BOSTON BRUINS DEFENCE: MY ANALYSIS

When the season began, I was doing these once a week. It became a lot of work so I paused the weekly breakdown. Now, when we look at it 30 games into the season, all signs point in the same direction: The Bruins need to add a defenceman.

The season ending injury to Jakub Zboril, who was having his best professional season to date didn’t help the Bruins, but it was only 10 games and no one can say with 100% certainty that he could have maintained that level of play for the season. But it also means that if an injury strikes or COVID hits again, you’re inserting John Moore into your lineup.

Let’s take a look at the numbers after 30 games:

I don’t dismiss analytics and I actually enjoy them. But I also watch the games, not s sheet of paper. What I don’t pay attention to is those that use analytics as a be-all-end-all without context. For example: Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Mike Reilly are getting more offensive zone starts then defensive. Are they being sheltered? Many fans might think Reilly is being sheltered. But in actual fact, you’ll find that those three, particularly McAvoy and Grzelcyk are getting the offensive zone starts because the Bruins are trailing.

Early in the season I spoke a lot about Coach Bruce Cassidy wanting more shots from the point. Stats showed that as did the eye test. The low-to-high play was going to be a “new weapon”. But it wasn’t working because the forwards weren’t going to the net looking for screens, a tip in or a rebound. And the Blueliners were firing. But that’s changed recently.

Let’s look at their attempted shots per game from last season compared to this season:

 2020-20212021-2022
 Attempts per gameAttempts per game
Charlie McAvoy3.73.6
Matt Grzelcyk3.43.5
Mike Reilly3.53.1
Brandon Carlo3.33.4
Derek Forbort3.01.9
Jakub Zboril3.02.0
John Moore2.02.4
Jack Ahcan2.36.0

Earlier in the year they were attempting more shots than they were a season ago. But Cassidy didn’t just want more shots. He wanted more shots with a purpose – get it through to the net. The message was simple and Assistant Coach Kevin Dean has been working with the blueliners on just that. But has it worked? Let’s compare the percentage of attempted shots that find the target this year to last:

 2020-20212021-2022
 % On Target% On Target
Charlie McAvoy48.7%58.4%
Matt Grzelcyk63.5%53.8%
Mike Reilly59.6%54.2%
Brandon Carlo47.8%61.1%
Derek Forbort38.5%52.6%
Connor Clifton46.6%54.7%
Jakub Zboril42.7%65.0%
John Moore53.3%41.7%
Jack Ahcan71.4%33.3%

Clearly, it’s working for McAvoy who is on his way to setting career highs. Brandon Carlo is also a beneficiary already surpassing his output in 27 games a season ago. Derek Forbort has as many goals this season as any two seasons combined. Zboril was on pace to put up 24 assists, more than any one single season of production with the Providence Bruins and surpassed in only one season with the Saint John Sea Dogs (QMJHL).

For Reilly, he’s already matched his career high of 3 goals set back in 2018-19 with the Montreal Canadiens. But he’s far off his pace for points in a season set back in 2020-21 when he had 19 points in 40 games with the Ottawa Senators.

As for Grzelcyk, he had a career year a season ago with 20 points in 37 games or .54 points per game. But this season, he is down to .23 points per game, or less than half of what he was producing a season ago. However, part of that can be attributed to coming off the first powerplay unit.

Another thing affecting Grzelcyk and also Reilly: Carlo was off to a terrible start for him. Whether Carlo was paired with Grzelcyk or Reilly, the pairs did not have very good stats. But Carlo has come on strong lately and it’s reflected in the stats. There were high hopes for a Reilly-Carlo pair after the two performed admirably a season ago. This season, it did not resemble last season in the slightest. But they are coming on and strong.

Here’s a look at all the defensive pairs Coach Dean has thrown onto the ice this season:

Defensively, the team has a 2.40 goals-against-average which puts them tied for fifth in the league. We are accustomed to seeing the Bruins in the top-5. Tuukka Rask is returning and there won’t be a huge change in that stat.

But I will suggest where we will see a change. Linus Ullmark is still new to the team and Jeremy Swayman is still a rookie. And I don’t think the team in front of them is 100% confident in them (only because they don’t know them well enough) and they don’t take risks with them manning the net like they would with Rask. What Rask will give them is total and unquestioned confidence because they know he’s there to have their backs and that just may be enough for them to take more chances. We’ll know soon enough if that is true.

Do I still want another blueliner added?

I sure do. The loss of Zboril hurts more than many people think. There is virtually no depth on the blueline to speak of and that is a recipe for disaster. And there just isn’t enough time after trade deadline to figure out where a new defenceman fits in and what other pairs work best together. By then, it will be too late.

Now is the time to act.

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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