Going into this series, it seemed like a pretty safe assumption that Patrice Bergeron and Pavel Datsyuk were going to match up frequently. Maybe you’d give the Bruins a slight edge there given that Datsyuk is coming back from an injury, but for the most part, you’d expect that to be a back-and-forth dogfight. Sure enough, that’s more or less how Game 1 played out — their lines went against each other pretty much every time out, and the matchup was essentially a wash until Datsyuk’s goal with 3:01 left in the game.
In theory, that matchup should have freed up the Bruins’ top line of Milan Lucic, David Krejci and Jarome Iginla to pick on Detroit’s lesser lines and banged-up defensive corps. That didn’t happen, though.
In fact, that line played one of its worst games of the season in Game 1. It went up against the trio of Gustav Nyquist, Riley Sheahan and Tomas Tatar for the majority of its shifts (thanks to shiftchart.com for the excellent data), and found itself chasing the puck most of the night. Lucic, Krejci and Iginla were able to get what should have been a favorable matchup against Detroit’s second pairing of Kyle Quincey and Danny DeKeyser — an OK, but far-from-great duo — for about half their shifts, but they never really got a chance to take advantage because of how much time they spent in their own zone.
A lot was made of Detroit’s speed going into the series, and this was really the one place that it showed. Nyquist and Tatar motored their way through the neutral zone and into the Bruins’ end time and again, with the back pressure from Krejci and company a little too late too often. From there, the cycle was on, as Boston’s top trio had to resort to chasing the puck rather than possessing it. When they did get it, they struggled to get through the neutral zone and sustain any sort of offensive pressure.
The result was Lucic, Krejci and Iginla all finishing with Corsi percentages under 40 (according to the fantastic extraskater.com), marking just the sixth time this season their possession numbers as a line have dipped that low. In near perfect symmetry, Nyquist, Sheahan and Tatar all finished with Corsi percentages over 60. If the more basic shot on goal stat is your thing, Sheahan’s line had eight, while Krejci’s line had four. It is worth mentioning, however, that Krejci’s line had arguably the Bruins’ best chance all night when Lucic tipped an Iginla shot that wound up trickling just wide about 30 seconds before Datsyuk scored.
“We thought that the game was faster than it actually was. We have to play a little bit more with the puck,” Krejci said. “We just have to hold on to the puck and make some confident plays out there and that’s pretty much it. I don’t think that we had that many offensive chances out there today.”
Obviously Boston’s defensemen are part of this equation as well, and it’s true that the Bruins’ blue line wasn’t great Friday night. But Krejci’s line didn’t play with any one pairing more than any others, and the Bruins’ second and third lines didn’t get out-possessed nearly as much as the top line. No, the constants here were Krejci’s line and Sheahan’s line.
Of course, Friday night was only one game. If these two lines match up again in Game 2, the tables could very well turn and we could be talking about how great Lucic, Krejci and Iginla played. They’re one of the best lines in the NHL, and they’re certainly capable of winning pretty much any matchup.
But if they match up again and Krejci’s line continues to struggle, Claude Julien might have to look into other options, whether it’s trying Carl Soderberg‘s line against Sheahan’s, or even taking Bergeron off Datsyuk and putting his line out there.
“It was a tight, checking game, but nonetheless, I think everybody’s got to find a way to create more,” Julien said. “And that’s going to be the challenge in this series with two teams playing really tight. So it’s about everybody working a little harder and then gaining your space and doing what you have to do here.”