Pre-game preview: Round-Robin Game #2, BOS vs. TBL
Sections: Intro - Storylines - Lineups - By the Numbers - Tactics
The Bruins play Game 2 of the round-robin Wednesday at 4 pm against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins will look to get in the win column and get some momentum heading into the first round of the playoffs. This matchup features the two top regular-season teams in the East. The two teams played a spirited affair just before the pandemic caused hiatus and anything short of the Stanley Cup, or at minimum, a deep playoff run is a failure for both teams.
TOP 3 STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR
Intensity - The Bruins were criticized for their efforts in the first two bubble games. They were called rusty and sluggish. Perhaps TBL is just what is needed. This is a team the Bs hope to see late in the playoffs. Players are also likely not to forget the bad blood that spilled over in the last meeting. Fans will be elated if the Bs can match that level of engagement before the games really start to count.
Tuukka Time - Tuukka Rask will start for the Bruins after missing the previous contest while in quarantine due to a cough. Fans will be excited to know that his absence from practice and Sunday's lineup was not anything serious. Jaroslav Halak was fine filling in for the Vezina nominee on Sunday but, to paraphrase Coach Cassidy, was not able to come up with the big save when needed. The Bruins will hope Tuukka can find his form in this one and pick up where he left off in the regular season and last year's playoffs.
Offense - The Bruins have struggled to score goals, granted it's been a very small sample. Fans, media, and their head coach have criticized the players for passing up shots and trying to be too cute. The Bruins, who usually produce a healthy amount of even-strength opportunities, and finish them off with their talent, have not done so much in the early going.
Perhaps this is just a bit of bad luck, bad ice, or just trying a little too hard. Regardless, it looks like Bruce Cassidy is moving his forward lines around a bit to see if he can get things going.
Both teams have a number of high-end forwards - truly game-breaking talents who can explode for a highlight-reel goal at any moment. Overall, Tampa's depth gives them an edge with the ability to consistently score right through a 4th line featuring Patrick Maroon. The Bruins top line will need to better match Kucherov and company than they did Philly's top line. Charlie Coyle's line has the potential to be the difference makers.
Different sites report different line combinations for the Bs but it certainly looks like Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie will make their bubble debuts. We will use the projected lines from DailyFacoff.com. Ritchie is a big body willing to bang into the with a little more offensive touch than some of the other bangers. Kase adds proven offensive accomplishments into the middle-6. Time will tell how their timing and fitness are. Regardless, they will both be hungry to prove they belong in the Bruins top 9.
Victor Hedman carries Zach Bogosian around on TBLs 1st pair, a testament to just how good the Swedish defenseman is. The Bruins have better depth overall but Tampa's 3rd pair is a scary duo that can keep up with top players and feast on bottom-six talent. Both teams have very capable puck movers who will get in on the rush.
Vasilevskiy versus Rask is a great matchup and should be fun to watch. Both goalies backstop strong defensive teams and are capable of the big save when breakdowns occur with their athleticism and instincts. As tandems, these are two of the strongest in the league.
Lineups courtesy of dailyfaceoff.com
BY THE NUMBERS
Tampa Bay is a strong even strength team. They come at you in groups of 5 and seek to move the puck all over the offensive zone. They have good offensive numbers as a result. Their defensive strategy is mainly to own the puck and as such have put up good possession numbers. Their ability to manufacture good opportunities off of zone time contributes to good expected goals totals. Their high end forwards and strong depth lead to a good shooting percentage.
The Bruins are the stronger defensive team but not by a whole lot. Tampa has made efforts to reduce how much they give up and be a less high event team than in the past. With Tampa's increased focus on defense, the fact they have the puck a lot, and a dynamic offense the gaps are between these two teams at 5v5 are narrow. These are two teams who stick to their identities, utilize their talent, and can play with discipline in their systems.
For such a high powered offensive team, the Lightning's power play was middling this year. Minus Steven Stamkos, this could continue to be the case in the post-season, potentially a major impediment for Tampa's hopes. The Bruins, who keep the even-strength events down, feast on special teams and this could be where they get an edge in this matchup.
Stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com
TACTICAL KEYS TO THE GAME
The Lightning play in the offensive zone as a 5-man unit. While the defensemen start at the blue line, they become active participants in the movement of the puck. Just generally there is a lot of motion and lots of puck movement. The strong side D often rotates to the middle of the ice similar to how they might on the power play. Forwards regularly swing up towards the blue line and sometimes switch places with the D. And the weakside D regularly slides down the far side or even comes to the net. Here is an example of all that in action.
This level of player and puck movement can often be hard to defend especially as most defensive structures in the NHL right now favor pressure down low, smooshing defenders into the house, or swarming the side the puck is on. The Bruins typically play with layers that provide help for their teammates and shrink the zone.
Being disciplined and not chasing Tampa around will be very important. Likewise, not losing track of those players circling around looking to find some soft space for seam and cross-ice passes will limit the danger of chances.
What are your pre-game thoughts? Tell us in the comments.
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