Not the very best of finishes to that Toronto-Boston game as far as the Bruins are concerned.
It’s not just that they couldn’t claw back the one-goal deficit the Leafs built in the second, it’s more that they only generated seven shots in that desperate final 20, completely counter to what had previously been a pretty strong track record of harrying Freddie Andersen.
This was another game in which the Bruins amassed a huge advantage in attempts — all situations, 5-on-5, whatever you like — but didn’t do a good enough job of getting in close on the Toronto goaltender, only about a week after it looked like he was melting down.
For this series, the Bruins have a sizable advantage in all-situations shot attempts (plus-53) and shots on goal (plus-36). But the series is tied, headed back to Boston for a decisive Game 7 despite Tuukka Rask’s guarantee. And worse, Andersen suddenly looks like Dominik Hasek in his prime.
Not to slice things too thin here, but after Andersen conceded eight on 45 in Games 1 and 2, he tightened things up to allow just nine on 141 in the next four games. This despite a Bruins onslaught in Games 3 and 5 in particular, in which the Bruins blitzed the Leafs defense for a combined 87 shots.
It must be frustrating if you’re the Bruins to run into these problems. Andersen looked as solvable as a 12-piece puzzle for toddlers, but now he’s the Gordian knot. So the question for the Bruins is what changed from Games 1 and 2 to now, and what can be done to counteract that.
For one thing, and this is a little more anecdotal, it sees like the Bruins got scared by Toronto’s ability to stretch the ice once the series shifted back to Toronto, and made some changes that made it harder for them to keep the puck in the attacking zone. You move your defense back and the forwards up, to both pressure the defenders going back in retrieval mode and keep the opposing forwards honest, and you’re giving up some puck support if you generate the turnovers you’re looking for.
Obviously it also helped that the Bruins just had every puck go in for them in the first and second games and perhaps overreacted to the Game 3 loss, despite putting 42 shots on net. But Toronto is good enough to make you pay with a stretch pass and you have to respect that, so at this point it’s more of a balancing act.
The thing is, the Bruins offense was never as potent as it looked in Games 1 and 2 (12 actual goals versus just 5.8 expected, so more than double what they “should have” scored) but certainly doesn’t deserve to be as anemic as it has been more recently (9 actual versus 11.5 expected). Part of the problem, it seems to me, is that while the Bruins have put up some big shot totals, they’re now getting a relatively smaller percentage of their shots on net, in part because Toronto is doing a pretty good job blocking attempts. Maybe it’s not the best strategy, long-term, to just have everyone laying out and letting the Bruins come to you, but this isn’t a long-term series, so why not?
In the first two games, the Bruins got a whopping 71 percent of their attempts through to the net, which is a lot. Toronto only blocked 19 of 112. Last four? Just 53 percent of Bruins attempts are getting through to Andersen, with 73 blocks on 281. Pretty helpful, it seems, to block more than 1-in-4 of all attempts, versus about 1-in-6 before that.
The thing is, if the Bruins keep putting 30-plus shots on Andersen every night, they’re likely to score more than one or two goals, right? That’s how this usually works. But they’re really not getting to the net here like they were in Games 1 and 2, and that’s reflected in the shot charts.
Again, most guys on this team are still dominating possession, but is it particularly helpful for the Bruins to go plus-19 in shot attempts with David Pastrnak on the ice if they’re only plus-2 in shots on goal (those are actual stats from Game 6)? I mean, in theory yes, but in actual practice not so much. The Bruins are getting by on thinner margins than they probably should because they can’t apply as much pressure in the offensive zone as they might like, so afraid of the stretch as they’ve become. And yeah obviously Bergeron went like plus-40 in attempts in Game 5, but there too, only plus-18 in SOG, and actually minus-2 in goals, so some of it you just chalk up to “hockey’s weird.”
“Hockey’s weird” doesn’t really work in a Game 7, though. Try telling that to fans bemoaning years of Bruce Boudreau and Alex Ovechkin “failures” even if the failures aren’t really their fault.
So something has to change. At home, with last change, in a high-pressure Game 7, you really can’t be worried about what the other team is going to do. Mike Babcock is a great coach, but he’s not so great a coach that he made an adjustment between Games 2 and 3 that is somehow impossible to unlock. This is the same team the Bruins worked in Games 1 and 2 by just pressuring up-ice to a ludicrous extent, creating turnovers and high-danger scoring chances. It should be well within the realm of possibility to get back to that.
But even if it’s for some reason not possible, if you keep attempting 70 shots a game or so, eventually one of those blocks goes off a stick just-so and beats Andersen unexpectedly. Eventually Roman Polak and Ron Hainsey see the huge amount of chances they’re conceding go in the back of the net. Eventually you just use one of the deepest forward groups in the league to edge out a slightly less-deep forward group.
Or, y’know, maybe not. That’s hockey.
All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.