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A look at Boston’s defense, penalty kill

Boston allowed the fewest goals per game in the NHL this season, leading the Bruins to the top of the standings when the season ended.

NHL: DEC 03 Hurricanes at Bruins Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Canes finally know their first-round opponent, and it’s the team that knocked Carolina out of the playoffs in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2019.

After leading the NHL in points, the Boston Bruins lost all three of their seeding round-robin games in the Toronto bubble, leading to a first-round meeting with the Canes. The Bruins rode an incredible top line and league-best defensive corps to the top of the NHL standings. Here we take a look at Boston’s defense and penalty kill:


Defense

The Pairings:

  • Zdeno Chara-Charlie McAvoy
  • Torey Krug-Brandon Carlo
  • Matt Grzelcyk-Jeremy Lauzon

Regular Season Stats:

  • Zdeno Chara: 68 GP, 5 G, 9 A, 14 PTS, +26, 46.7 CF%, 21:01 ATOI
  • Charlie McAvoy: 67 GP, 5 G, 27 A, 32 PTS, +24, 51.3 CF%, 23:10 ATOI
  • Torey Krug: 61 GP, 9 G, 40 A, 49 PTS, -4, 56.2 CF%, 20:29 ATOI
  • Brandon Carlo: 67 GP, 4 G, 15 A, 19 PTS, +16, 45.7 CF%, 20:29 ATOI
  • Matt Grzelcyk: 68 GP, 4 G, 17 A, 21 PTS, +15, 51.8 CF%, 18:04 ATOI
  • Jeremy Lauzon: 19 GP, 1 G, 1 A, 2 PTS, +5, 51.8 CF%, 15:25 ATOI

As good as Boston’s top offensive line is, it was the Bruins’ defensive corps that truly led Boston to a league-best 100 points in the 2019-20 regular season. The Bruins led the league in goals against per game by a wide margin, allowing just 2.39 scores per game. The next best team in the NHL in that regard, the Dallas Stars, allowed 2.52 goals against per game.

A big part of that was Tukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak in net, but the far-above league-average defensive pairings for the Bruins also went a long way in keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard. In the Hurricanes’ one game against the Bruins, Halak posted a shutout as Carolina mustered just 24 shots on net.

Four of Boston’s six normal defenseman posted a greater-than 50 CF%, and all but Torey Krug had a positive +/- (with four at 15 or greater). Boston’s top pairing of Chara-McAvoy is among the league’s best, while the second unit of Krug-Chara may be the very best second pairing in all of the NHL.

Together, along with a very strong third pairing of Grzelcyk-Lauzon, they make Boston’s six defensemen one of the best defensive corps in all of hockey. The Bruins’ 2.21 expected goals per 60 minutes was the best in the Eastern Conference and second-best in the whole NHL.

So, how does the Hurricanes’ young and talented offense match up with the stellar blue line of the Bruins?

Boston does a really, really great job of limiting opportunities in and near the crease, an area that the Hurricanes have excelled at getting into and scoring. That battle will be a big deciding factor in this series, and it’ll definitely be something to keep an eye on.

The Bruins also do a good job of limiting opportunities up the slot, especially closer to the left circle, another area that the Canes get more shots from. Looking at the unblocked shots heat maps, the Bruins’ defense and Canes’ offense are almost inverted (bad news for the Canes).

The Canes do get a lot of shots from the blue line and near the boards (something that will be even more true if Dougie Hamilton returns), an area that Boston doesn’t do an exceptional or bad job at stopping.

In Boston’s four-game sweep of the Canes in last year’s playoffs, a very similar defensive unit held Carolina to just 1.25 goals and 28.5 shots on net per game, though the Hurricanes have added some offensive weapons since that series.

Boston’s defense is nearly as good as it gets in the NHL right now, and finding goals against it will be no easy task for the Hurricanes. Carolina’s offense looked really good in a three-game sweep of the Rangers, though the Rangers’ blue liners just don’t stack up to what Boston has.

It’ll be a tough matchup for the Canes, but Boston looked a lot more susceptible to defeat in the seeding round-robin. Boston allowed three goals per game in its three round-robin losses, as the Canes are definitely entering the series with a little more momentum.


Penalty Kill

The Numbers:

  • PK%: 84.3% (third in NHL)
  • PP Goals Against per Game: 0.49 (fourth in NHL)
  • Times Shorthanded: 216 (10th most in NHL)
  • Shorthanded Goals: 5

Having good defensemen generally leads to having a good penalty kill and that holds true with the Bruins. Boston’s 84.3 kill percentage ranked third best in the league, and the Bruins were also top five in power-play goals against.

Chara, Carlo, McAvoy and Lauzon do the heavy lifting on the penalty kill, while former Hurricane Joakim Nordstrom, Patrice Bergeron, Sean Kuraly and others contribute as forwards.

Boston’s penalty kill does a fantastic job of suffocating any power-play offense from in the circles, but does allow a bit up the slot. The Canes’ PP does its main damage from the crease and the point, both areas that Carolina could exploit when it goes up a man.

The Bruins did take quite a few penalties in the regular season, going shorthanded the 10th-most times in the league. Like going up against the Bruins’ five-on-five defense, going up against the Bruins’ PK isn’t an easy task either.

Boston’s expected goals per 60 on the kill was below average, and the actual goals given up is impressive as well. The Canes will have their hands full with the Bruins, though that is to be expected from the team that had the most points in the NHL this season.