There’s been a subtle little difference in how the Boston Bruins blue liners operate this season and the credit goes to Coach Bruce Cassidy. And unless you are looking for it, you will barely notice.
The defenders are a little quicker at retrieving pucks than the 13 defensemen Cassidy was forced to use due to the numerous injuries on the back end last season. That means the forwards don’t have to come back deeper into their own zone to support the defensemen and they transition to offense with greater ease.
But the thing Cassidy had them work on the most was getting pucks through to the net in hopes of picking up the dirty goals and second chance opportunities. It’s a work in progress of course, and the Bruins now have the players that are willing to go to the dirty areas to pounce on those second chances.
The Bruins had a total of 10 defensemen a season ago who played in a minimum of 10 games. Here is the sorry stat of the day for you: Of those 10, only 3 of them had more than 50% of their shot attempts find the target. Matt Grzelcyk led the way at 63.5% followed by Mike Reilly at 59.6% and Jared Tinordi (who as you know is no longer here) at 56.4%.
Kevan Miller, now retired was a team worst 40.9% followed by Jakub Zboril at 42.7%. Too many shots were missing the target while many of them were getting blocked.
Not only are they finding the target more often, but they are attempting more controlled shots as well. They aren’t back-scratching wind ups from the blue line. They are shots with a purpose, attempts that their teammates can get a stick on to deflect or on net to create a rebound. It hasn’t really paid off just yet, but it’s a work in progress. And they really haven’t played a lot of hockey to get into a grove.
Let’s take a look at last season’s stats:
And here is where we are today:
I’m not going to break down all these stats for you. You need something to do in your spare time. But I will break down the attempted shots on goal (ASOG) and the shots on goal (SOG) as it is the thing Cassidy has instilled in them the most.
Grzelcyk has always been the king of the hill at getting shots through to the target. Last season, 63.5% of his attempts made it to it’s intended target but even he has improved in that area with a 70.6% success rate to date this season. And to add to that, Grzelcyk is attempting 1 shot per game more that a season ago.
For now, you may be surprised to know that Grzelcyk is not at the top of the charts and that Derek Forbort has that distinction with a 72.7% success rate, not quite twice the rate he had last season with the Winnipeg Jets at 38.5%. His actual shot attempts dropped slightly from 3.1 per game to 2.8 per game this season.
Charlie McAvoy is quite interesting. Last season he was below 50% success rate at 48.7%. Like Grzelcyk, McAvoy has had a pretty noticeable jump to 53.8%. But unlike Grzelcyk, McAvoy’s actual shot attempts have dropped by half a shot per game. The eye test will also confirm that McAvoy is picking his spots better. The difference between the pair though is that Grzelcyk will find the target more often than not from anywhere on the ice with a better success rate than McAvoy.
Even Connor Clifton is finding more success, jumping from 2.3 attempted shots per game a season ago to 3 per game this season. And he’s finding the target at a better clip as well going from 46.6% to 55.6%.
Ditto for Brandon Carlo who is attempting 3.5 shots per game this season versus 3.3 last season. Not a major jump however, his success rate jumps from 47.8% to 64.3% – surprisingly the best improvement on the team.
Surprisingly though, it’s Mike Reilly that is trending downwards. If you recall prior to Reilly’s arrival in Boston, the blueliners were having a hard time finding the target with the exception of Grzelcyk. Enter Reilly and his 59.6% success rate and things looked brighter. However, he’s dropped to a team low 50% through 4 games this season while attempting the same 3.5 shots per game.
As I said earlier, this is a work in progress and the results have yet to come to fruition, except for maybe Forbort’s goal yesterday is evidence that any shot on target has a chance. The Bruins need to play more games and get into a rhythm. The forwards need to continue to get to the net and pounce on those second chance opportunities.
What about the pairs?
Well, I’m not an NHL coach so I trust in what the coaching staff decide. Fans? They have their opinions and they range from we need a top pair left-handed defenseman to let’s trade Forbort, to the right side is weak after McAvoy and Carlo so we need a right shot defenseman. That’s the beauty of the internet – everyone is allowed to have an opinion.
I’m always reminded of something my high school teacher said some 50 years ago: “If I ask a question that begins with ‘what’s your opinion’ then your answer can not be wrong. I asked for your opinion and no matter how stupid it is, you gave me what I asked for – you opinion.”
I don’t begrudge anyone having an opinion, I just don’t have one. I will listen to everyone’s argument and for the most part, they all make some sort of sense.
So, instead of me trying to sort through it all and formulate some sort of response, I will leave you with the stats of each pair on the ice for the Bruins and maybe you can make heads or tails out of it.
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