What the Bruins offense has to do to make up for shorthanded defense

Matt Kalman
June 05, 2019 - 5:46 pm

The Bruins are probably going to be shorthanded on defense when they take the ice for Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday.

Matt Grzelcyk might be cleared from the concussion protocol but he might not. Zdeno Chara could shock the world and play a Final game with his mouth sewn shut, but it’s unlikely.

The fact is, the Bruins have been playing shorthanded on defense these whole playoffs since Kevan Miller was injured back in the regular season. They’ve gotten this far anyway.

The Bruins have proven they can win with a banged-up defense corps, even beating these big, bad St. Louis Blues in Game 3 of this series without Grzelcyk. They went 10-7-2 without Chara in the regular season during a stretch when they also missed at least four other regular defensemen for stints. They won Game 4 of the Eastern Conference final without Chara.

Regardless of who’s dressed on defense the only remedy for the Bruins is to … wait for it … score more goals!

That might seem like the type of advice you’d get from a Bazooka Joe comic wrapped around your gum, but look how far the Bruins have come without getting much 5-on-5 offense from their best players. They’re tied 2-2 in this best-of-7 series without a single 5-on-5 points from any of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Backes, David Krejci, David Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk.

But how can they score more? Pastrnak seemed to have a novel idea when asked about improvements the Bruins need to make in Game 5.

“Well obviously we would like to shoot more,” he said. “I don’t think we had enough shots, and get bodies in front of the goalie and get the second opportunities. I think we gave up a lot of shots last game and I think that’s the biggest mindset for us. Anytime we do these things and get in front of the goalie, we always score a bunch.”

The Bruins didn’t score a bunch in Game 1, but they outshot the Blues 38-20 in a 4-2 win. Since then their shot totals are 23, 24, 23. Now that 24 from Game 3 is misleading because they had 20 after two periods and then stepped off the gas a little on their way to the 7-2 rout.

The only prescription here is more shots. Marchand had no shots on net in Game 4. Embarrassing.

When the Bruins have played their brand of offense for stretches of this series, they’ve solved goalie Jordan Binnington. He gives up rebounds, he gets rattled. The perceptions of him as impenetrable and imperturbable have been proven to be myths. Every goal the guy gives up he snaps his head back like he just watched his dog get run over. If the Bruins got in his face the way the Blues tried to get to Tuukka Rask, Binnington might even snap.

In the playoffs he’s 4-5 when he faces 30 or more shots. Now Rask is just 8-6, and every goalie’s odds of winning probably decreases with the amount of shots taken, but if the Bruins are smarter about their offense, if they think shoot first and pass second below the dots, they could put Binnington’s talent to the test.

“Well I think certainly get inside. Coyle’s goal the other night was a good example, getting the puck to the net, getting inside, rebounds,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said about how Boston can generate more 5-on-5 offense. “There’ll be some rebounds there if we get there, if we have traffic. I mean it sounds cliché but it’s the truth. That’s how they scored their goals, they got to the net with traffic, rebounds, second chances, get inside. That’s typically it. They’re a good reloading team, so the odd-man rushes are tough.

Cassidy also talked about the defense moving the puck up quicker and using different moves to avoid the heavy forecheck. That goes for all the defensemen, whether Steven Kampfer or Urho Vaakanainen or Grzelcyk is in there.

These are the solutions to the Bruins’ problems. Not juggling the lines, although it might help to get Karson Kuhlman’s fresh legs into the lineup in place of David Backes.

Definitely not dressing seven defensemen. When you’re as offensively challenged as the Bruins are 5-on-5 right now, it makes no sense to go with one fewer forward, messing up the lines and the defense pairs just so some guy can dress and play eight minutes.

There are two, maybe three games left in this season. Certainly the Bruins’ youthful defense, led by 21-year-old Charlie McAvoy, 22-year-old Brandon Carlo and 28-year-old Torey Krug, can take on a heavier workload. Heck, the Blues didn’t even have an injury issue in Game 4 and they basically played just five defensemen with Joel Edmundson playing just 7:24. If it takes Boston’s top three or four D playing more than 25 minutes each, so be it. They’re young, they have two days to rest up for Game 6, and even a diminished version of McAvoy or Krug after playing more minutes is better than a handful of minutes from Kampfer or Vaakanainen.

No lineup gimmicks are necessary here. The Bruins’ top forwards have to meet the challenge, use their quickness to make the Blues pay for having giants throughout their defense corps and make Binnington work for his saves.

If they don’t, they’ll have zero points and also zero excuses.

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