Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: TD Garden, Boston
Opponent SBNation Site: Stanley Cup of Chowder
It was a matchup of little offense last night when the Bolts beat the Sabres 2-0. Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded the shutout and the sole two goals came from defensemen Mikhail Sergachev and Dan Girardi. The Lightning now look to close out their four-game road trip with a match at TD Garden.
The Bruins have had a multitude of outcomes this year. It’s a team that’s hard to pinpoint. Besides the likes of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron, the Bruins are struggling offensively and currently sit 25th in the league in goals per game. However their penalty kill is within the top five of the game, and will provide difficulty for a worn-out Bolts roster.
The Bruins mustered a four-game win streak with Anton Khudobin in goal, pushing their record to 10-7-4. Their loss to the Oilers last Sunday leaves the team rested and ready to resume their recent success. The Lightning’s six-day road trip, as opposed to the Bruins homestand, offers up a noticeable disadvantage, but at this rate it’s hard to count the Bolts out in any situation.
Five questions with Jake Reiser of Stanley Cup of Chowder
Raw Charge: Tell us more about Charlie McAvoy. He really stormed onto the scene in the playoffs last year and he's looking like the solid right-handed defenseman that the Bruins blue line needed.
Jake: You’re absolutely right that McAvoy is the right-handed defenseman the B’s have needed for a looooong time. He has incredible skating awareness, and paired with his intuitive passing, he’s created great scoring chances for Bruins forwards. He’s learning when to jump into the play and when to hang back, but his defensive skills are on point. He uses his big frame, the aforementioned skating, and a smart stick to handle some of the best opposing players in the game. I also had the fortune to have watched him from his first season at Boston University, and his maturity on and off the ice has certainly developed him into a stud.
RC: Why is Tuuka Rask struggling so much this season? Is there something specific that he's not doing well or is he just the victim of bad luck? And has Anton Khudobin really turned the corner as an NHL goalie or is this just a small sample size of playing well?
Jake: Honestly, if we knew why Tuukka Rask was struggling so much this season, we’d march straight to head coach Bruce Cassidy and goalie coach Bob Essensa and show them how to fix Rask’s problems. It might be back luck; he’s given up some soft goals, but it’s also a product of having an injured team in front of him who haven’t been able to get that next goal, in Cassidy’s words. Could the team just be more comfortable with Khudobin in net right now? Yes, and that’s fair, he plays a style of hockey reminiscent of the Tim Thomas era of Bruins hockey. Still, there’s no reason to think Rask won’t turn it around soon, and with the team slowly but surely getting all of its pieces back, it might all come together for the first time this season.
RC: It feels like Chara has been 40 years old for the past five years, but he only turned 40 last March. How is his skating holding up and do you think there's a possibility that he'll keep playing after his contract is up this season?
Jake: His skating is holding up surprisingly well for being 40, and that’s as much a product of his own work on and off the ice as the players he gets paired with during games. The reason he looks so good is because younger guys like Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy are taking the brunt of the skating, leaving Chara the ability to sit back and make smart plays behind these offensively-focused guys. Zee certainly isn’t the shutdown force he was when younger, but he’s really been able to adapt his game to the new NHL with the guys he’s paired up with on a daily basis.
RC:How does it feel to have one of your three consecutive first round picks from 2015 contributing at the NHL level now?
Jake: Unfortunately, DeBrusk won’t be playing in tonight’s bout for what feels like a forever injured Bruins squad, but it’s extremely gratifying to see one of those three picks contributing at the NHL level. Don Sweeney might still get ragged on for not taking guys like Matt Barzal (who is certainly contributing at the NHL level too), Kyle Connor, or Brock Boeser (who came out of that draft too and he’s lighting it up with Vancouver), but DeBrusk scoring certainly means a lot for the future of the franchise.
He’s becoming a lot smarter out there, taking lessons from team veterans to heart, even taking a healthy scratch the right way and coming out firing once he found his way back into the lineup. Once this team is completely healthy, he’s done enough to take spots away from guys like Matt Beleskey and Frank Vatrano, making the forwards corps feel as deep as ever.
RC: Who’s been the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment of the season thus far?
Jake: The biggest surprise by far this season is Anton Khudobin. He’s matched his win total from all of last season already, and so far, shows no signs of slowing down. Backup goaltending has been one of the toughest weak points of the Bruins as of late, the last stellar one being Chad Johnson in 2013-14.
Since then, Niklas Svedberg, Malcolm Subban, Zane McIntyre, Jonas Gustavsson, and even Khudobin himself last season couldn’t stand tall to the task. With Rask’s struggles, seeing Dobby be a free elf and step up to the plate is the biggest difference between Boston being on the playoff bubble or in the basement with Buffalo.
The biggest disappointment is Matt Beleskey, the $3.8 million healthy scratch night in and night out. He reportedly did work in the offseason to try and elevate his game, but he’s being outplayed by the young guns of the squad, and only sees time really when the injuries feel that tremendous. For what he’s being paid, you would think he’d find a way to differentiate his game, he could very easily slot in as a Milan Lucic-esque big body screen in front, hammering rebounds home as they come.
Frankly, that’d be the best spot to put him in, along with two speedy guys who can cover his skating. For now, he sits in the press box until called upon, but something has to happen with Beleskey, and fast. Our managing editor Dan wrote a great piece on this conundrum, which you can read here!
RC: Thank you for your insight, Jake!
Boston looks pretty good in terms of shot quantity but not very good at all in shot quality, particularly defensively. They’ve been giving up dangerous shots in the last ten games especially. With the Lightning’s offensive talent, that could prove to be a problem for Boston and also offer an opportunity for the Bolts to rediscover the finish they showed earlier in the season.
Both teams have strong penalty kills but the Lightning have a clear advantage on the power play. Tampa’s power play should be competitive tonight; they will put their dangerous power play up against Boston’s impressive penalty kill unit. Overall, Tampa has been the better team so far this season, but on the second night of a road back to back with Budaj in net, they’ll need to play better than they have in the last few games to earn two more points on the road.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Forward Lines (mostly from yesterday):
Vladislav Namestnikov — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn — Tyler Johnson — ?
Chris Kunitz —Cedric Paquette — Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman — Anton Stralman
Mikhail Sergachev — Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn — Dan Girardi
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak
Jake DeBrusk - Riley Nash - Tim Schaller
Danton Heinen - Jordan Szwarz - Anders Bjork
Matt Beleskey - Sean Kuraly - Frank Vatrano
Zdeno Chara - Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug - Charlie McAvoy
Kevan Miller - Paul Postma