Pre-game preview: Round-Robin Game #3, BOS vs. WSH
Sections: Intro - Storylines - Lineups - By the Numbers - Tactics
The Bruins have yet to win a game since March. The final round-robin game against the Washington Capitals is the last chance for them to get in sync before the knockout round. The team played a much better game against Tampa but still had some holes and still continue to try and figure out how to optimize their lineup. The winner of this game gets the glowing distinction of 3rd seed, ironic given both were division leaders and slated as 1st and 2nd before the pause. But it's 2020 and 3rd seed still sounds pretty good given, you know, the world. Let's get to the pre-game preview.
TOP 3 STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR
Ondrej Kase - Kase was brought in from Anaheim to flank David Krejci. Head coach Bruce Cassidy and GM Don Sweeney have both made that pretty clear. It's been evident in the round-robin that there is room for improvement om Krejci's right. Jack Studnicka played to mixed reviews. Head coach Bruce Cassidy slid Jake Debrusk over to play with Charlie Coyle for a game, an experiment with poor early returns. Karson Kuhlman has done his thing but is likely more suited for a supporting role in the playoffs. How Kase performs will go a long way in dictating the optimal lineup and hopefully lead to production from the middle-6. That might be a big ask for a guy who just barely got back on the ice in full practice mere days ago.
Puck Management - Cassidy continues to hammer home the concept of puck management. It was better in game 2 with fewer pizzas up the middle or careless rims under pressure. However, late in the game, the team failed to do a good job of making simple plays to gain territorial advantage. They also failed to stay above their checks and the two combined allowed Tampa to get on the attack in transition and eventually take the decisive lead. The Bs are a team that succeeds in many ways because of their disciplined puck management. They will need to find a way to do it well for a full 60 minutes.
Power Play - The Bruins power play has been a key to its 2019-20 success. Thus far they are 0 for 7. The Bruins did get some chances against the Lightning and looked much more dangerous than they did against the Flyers. During the regular season though, the team attempted 103 shots and had an expected goals rate of 7.38 for every 60 minutes. In the round-robin thus far they are attempting a similar number of shots, 107, but have only produced 5.32 expected goals per 60 minutes. This may be a product of having more shots blocked than usual. At this point, 0 for 7 should not be seen as a cause for panic. But getting the powerplay going with more shots getting to the net and one or two finding the twine would be a huge confidence booster for the team. Getting their names on the scoresheet may also help jumpstart the Bs top line.
The Capitals top line doesn't grade out quite as it used to even with #8 continuing to be one of the best wingers in the game. In a head to head matchup of first lines, the Bs should have an advantage. However, the Capitals have incredible depth in their forward group. Remember Ilya Kovalchuk? Yea, he plays on the Caps and lines up next to Lars Eller, a great player to have at 3C. The Caps 4th line has had a great season for them as well. The middle 6 is really an issue right now for the Bruins and where they may struggle against WSH. The lineup may look different than above as Cassidy continues to try and find the ideal combinations. Perhaps Ondrej Kase will be a difference-maker once inserted next to David Krejci on Sunday now that he is finally fit to play.
John Carlson is currently listed as day to day and his absence from the lineup is a massive hole. The Caps are not deep on defense exacerbating his absence. With Dillon and Gudas having to play up in the lineup the Bruins may be able to take advantage of players who are a little more plodding and are not the most adept puck movers. The Bruins boast a strong D core but since the restart, only the third pair has posted above 50% of the shot attempts, and all three pairs are well below 50% in expected goals over the first two games back.
Braden Holtby has struggled this year and Ilya Samsonov is "unfit to play". Holtby performed just okay against Tampa and Philly. He does have a playoff track record over the years. Expect Rask to start again after a good performance against the same Tampa Bay team. He too has a quality postseason record.
Lineups courtesy of dailyfaceoff.com
BY THE NUMBERS
The Capitals are fascinating to examine from an advanced stats point for two reasons. First, they have been an outlier over the years frequently achieving better results than the underlying results would suggest. They were a team with dynamic players who could outscore expectations. They also rarely forced shots or opportunities relying on high percentage plays over just simply funneling the puck to the net. Second, they continue to have some of these attributes but saw significant improvement this year in Corsi (shot attempts) and expected goals percentage. This is odd because many don't feel they are as strong a team as year's past despite those numbers. Goaltending at 5v5 could be the main reason they haven't lived up to the numbers but it's also hard not to wonder about an aging core and a weaker defensive group.
The Bruins grade out better on the defensive side of the puck as they do against most teams. Overall the percentages are pretty close in Corsi, expected goals, and high danger chances. The Bruins save percentage seem to give them the overall edge between the two teams.
The Capitals have been known for years for their lethal powerplay. This year it was not, a middling 17th overall. In contrast, the Bruins have been lights out over the season though they have been 0-for since the restart. Both teams have strong penalty kills.
Stats courtesy of naturalstattrick.com
TACTICAL KEYS TO THE GAME
In doing some research and prep for this game I came across two great articles from NOVA Capitals HERE and HERE. The first article looks at systemic changes the Caps made this year which might also explain some of the statistical shifts we noted above. The Caps have become more aggressive moving the puck 'fast' up ice and getting the puck to the net. They also have become more aggressive in trying to take away space defending on other teams through the neutral zone in order to spur their counter-attack. Here is an example of that quick attack and moving the puck fast and up ice.
Notice Ovechkin immediately gets up ice. Another wrinkle to note is how often the Caps try and move the puck across the width of the ice. Moving the puck across the ice, known as the royal road passes, increases the difficulty for the goaltender and creates higher percentage shots. For the Bs, this means being aware of Washington players 'flying' the zone and getting up ice. It also means an emphasis on taking away cross-ice passing lanes.
However, there is a real advantage for the Bruins with the Caps aggressive approach this year. As article 2 points out, it can lead to a number of odd-man rushes against, something Philly took advantage of on Thursday in their 3-1 win. This perhaps explains some of Braden Holtby's struggles this year. If the Bs manage the puck well as Coach Cassidy continues to emphasize, they could find themselves with a number of 2v1s and 3v2s against the Capitals beleaguered goaltender.
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