The Boston Bruins have a talented defensive core.
While many fans might think that the Carolina Hurricanes’ defensive group is much stronger than Boston’s, I would argue its slightly better. When you have a group consisting of Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan, your defense is going to be rock solid. While the Bruins aren’t as deep, the defensive core is still one of the best in the NHL and is capable of shutting down Sebastian Aho and the Hurricanes.
Whose On Boston’s Blue Line?
The Bruins defensive unit looks like this:
Even with McAvoy missing game one of the series (due to suspension), the Bruins defense is a brick wall. As fans have seen through the playoffs, the Bruins defensive strategy is to siege their opponents. The Bruins love to create an invisible wall at their blue line and watch their opposition struggle to get out of the neutral zone with the puck. The best part for Bruins fans is that all three lines are comfortable sieging their opponents.
While I could look at each specific line and go over their strengths and weaknesses, I want to focus on one pairing in particular. The last pairing.
Grzelcyk & Clifton
In the below visual (created by Sean Tierney, data from MoneyPuck.com), you’ll see that the pairing of Grzelcyk-Clifton has been one of the best pairings for the Bruins during the playoffs. The duo has owned a high xGF60 (expected Goals For per 60) and a low xGA60 (expected Goals Against per 60). While the duo’s xGA60 is slightly higher than the combo of Grzelcyk-McAvoy, the xGF60 is better. With the high scoring games in the playoffs, you’d rather go with a combo that has a higher xGF60.
In addition, Grzelcyk, is a break-up and possession exit warrior. The below visual (created by Sean Tierney, data from Corey Sznajder) indicates that Grzelcyk was the top performer on the Bruins blue line during the season. His break-up percentage was very high. In fact, it was the highest in the NHL. T.J. Brodie of the Calgary Flames and Matt Dumba of the Minnesota Wild were close, but couldn’t leap over Grzelcyk.
Unfortunately, we don’t see the metrics for Clifton. That’s because Clifton spent a decent amount of time in minors with the Providence Bruins. But, Clifton has shown in his stint with the Bruins that he’s can be trusted to get the puck out of the defensive zone and into the offensive zone on the regular. Plus, he’s been outstanding at creating scoring opportunities. In the GIF below from Chip Skylark (@MyShinyTweets), you’ll see Clifton go from the left side of the ice with the puck around the net. He then finds Brad Marchand next to Sergei Bobrovsky and delivers the puck to him on a silver platter.
— Chip Skylark (@MyShinyTweets) May 5, 2019
Bruins Fans, Don’t Worry
So, if you are a Bruins fan, don’t worry about your defensive units. You have tremendous depth and while the Hurricanes defensive core might have been talked about all year as the best in the NHL, the Bruins aren’t far behind.
stats from hockey-reference.com, NHL.com, Corey Sznajder, MoneyPuck.com
visuals from Sean Tierney
featured image photo credit – Nikos Michals