|Possession perfectionists: Patrice Bergeron’s line continues to dominate everyone it faces||05.11.14 at 7:00 am ET|
With a little more than 10 minutes remaining in Saturday’s Game 5, and with the Bruins leading 3-1, Max Pacioretty appeared to have his chance. He grabbed the puck just inside his own blue line and turned up ice. The Bruins were in the middle of a change, and he had an open lane down the left wing — the opposite side of the ice as the Bruins bench.
Unfortunately for Pacioretty, the first guy over the boards was Patrice Bergeron. The Selke Trophy favorite made a beeline for Pacioretty, and within a matter of seconds, all that space Pacioretty appeared to have was gone. He was forced to settle for a long snap shot that Tuukka Rask kicked right to Bergeron.
Then Bergeron did what he’s done all series, and all season. He turned up ice, led a rush through the neutral zone, and helped set up an offensive-zone cycle with linemates Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith. Pacioretty and his linemates — David Desharnais and Brendan Gallagher — didn’t sniff the Bruins zone the rest of the shift.
That shift perfectly encapsulated what Bergeron and his linemates do so well. They’re often called a shutdown line, especially in the playoffs. You hear about how they “take away time and space” and “keep guys to the outside.” Bergeron did both of those within the first five seconds of that shift.
What you don’t always hear enough about is what the trio did over the next 30 seconds of that shift. They don’t give up second and third chances. They get the puck and flip the ice. They cycle. They attack. They possess the puck and pin their opponents deep in their own zone.
In football, you often hear the cliche “The best defense is a good offense.” The idea is that if your offense keeps getting first downs and holds onto the ball, the other team’s offense can’t get on the field. The same applies in hockey.
Bergeron and his linemates shut down top offensive players, like Pacioretty, by not allowing them to have the puck. Yes, they’re also great at defending when those guys do get the puck, but they’re most effective when they’re able to keep those guys about 175 feet away from the Boston net. Read the rest of this entry »
|P.K. Subban ‘pretty upset’ after being squirted with water||05.10.14 at 11:03 pm ET|
It had been three games since the did-he-duck controversy involving P.K. Subban and Shawn Thornton, which means we were way overdue.
The flames were stoked again in Game 5, as Subban accused Thornton of squirting water at him late in the game. With less than a minute to go in the Bruins’ 4-2 win, Subban circled back to the Bruins’ bench after a whistle and confronted Thornton. NBC’s Pierre McGuire, who was sitting one seat over between the benches, reported on the broadcast that Subban said Thornton squirted him in the face.
Subban elaborated when asked about the incident after the game.
“With Thorty, I don’t know if it was him, but somebody had squirted water twice at the end of the game there,” Subban said. “Hit me in the visor. I couldn’t even see the last minute and a half out there. I was pretty upset about that.”
Subban insisted he didn’t want the incident to become a big story, but nonetheless noted that it would be if the roles were reversed.
“I’m sure if that was me that did it, it would be a different story,” Subban said. “Probably be on the news for the next three days. But I don’t expect that to be a story. Whatever it takes to win, right?”
Thornton was not made available to the media after the game, while Bruins coach Claude Julien said he didn’t see the incident.
“I didn’t see that,” Julien said. “I’ve heard the same thing about that. I certainly don’t support those kinds of things, but I didn’t see it, so I can’t comment more than that.”
Here is video of the whole incident:
And here is a GIF (via @myregularface on Twitter) in which you can briefly see the water, although it’s unclear if it actually hits Subban in the face:
|Brad Marchand’s patented pull-up move sparks Bruins comeback in Game 2 win over Canadiens||05.03.14 at 6:26 pm ET|
Every comeback has to start somewhere, and this one started with a move Brad Marchand has perfected. No, it wasn’t a shove after the whistle or a stick to someone’s legs behind the play.
It was that move where he pulls up on the rush before hitting a trailer, one that often leads to a quality scoring chance. With his team trailing 3-1 and just over nine minutes remaining Saturday, Marchand used the move to set up the goal that sparked the Bruins’ Game 2 comeback and helped them even up their second-round series against the Canadiens.
As Marchand entered the offensive zone, he had several options. He could have tried to beat Montreal defenseman Alexei Emelin wide, but even though he had a full head of steam, Emelin was staying with him and appeared to be in position to ride him into the corner if he tried that. He could have tried to beat Emelin 1-on-1 with a move to the inside, but that’s a low-percentage play because most NHL defensemen are too good to get beat like that.
