GAUGING THE BRUINS DEFENSE ONE WEEK AT A TIME OCTOBER 31, 2021

Let me start by continuing were I left off last week: Shot attempts versus shots on goal. I am beginning here because it is an area where Coach Bruce Cassidy wanted an improvement on and while successful in the early part of the season despite not showing up on the scoreboard, the blueliners took a hit there last week. Except of course Matt Grzelcyk and a surprising Brandon Carlo.

Grzelcyk has always been at or near the top when it comes to successfully getting his shots on target. What is different this season compared to last is that he is attempting almost one full shot per game over last season, but his accuracy rate has jumped to 69.0% from 63.5%. However, the bad news is that the extra effort is still not appearing on the scoresheet.

If you were to re-watch Grzelcyk’s shot attempts you will see that the majority of the time he is not shooting to score, but is shooting with a purpose. A shot designed to create a rebound, or a shot to be redirected. That falls on the forwards. For whatever reason, they are just not getting their sticks on those pucks be it a rebound or for a deflection.

Carlo has been a pleasant surprise in this area. While he is still attempting the same 3.3 shots per game, his success rate in getting it through has taken a marked leap from 47.8% a season ago to 60.9% this season. It’s obvious that Carlo has put in the necessary work in improving that area of his game, like Grzelcyk it has yet to make an impact on the scoresheet.

There are though, two defenders I have an issue with to date in this area and it pains me to say they are Charlie McAvoy and Mike Reilly.

McAvoy is attempting almost one full shot per game less than he was a season ago and is only successful 50% of the time, up slightly from the 48.7% a season ago. He appears to be passing up opportunities to shoot. It was evident on the two-on-one on Saturday’s win over Florida when he attempted to make an impossible pass – and it got blocked. He was in a prime shooting are and the correct decision would have been to shoot. Even if he thought he couldn’t score from there, he could have gone far side on the ice for a sure rebound and a tap in. Yes, he scored a goal, but the decision to shoot there was the easiest decision he’ll have to make this season.

The concern about Reilly is even more serious. Despite attempting just, a tad more shots than he did a season ago with the Bruins, he just can’t seem to get his shots through to the target. His success rate is a team worst 38.5%, down a whopping 21.6% from a season ago.

I don’t know what the issue is with Reilly. I can’t pinpoint anything he is doing differently other than rushing the shot sometimes. But if the Bruins are going to be successful in deploying this strategy, Reilly is going to have to up his game.

Here’s a look at last season’s stats, followed by this season:

In their own zone, the group has been more than adequate. They are retrieving pucks and moving them quickly but when they are hemmed in their own zone, for the most part they are positioned soundly. It’s the forwards on the squad that are having the difficulty clearing the zone and making ill advised decisions.

That said, hockey is a game of mistakes and usually the team that makes the fewest mistakes comes out on top. And the Bruins defense has had their fair share of them. Think back to Wednesday’s game in Florida when Connor Clifton was indecisive on whether to attack the back of the net or tie up an opponents stick in front of his net. That resulted in a goal for Florida and is probably the top reason why he was sat out the next night against Carolina.

Now. Let’s turn the focus to the defensive pairs. Here are the numbers for the 23 different pairs the Bruins have used this season:

Everyone knows the Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing are analytic darlings and there is no denying that. But the numbers show that the Bruins can not afford to put all their eggs in one basket and only use the pair when the situation calls for it. And Cassidy has said as much himself.

The Reilly-Carlo pairing is not what it was a season ago. The shots given up are on par with the shots taken when they are on the ice but they are giving up more high danger shots than are created when on the ice as a pair. Which is the most likely reason Cassidy decided to go with a Grzelcyk-Carlo pair more on Saturday versus Florida. While the shots-for and shots-against were equal to the Reilly-Carlo pair (considering TOI) the high danger area shots were a whopping 62.5% in favor of Grzelcyk- Carlo compared to 42.86 for Reilly-Carlo.

Of course, that affects the bottom pairing and who plays with Clifton. While the Grzelcyk-Clifton pairing has done alright, the Reilly-Clifton pairing works just a tad better. The high danger chances for and against heavily favor the Reilly-Clifton pair while the shots for and against favor the Grzelcyk-Clifton pair.

Surprisingly enough, some of the numbers suggest that Derek Forbort is better paired with Clifton than he is with any other defenseman. And it’s not a small sample size either. It might work when Grzelcyk is paired with McAvoy, but that means Reilly goes back with Carlo. And it is my belief that Forbort and Carlo should only be on the ice together if killing a penalty or protecting a lead late. And it’s not a small sample size either. But that’s something for Bruins data scientist Josh Pohlkamp—Hartt and the coaching staff to figure out.

My conclusion is one some of you will agree with and some of you will not, and trust me when I say it pains me to say this: I believe the Bruins need an upgrade on Connor Clifton. Cliffy hockey has his moments when he shines brightly, but I don’t think you can count on it for an 82-game schedule and a long playoff run. I think he is better suited (and the Bruins will be too) as a seventh defenseman.

Follow me on Twitter @dominictiano

Published by Dominic Tiano

Following the Ontario Hockey League players eligible for the NHL Draft. I provide season-long stats, updates and player profiles as well as draft rankings.

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