The Bruins frittered away a 2-0 lead Thursday night in Edmonton, conveniently forgotten the second Matt Grzelcyk ripped home a slapper with 2:33 left on the clock and everyone in Black and Gold hustled to the team bus with their 3-2 win before someone on that dazed Oilers roster ordered a recount.
Next up: a Saturday night visit to Calgary, the final stop in a three-game all-Canada road swing in which the Bruins thus far have scored one even-strength goal (see above: Matt Grzelcyk).
The season’s one-third marker fast approaching, the Bruins need a few things to remain playoff relevant:
1. More team toughness.
2. More commitment and net drive from the forwards, with some toughness interwoven there as well.
3. More scoring from . . . anywhere.
So easy when you write it all down on a tidy “to-do” list, isn’t it?
As for No. 3, Grzelcyk’s game-winning laser shot should serve as Exhibit A for potential offensive fixes. He stepped into it with conviction, off a buttery Craig Smith dish, with Smith then joining Charlie Coyle and Taylor Hall near the Oilers net.
Grzelcyk needs to shoot more. As a unit, all his fellow defensemen need to shoot more. Yes, it’s easy to say and hard to do, because NHL “coachology” the last 25-30 years has sealed off shooting lanes for defensemen to get viable looks and unload shots.
But those chances can be created, and it takes puck movement from the five attackers, and it takes an adept skater in back to “walk” the blue line and find the shot. Grzelcyk is a fine “walker,” in the Torey Krug mold, and he can be asked to do more of that.
Grzelcyk’s game-winner was of a different ilk, the ex-Terrier stepping directly into Smith’s feed, but again, he has a bigger tool kit and should use it. He needs to be more shot-ready. This is especially so with the current pack of forwards, especially those Nos. 4 through 12, most of whom are challenged to find the back of the net and the moxie needed to create the shots that might find the back of the net.
To wit: $6 million-a-year winger Hall has one goal in the last 10 games. He has placed one shot on net in the first two stops of the road trip. Really. Whattup with that?
Interim coach Joe Sacco finally dialed back Hall’s ice time a touch in Edmonton, and maybe that will get the big guy going. Right now, he too closely resembles the underperforming left winger Buffalo was eager to unload at the trade deadline last season.
True, Coyle is not David Krejci’s match for distributing the puck out of the middle, but Hall must adapt to the giver he’s been given. He has the speed, strength, and scoring memory to muscle his way to the front. That’s not his best game, which is connecting in motion, off the rush. But absent a Krejci-like distributor, he needs to adapt his ways if he is going to deliver the 50-60 points expected of him given his profile/pay rate.
Until there’s more to be wrung from all forwards Nos. 4 through 12, the only place left to look for it is in back. The place to start is with more shots from Grzelcyk and company.
“We stress it with the whole group,” said Sacco, asked postgame if the coaching staff has prompted Grzelcyk to shoot more. “And he’s part of the group. I was glad that he decided to shoot it there [Thursday night]. It worked out well. And we had some traffic.”
As a group, the blue liners have scored 12 goals, led by the surprise career-high four potted by Derek Forbort. Up front, free-agent signees Nick Foligno, Erik Haula, and Tomas Nosek have combined for three goals, one fewer than Forbort, in 58 games. Foligno still has zero.
That’s not the kind of secondary scoring general manager Don Sweeney projected when he tied up Foligno, Haula, and Forbort with a combined $15.85 million guarantee. He dished out that dough because the kids in AHL Providence have yet to convince anyone they can secure roster spots and deliver the goods. So the spots went to those three, who thus far have delivered only offensive indigestion.
In back, it’s obvious Grzelcyk can bring more punch. Ditto, of course, for Charlie McAvoy, the franchise defenseman and No. 1 power play point man. To date, McAvoy has but three goals, though his 11 assists are ranked No. 1 on the club’s defensemen scoring list. Forbort and Grzelcyk are next, each with 5 points.
McAvoy has landed 47 shots, not nearly enough for a guy with his ice time and No. 1 power-play standing. Brandon Carlo (2-2—4) tops them all with 48 shots. He, too, has a capable, strong shot. In his five-plus years on the roster, dating to Claude Julien’s final tour as coach, Carlo has not used it nearly enough. He might not be a classic scoring threat, but he can be a factor. Time to use it.
“If the forwards are going to do a good job of going low to high, getting to the net,” mused Grzelcyk, “then it’s our job to kind of find space and reward that with getting some pucks to the net. I think, just as a team in general, we want to get more traffic in front of the goalie, sort of play off the shot that way. That was definitely a focus [Thursday night].”
As he approached Smith’s feed, Grzelcyk realized he was in the clear for a shot because the Oilers winger charged with covering him shifted over to Smith. Lane open, lane exploited.
“I knew I’d have an extra second or two to take a look,” he said. “Like I said, the guys did a great job in front, and I just tried to hit the net first and foremost. Luckily it went in.”
Luck, sure, but it was luck manufactured, including the pass, the shot and the effective net-front presence. More needed. Lots more, especially at a time when so many up front are delivering so little and so often.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.