Marchand also could have stayed wide and just thrown the puck to the front of the net. That’s never really a bad option, especially when you have one linemate (Reilly Smith) driving hard to the net and another (Patrice Bergeron) following up the play. The potential for a redirect or a rebound makes that a pretty good scoring chance.
A lot of players would take that option, and no one would criticize them for it. But Marchand is able to recognize when he has an even better option than that. Time and time again, we’ve seen him throw on the brakes and hit the guy just crossing the blue line — whether it’s the center as the third man in or a defenseman as the fourth.
This time it was Dougie Hamilton. Marchand stopped on a dime and sent a beautiful backhand pass out to center point. Hamilton took the pass, took a few strides, and fired a quick snap shot from the high slot that beat Carey Price through a screen.
“The main thing is you’ve just got to drive wide with speed, and if you do that then you’re either going to get around their D or he’s going to cut you off,” Marchand said. “Once he cuts you off and you turn up, you’re going to have room. You know our D are really good at following up the play. Dougie has been playing great lately, so it was good to see him score.” Read the rest of this entry »
|Bruins penalty kill suffers Alex Ovechkin relapse against P.K. Subban||05.02.14 at 1:29 am ET|
Back on March 1, in an eventual 4-2 loss to the Capitals, Alex Ovechkin scored a pair of nearly identical power-play goals against the Bruins. He set up in his favorite spot in the left circle, and blasted two one-timers past Tuukka Rask.
After the game, the Bruins couldn’t really explain how or why it happened. They knew that was where Ovechkin liked to set up. They knew he was the most dangerous weapon Washington’s power play had. They had talked about all of it in their preparation for the game. Yet, it happened.
The Bruins learned from those mistakes, though. The next time they played the Capitals and actually took a penalty (they didn’t take any in a March 6 meeting), their penalty kill went a perfect 3-for-3. Ovechkin did end up with two shots on goal on those man advantages, but neither was anywhere near as dangerous as the rockets he blasted past Rask on March 1.
Fast forward two months, and the Bruins find themselves facing a similar situation. P.K. Subban is the Canadiens’ biggest threat on the power play, and the Bruins know that. They’ve known it for a long time. Yet, in Game 1 of the rivals’ second-round series, the B’s penalty kill twice gave Subban too much space at the point. And like Ovechkin before him, Subban made the Bruins pay both times.
The situations aren’t exactly the same, obviously. For starters, this is a much bigger stage than a regular-season game against a non-playoff team. Also, Subban isn’t just hanging out waiting for his teammates to get him the puck. While he is certainly capable of bombing a one-timer like Ovechkin, he’s just as likely to create his own shot or set up a teammate.
Neither of the goals Subban scored Thursday night came on a one-timer like Ovechkin’s. Both were quick shots from center point, though. And on both, Subban had way too much time and space. Read the rest of this entry »
|Zdeno Chara named Norris Trophy finalist along with Duncan Keith, Shea Weber||04.28.14 at 11:30 am ET|
Chara won the league’s top defensive honor in 2009 and finished in the top three in voting in 2004, 2008, 2011 and 2012. Keith won the award in 2010, but hasn’t finished higher than sixth in voting any other year. Weber has never won the award, but he finished second in voting in both 2011 and 2012.
Chara ranked third in points among the group of finalists with 40, but his 17 goals were just six behind Weber’s 23, which were tops among all defensemen. Keith ranked second among all defensemen with 61 points (6 goals, 55 assists), while Weber was third with 56.
Chara posted a plus-25 rating on the season, while Keith finished at plus-22 and Weber at minus-2. Perhaps the strongest case for Chara comes from advanced stats — a case we detailed here last month.
Updating those numbers and applying them to this three-way comparison leaves Chara looking pretty good. He was used in more defensive situations than Keith (48.3 percent offensive zone starts vs. 57.3 percent for Keith) while facing tougher competition (29.9 percent quality of competition vs. 28.9 percent for Keith) and still put up a nearly identical CorsiRel (+1.8 percent vs. +2.0 percent for Keith). Basically, Keith was used in a role that gave him more offensive opportunities, while Chara was used in a true shutdown role. And yet, Chara still swung possession in his team’s favor nearly as much as Keith.
