Much like last week, “Player of the Week” is player of the game for the Boston Bruins, who played just once.
The Bruins didn’t look terrible in their loss against the Washington Capitals. They were generating offensive opportunities and fighting some difficult officiating, but they also struggled with turnovers and seemed to defer to the pass rather than the shot.
There were a few candidates for player of the week this week: Taylor Hall looked good again, and Brad Marchand had a bee under his bonnet.
Charlie Coyle won multiple puck battles in the offensive zone that resulted in scoring chances.
Still, there was one player that stood out above all, and that was Connor Clifton.
Cliffy Hockey: Unpredictable but effective
If you watched Saturday’s game, it was hard not to notice Clifton. At one point, color commentator Ray Ferraro explained that Clifton’s nickname, “Cliffy Hockey,” stemmed from his unpredictable yet effective play in the AHL.
Boston Globe writer Matt Porter went a little deeper back in 2019.
“In practices that preseason, his reckless rushes up the ice and catch-them-off-guard passes helped him separate him from those playing a more conventional game. He believes Providence P-Bruins teammate Kenny Agostino gave him the “Cliffy Hockey” tag, as a play on freewheeling former Texas A&M quarterback “Johnny Football” Manziel, and wizardly ex-Boston College star “Johnny Hockey” Gaudreau.”
(It’s since been revealed that Clifton himself isn’t crazy about the nickname anymore.)
That description fit Clifton’s game perfectly on Saturday.
He earned an assist on a “catch-them-off-guard” behind-the-back pass from behind the net that led directly to Nick Foligno’s second-period goal.
Was it meant to go directly to Foligno, or was it more of a cycle attempt to Taylor Hall? It doesn’t matter because the puck wound up on Foligno’s stick and in the net.
That wasn’t the only occasion in Saturday’s game where Clifton helped drive offense.
He took a first-period faceoff down the right boards, hit the post from a sharp angle, and then tried to charge through 6-foot-5 Anthony Mantha with his 5-foot-11 body for the rebound.
The Capitals might not have scored their second goal had Clifton not made a quick no-look pass to the boards, but Jakub Lauko’s panicked attempt to clear the zone by firing the puck right to Garnet Hathaway was the bigger issue on that play. And like it or not, and I’m sure many Bruins fans did like it, Clifton pasted Hathaway after the Capitals forward released the shot in his game-winning-goal.
Clifton’s physicality also helped the Bruins stay within a goal near the end of the game. He threw his entire weight against Hathaway on the backcheck and helped Jeremy Swayman by cutting off Hathaway from moving to Swayman’s glove side.
If you’re the fancy stats type, Clifton had a 51.52 Corsi-for percentage, second among defensemen to Matt Grzelcyk at 5-on-5 and led the team with an expected goals number of 1.29.
Though he is not the second coming of Tory Krug, in terms of style, he is the closest thing the Bruins have to their old blueliner. He can move the puck and hit in spite of his lower-than-average size. He’s got a decent shot and plays an exciting brand of hockey. He appears to be coming into his own this season.
Honorable Mention: Charlie McAvoy
The only thing McAvoy didn’t do against the Capitals was find the scoresheet. He generated multiple prime scoring chances for the Bruins both off the rush and on the power play.
McAvoy could’ve had multiple assists on Saturday. There were multiple occasions when he jumped down from the blue line to get open and then made beautiful centering passes to both Marchand and Hall, but neither could solve Darcy Kuemper.
Defensively, McAvoy led the Bruins with five blocked shots and had a strong expected goals percentage of 68.15 at 5-on-5.
If Hall or Marchand had been able to beat Kuemper, McAvoy might have been named up above in Clifton’s place.
Connor Clifton - 1
Taylor Hall - 1
Jeremy Swayman - 1
Linus Ullmark - 1