Last week was probably the worst week the Boston Bruins have had during this 2022-23 season: the team lost two games in regulation in a (Sunday-Saturday) week for the first time this campaign and didn’t look particularly good doing it.
The Bruins squandered a two-goal lead against the Edmonton Oilers and went 1-1 in back-to-back matinee games versus the Detroit Red Wings, where special teams allowed two power play AND two shorthanded goals.
Still, there were a couple of reasons for positivity this week, and one was the Bruins’ fourth line, which helped swing the momentum in favor of the Bruins in their first game against Detroit.
That led to the other reason for positivity: Garnet Hathaway’s game-winning goal, which enabled the Bruins to clinch a playoff spot and break the record as the fastest team in NHL history to reach 50 wins, which makes Hathaway the player of the week.
Let’s not bury the lede: the most important part of Hathaway’s performance this week was his game-winning goal against Detroit.
His first Bruins goal of the season was the most important goal of the week and helped the Bruins secure a playoff spot before the middle of March.
It still feels crazy, but the Bruins have clinched already and become the fastest team to the 50-win mark in history.
That would not have happened without the play of the fourth line, specifically Hathaway.
After taking a centering pass from A.J. Greer, Hathaway made a short drop pass to Charlie McAvoy rather than charging up the ice with the puck into two defenders. This pass gave his linemates time to get up ice, which made a huge difference in the breakout, drawing David Perron back into the defensive zone to attack McAvoy instead of going on the backcheck.
That little pass to McAvoy helped the Bruins position themselves for a play that gave them better odds of entering the zone with possession of the puck rather than dumping it deep in the face of two defenders and forechecking.
Hathaway then flew through the neutral zone and crashed the net to gather A.J. Greer’s rebound and made a skilled play to put the puck in the net with very little space left to operate.
The play highlights just how important the Bruins’ depth is.
Today’s NHL emphasizes the importance of puck possession and zone entries. The top-six forwards on competitive NHL teams are expected to enter the zone with puck possession and speed. The third line on skilled teams (like the Bruins) aims to do it as well, but the traditional “energy line” still employs the dump-and-chase where their goal is to chase down the defenseman retrieving the puck and put him into the boards.
The Bruins’ fourth line can do that too, but they can also make plays as they did on Hathaway’s goal, which gives the Bruins quite the skill advantage.
As far as the rest of the week goes, Hathaway had a 60.87 Corsi-for, third among forwards behind David Pastrnak and linemate A.J. Greer and tied with his other linemate Tomas Nosek.
Hathaway, Nosek, and Greer were menacing all week, using physicality to grind down opponents (Hathaway led all forwards in hits with eight). Another subtle contribution for Hathaway came defensively against the Oilers.
Though the Bruins lost, they shut down Connor McNickelback and Leon Draisaitl. Hathaway and the rest of the fourth line played a role.
According to Naturalstattrick.com, he wasn’t among the Bruins’ leaders in time-on-ice against McDavid and Draisaitl (who played on separate lines for much of the game). But most of Hathaway’s ice time came against McDavid, clocking in at 3:43. He spent 3:22 against Draisaitl.
According to Natural Stat Trick’s shift chart, he only spent two of his shifts playing against Edmonton’s two superstars simultaneously (which is an even more difficult task).
To top things all off, the fourth line didn’t surrender any of the Oilers’ goals.
Overall, the fourth line had a strong week, with Hathaway leading the way. That brings me to the honorable mention category.
Honorable Mention: A.J. Greer
Other Bruins players had strong individual games but struggled mightily in others – Jake DeBrusk’s week comes to mind. Hockey is a team game, and you can’t make the argument that Hathaway and his line had the best week without including another fourth-liner as an honorable mention. Greer deserves nearly all the accolades that Hathaway received for the fourth line’s work this week.
His assist – the primary on Hathaway’s game winner – was generated on a smartly placed shot that handcuffed Magnus Hellberg. His only major mistake was an interference penalty in the first period of Sunday’s loss to the Red Wings that resulted in the first goal against.
Greer contributed to the fourth line’s physicality with four hits on the week. Beyond the scoresheet, Greer led all forwards with a 62.79 Corsi-for percentage and a 69.12 expected-goals percentage at 5-on-5.
Finally, although he didn’t factor in on either of the player of the week honors, Tomas Nosek deserves some recognition as the third member of this fourth line that will need to continue to be a strength in the playoffs if the Bruins run into a stretch of play like they did this week.
Connor Clifton - 1
Taylor Hall - 1
Garnet Hathaway - 1
Charlie McAvoy - 1
David Pastrnak - 1
Jeremy Swayman - 1
Linus Ullmark - 2