Weber started in the defensive zone more than Chara (44.6 percent offensive zone starts), but actually finished with a negative CorsiRel (-0.7 percent), meaning that while Weber was used in similar situations as Chara, he didn’t drive possession for his team as much as Chara did.
Here is a visual representation of all those numbers via ExtraSkater.com. The pink for Weber indicates his negative Corsi, while Chara and Keith get the positive blue.
|Series-changers: Young defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug show their best in first round||04.26.14 at 11:07 pm ET|
The goals stand out. Dougie Hamilton went end to end before sniping the top corner in Game 3. Torey Krug ripped a slap shot past Jonas Gustavsson right off a faceoff in Game 4.
Some of the assists stand out, too. Hamilton led a breakout and then made a beautiful pass through center ice to Milan Lucic to help set up a goal in Game 4. He put together another end-to-end rush in Saturday’s Game 5 that led to a Loui Eriksson goal.
Krug made a nice breakout pass to Lucic back in Game 2 that led to a goal. On Saturday, he picked off a pass at the offensive blue line and set up Lucic (think he likes playing with these guys?) for the goal that proved to be the game-winner.
But Hamilton and Krug’s excellence in the Bruins’ series win over the Red Wings goes beyond those highlights. The young, offensively-gifted defensemen could have had even more than the four and five points they posted, respectively, because they helped create more than just nine scoring chances.
What about that post Hamilton hit in Game 3? How about that open net that Brad Marchand somehow missed after Krug gave him a perfect pass in Game 4? Oh, and Hamilton and Krug were each on the ice for just one goal against.
Throughout the series, the dynamic youngsters made breakouts look easy. They made leading rushes look easy. And they made creating scoring chances look easy.
Here’s the thing, though: those things aren’t easy. But this is what Hamilton and Krug can do when they’re playing their best hockey. They use their skating and vision to turn breakouts into offensive rushes. They keep plays alive in the offensive zone and hold the puck until they find an open teammate. They get their shots through and aren’t afraid to really step into one if they have the space. And they do it without getting caught up ice.
That last part is key. Hamilton and Krug were gifted offensive players before they even got to Boston. The Bruins have always encouraged them to use those gifts, but Hamilton and Krug had to learn when to use them. Against Detroit, they almost always picked the perfect spots. Read the rest of this entry »
|With chance to finish off Red Wings, Bruins hope they’ve learned from previous closeout struggles||04.25.14 at 5:45 pm ET|
Claude Julien knew it was coming. He started laughing before the reporter even finished the question. Chances are he’ll hear it asked every time the Bruins are in this situation.
The situation is having a chance to close out a playoff series. The question is about the Bruins’ rather unimpressive history in pre-Game 7 closeouts under Julien.
It all starts with that blown 3-0 series lead against the Flyers back in 2010. The B’s won the Stanley Cup the next year, but along the way they let the Canadiens and Lightning take them to seven games after losing a pair of Game 6 closeouts.
Last year they held a 3-1 series lead over the Maple Leafs, but wound up needing that miracle Game 7 comeback to finally finish off Toronto. It took them two tries to close out the Rangers as well. Of course, there have been series in which the Bruins have closed the door on the first try, too, as they swept Montreal in 2009, Philadelphia in 2011 and Pittsburgh in 2013.
All in all, the Bruins are 5-9 in non-Game 7 closeouts during the Julien era, which is why he still has to answer the question any time this situation arises.
“We can learn a lot from last year actually,” Julien said Friday. “You can look at it whichever way you want. It doesn’t mean just because it’s happened before, it has to be the same thing. There are different situations all the time.
“Right now, we have yet to lose respect for that team we’re playing against. They added some good players to their lineup last game, and a guy like [Henrik] Zetterberg can only get better in his second game than he was in his first. So there’s a respect factor there that we need to be really good tomorrow if we want to end the series. If not, then we’re going back to their building, and that’s something we’d prefer not to do.”
The Bruins’ first objective in Saturday’s Game 5 is to get off to a much better start than the one they had in Game 4. The Red Wings thoroughly dominated the first 25-30 minutes of the game, outshooting the B’s 15-5 in the first period and opening up a 2-0 lead by the five-minute mark of the second. The Bruins wound up coming back and winning in overtime, but they know they don’t want to be playing from behind again. Read the rest of this entry »