Just the Facts
Who: The Boston Bruins ...siiiigh... go back indoors for this tilt against the Calgary Flames.
What: Boston, one regular-season win ahead of Buffalo, stole the third spot in the Atlantic with their Winter Classic win and have five wins in their last seven games. Calgary is in a three-way tie for first in the West (by points) and is coming off a barnburner against the San Jose Sharks, which the Flames won 8-5.
When: 7:00 PM
Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA
How to watch: ESPN+, TVAS, SNW, NESN
Rival SBN site: Matchsticks and Gasoline
Know Your Enemy
Goals: Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan, tied at 22
Assists: Gaudreau, 37
Points: Who else? Gaudreau, 59
Other notes: Matthew Tkachuk is holding his own with 47 points, one of four Flames above 40 on the season so far. After defenseman Mark Giordano at 38, it’s... kind of a steep dropoff. More on their topheavyness after the break.
If you consider the Bruins a one-line team... well, you’d probably be forgiven for being kinda right. The B’s have just four players over 30 points. Judging by Calgary’s stats above, you might consider that Boston will have its hands full with a potent, high-scoring team.
In reality, though, while Johnny Hockey and his linemates are to be considered a threat to score nearly anytime they’re on the ice, the Flames take their usage seriously. As in, they use their top players a lot. SERIOUSLY.
Thanks to my pal Shawn Ferris, who looks at way more stats than me, and probably you too (and, of course, thanks too for Micah and his tools at hockeyviz.com), here’s a chart of Boston’s forwards by ice time over the course of the season so far.
While the Bruins top five forwards will consistently be used the most, because why wouldn’t they, the gap between them and the rest of the forwards isn’t as severe as it could be. This is partially due to their lack of a second line right wing, but also that they use their depth players on special teams. Heinen, Donato, and Backes have seen powerplay time while Kuraly and Acciari are staples on the penalty kill. - Shawn
Not particularly unusual for a team’s top line to be a bit ahead of the team, and this is Boston, so there’s a decent gap, but not horrific. That spike for Brad Marchand a few games ago likely is indicative of the team playing from behind and counting on the Little Ball of Great a bit more than they’d like. The biggest surprise, to me, is where Danton Heinen falls on this graph - after seeing promising flashes of second-line wing from him, he’s right back in his third-line sweet spot.
The Flames also have five established players logging 19+ minutes a night right now, forwards and a mess of others. Frolik’s agent complained about his lack of usage on Twitter this week. He was always a staple with Backlund and Tkachuk (3M line) but has fallen down the lineup. -Shawn
Clearly the Flames have a top offensive unit as well, so again, not news to see a bit of a gap here. Matt Tkachuk grew on the coach as the season went on. And that dip you see in the mid-20-game range for the top forwards came at a time when it was unclear whether Calgary had the complete-team effort necessary to close out a few close games when they led in the game (and, as such, the coach figured to play their defensively-minded, offensively-challenged bottom six). That, of course, and the utter distrust of the coaching staff in Austin Czarnik, who started the season north of 12:30 per game and now hovers around 10, as well as his six fourth-line-caliber teammates. For those counting at home, that’s four too many fourth-liners on one team.
Spot the difference? Boston platoons its bottom-six, and doesn’t usually let more than one player bottom out in minutes in a single game. Calgary, meanwhile, basically runs a two-line team up front. For a quick final analogy, in their most recent games, both Calgary and Boston scored to break a tie about halfway through the third period against opponents that are generally inferior; despite these similar situations, Boston’s top line played under 20 minutes each, while Calgary’s top line played over 23 each. That’s five, maybe six extra shifts over the course of the game.
Alright, let’s take a quick lap through the defense.
Boston: fair, balanced, and definitely rookie-friendly - as long as you’re not Urho Vaakanainen post-concussion or Jakub Zboril being himself. A bit too much Kevan Miller for my taste, but when your top three get hurt, someone has to pick up the slack. (He’s all over the place with minutes here, too, so it averages out.)
While the rookie defensemen are given less minutes, the Bruins have a fairly balanced defensive core when they are healthy. Krug plays a higher percentage of powerplay minutes than any Bruin, and the other defensemen generally rotate on the penalty kill. The gap between the top four and the bottom three is quite small. -Shawn
Calga-OH MY HOLY GAWD.
For Calgary, Giordano has twice the gap to the next most used defenseman than the Bruins have from their top and bottom pairs. They give four defensemen 20+ minutes a night while limiting their bottom pair to under 16. -Shawn
Heavily reliant on top defenseman Mike Giordano has paid some dividends for Calgary, but figure the wear and tear on this workhorse: most of his shifts last about a minute, if not more; he plays at least half of the PK and well over half of the PP; and, he draws more shifts at the end of games when the Flames are on either side of a tight score because they have no other pairing to play. Dalton Prout basically broke the bottom of the chart here, and though he’s the ninth defenseman listed, he’s still gettin’ work to the tune of six minutes a game.
The prescription: To come away with a win at home, coach Bruce Cassidy will have his hands full with Calgary’s top line; and, unless he rides Patrice & Pals to 23 minutes, Gaudreau & Co. will probably score - or, at least, will have several quality chances. Where Calgary will struggle is how they choose to counter Boston’s better depth (I said better, not perfect) when they also have the unfavorable first line change on away ice.
Feel free to keep this open to these GIFs and refer back to them all day for an energy boost.
Snipin’ Sean Kuraly gives the Bruins a 3-2 lead in the Winter Classic pic.twitter.com/i8WudKuBWY— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) January 1, 2019
The reaction from Kuraly. #Bruins pic.twitter.com/us3LCyTHVp— Cristiano Simonetta (@CMS_74_) January 1, 2019