Don’t look now but the Boston Bruins are playing hockey!
In each of the previous weeks I talked about the lack of games the Bruins have played and the effect it has had on not just the defence, but the team as a whole. Let’s face it. You can’t replicate games during practice and players find it hard to get into a rhythm while coaches can’t pair guys up in hopes of finding chemistry. Just how much it plays into it is the question.
But going forward? The Bruins will be playing a lot of hockey and that excuse can go out the door. Fin. End of story. You won’t hear it from me again. And beyond that, there are no more excuses except for one: The defence as constituted is just not good enough.
On Saturday, the Bruins defeated the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2. In Philly no less. Despite Derek Forbort scoring two goals, despite Charlie McAvoy throwing a big hit and quarterbacking the powerplay, despite Matt Grzelcyk making a couple of rushes, despite Brandon Carlo being himself on the PK and despite Mike Reilly finally showing some jump, the defenders were virtually invisible. (Notice I left Jakub Zboril out? I will get to him in a bit).
And there is nothing wrong with being invisible or not standing out because for the most part, that means everything is going your way. They kept things simple, moving the puck quickly, making great pinches, and rarely put themselves in bad positioning. It’s a far cry from Sunday’s performance in a 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames. They stood out for all the wrong reasons.
I won’t use it being a back-to-back game as an excuse. The Flames were also playing in a back-to-back and both teams traveled. It was just mental mistake after mental mistake from everyone, not just the blueliners.
Back to Zboril. Everyone knows I have been harsh in the past. But he’s been steady since getting back into the lineup. Sunday was no exception. He’s been in for 4 consecutive games now and in seasons past, we would have seen bone headed plays from him by now. Or a stupid penalty. Yes, it’s still early, but I just can’t see taking him out of the lineup at this point. He’s finally getting some confidence and it’s showing. To take him out now would be a blow to that confidence. He has earned, and deserves a longer look. But at the expense of who? His PPG have double from a season ago, but again, small sample size.
I don’t know what else anyone can ask of McAvoy. He is carrying the blueliners and I would hate to think where the team would be without him. He has met and even exceeded expectations. Put simply, McAvoy is not part of the problem.
The Bruins however do need more offence from Grzelcyk. With just two assists in 15 games (.13 PPG) the Bruins and their fans expect more. He is down considerably from his .54 PPG in an injury riddled last season. Ditto for Reilly. With the Bruins last season, he clipped at .53 PPG pace. This season? Just a tad better than Grzelcyk at .23 PPG.
Let’s hope Coach Bruce Cassidy and his staff can mix and match pairs until they find three pairs that work. Because right now, they just aren’t working.
Here’s a look at the individual defencemen numbers, followed by the different pairs used by the coaching staff: