As a playoff series begins, it’s always nice to hear what the other side has to say. Dan Ryan, managing editor at SB Nation affiliate site Stanley Cup Of Chowder, was kind enough to provide his perspective as the Hurricanes and Bruins kick off the Eastern Conference Final.
The Bruins have cut way back on their penalties in the playoffs, dropping almost four minutes per game from their regular season rate. Their penalty minutes per game is the lowest of any remaining team. Is this just a byproduct of “welp, playoffs!” or is there something more fundamental at play?
I honestly have no idea. Their regular season average was probably a little inflated by stretches of the regular season where they just played terrible hockey. There were games back over the winter where it seemed like they took 5 or 6 dumb hooking penalties per game. It was maddening.
I do think they’ve tightened things up a little bit in the playoffs, mainly because they played against a team with a deadly PP in the first round and a team that seemed like it could only score on the PP in the second. When you’re in that spot, you need to be a lot more careful.
To be fair, there’s absolutely some luck and some “playoffs!” involved as well. The refs, as a group, seem to be letting a lot more go this postseason. That certainly doesn’t hurt a team like the Bruins.
Everyone knows that the Canes are going to try to stick Jordan Staal on the Patrice Bergeron line as much as possible, which will increase the necessity for one of the lower-line players to step up and fill the void. Who’s the most likely to contribute meaningful depth scoring?
The funny thing is, Patrice Bergeron hasn’t really been Patrice Bergeron during these playoffs. He’s struggled, as has Brad Marchand. The Bruins’ fearsome first line was broken up for much of the first couple of rounds, which would make it harder for RBA to use Jordan Stall to shadow Bergeron. However, that trio got it going toward the end of the series, so it’s fair to assume they remain together, at least to start the series.
If that’s the case, and if we want to assume Staal can shut them down for the sake of argument, the two who become key are David Krejci and Charlie Coyle. Krejci has been his usual excellent playoff self this spring, and continues to put up points in spite of playing with a revolving door of players on his right wing. If Bergeron gets your A forwards and A defense pair, that means Krejci’s getting the B squads.
And if Krejci gets the B squads, Coyle is going to get some favorable match-ups. He’s been good this postseason, with flashes of great. He’s a big body who plays well along the boards, and has been playing with another good possession forward in Danton Heinen. Throw in a crafty guy like Marcus Johansson and that line could be a difference-maker.
There’s been some talk that Zdeno Chara has lost a step, which would be understandable for the second-oldest player in the league. Yet he’s still a positive possession player, he plays big minutes and he’s still relied on heavily in the defensive zone. Are the obituaries being written too hastily?
Yes and no. There have been games in these playoffs where it’s been clear that he’s lost a step (Game 5 of the Columbus series was one of them). He’s certainly not going to compete for any more Norris Trophies, and we all know that.
Still, I’d say the obituaries are premature just because he’s still an effective defender. He’s lost a step, sure, but “steps” have never really been important to him. He’s never been a fast skater, never been a guy who beats you with speed. His game is positioning and reach, which don’t really rust with age. In his prime, he was a true #1. Now, he probably shuffles between a #2 and #3, depending on the night.
I’ve been happy with his performance overall, and am glad he’s back in the fold for next year.
To the extent Hurricanes fans remember him at all, they remember Bruce Cassidy bumbling around with the pre-Ovechkin Capitals back in the day with no great success to speak of. (The man was fired and replaced with Glen Hanlon, for heaven’s sake.) In Boston, he seems to have reinvented himself a bit, one win short of back-to-back 50-win seasons. What’s made him so effective for this group?
He certainly inherited a good team, and has plenty of tools to work with. It’s a little easier to succeed when you come into a group that has names like Bergeron, Marchand, Rask, etc. This wasn’t a rebuild.
There’s something to be said for personality though. He’s a pretty blunt, no BS type guy, and it seems like the players have bought into it. That’s not to say he’s abrupt or a Tortorella clone or anything. He just tends to be pretty honest in his assessments, both good and bad. I think he also has a good handle on who needs what kind of encouragement, though he’s occasionally blurred that line as well.
My guess is that in this situation, with the Washington years under his belt, he’s a lot more capable of riding out the lows and highs of coaching. He has a good feel for who he has on his team, and is less likely to panic than he may have been in his DC days. He coached a few of these guys in Providence in the AHL too, which never hurts.
Sometimes, a breath of fresh air is all you need, both as players with a new coach and as a new coach with players. I can’t point to a specific difference that makes me think “that’s it!” It’s more of a combination of the stuff above.
For the past couple of seasons, the Bruins have been in the bottom third of NHL teams in terms of height and weight. These very clearly aren’t the Big Bad Bruins of years gone by. Has their style of play changed appreciably from those days to reflect the smaller roster they have today?
It’s a mix. They’ve definitely evolved from the more brutish days, but they still tend to play a bit of a hard-nosed game. The main shift is that the team appears to (correctly) want to be “hard to play against” because they’re an extremely talented group, not because they’re trying to check you through the glass.
The Bruins, as a franchise, are probably never going to completely shed that “big, bad” style of play, especially with Cam Neely at the helm. And if you ask around Boston, there are plenty of fans who can’t stand the fact that the team let Milan Lucic go, or that they don’t have an enforcer, etc. That stuff is never going to die.
But I think the biggest shift is the “hard to play against” thing I mentioned above. They’ve done a decent job of recognizing that the NHL is changing from a power league to a talent league (the # of small, speedy defensemen in the system illustrates that), and don’t want to be the only face-punchers left behind. It’s a lot harder to play against a line that includes Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak than it is to play against a guy who can beat you up once a game.
That desire for a rough-and-tumble game will always be there though. It’s just a matter of mixing in guys who can play a hard-nosed game (Sean Kuraly is a good example) while also chipping in in other areas.