going to spend on a replacement netminder? Until Rask and the Bruins come to a decision, this is just all moot right now.
We’ve seen how performance bonuses can affect the cap. Let’s turn our attention to Rask’s partner, JaroslavHalak. The Bruins 1-B netminder is set to earn $1,750,000 in salary for next season with a $500,000 signing bonus for a cap hit of $2,250,000. Halak is scheduled to earn a performance bonus of $1,250,000 for playing in 10 games, a bonus he will surely attain barring a season ending injury early on. The Bruins should and probably will keep an eye on that as to not have a bonus overage for 2021-2022.
No one knows for sure whether Sweeney will turn to the free agent market or go the trade route, although he is talking to other teams. He could use both options and still infuse some youth from within, for instance, TrentFrederic centering the 4th line over ParLindholm. JackStudnicka also showed these playoffs that he’s about ready to make a push for a roster spot.
There is certainly room for maneuvering and this should prove to be Sweeney’s most active offseason since 2015.