Matt Grzelcyk’s departure from Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final at the hands of Oskar Sundqvist was an unfortunate literal and figurative hit that the Boston Bruins certainly didn’t need to deal with.
While the hit resulted in a penalty, the Bruins failed to capitalize on the man-advantage and would eventually fall in overtime to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 3-2.
It wasn’t just the fact that the Bruins couldn’t score on the ensuing power play or the fact that they lost the game that feels so jarring. Instead, it’s the fact that the team simply couldn’t rally for their teammate who clearly suffered a concussion on the play – something that was confirmed later when he was placed in concussion protocol according to Bruins’ head coach Bruce Cassidy.
This Bruins team has dealt with injuries all season long and they’ve been able to cope with that one way or another. Part of that has come down to every single player on the roster player as a cohesive unit not just for themselves or the fans, but for each other.
When Grzelcyk went down, the Bruins could have used that as fuel to spark a resurgence akin to what we’ve seen them do in the past this season and most notably to what the Bruins did when Nathan Horton was knocked out of the 2011 Stanley Cup Final.
The Bruins may not have stepped up to the plate in Game 2 but the opportunity is there moving forward for them to show Grzelcyk that his injury will have not come in vain, even if there’s a chance he can return sooner than anyone expected at the time the hit occurred.
Grzelcyk’s Absence Will Test Bruins
This series already promised to be a hard one even with Grzelcyk in the lineup but his absence will be felt given his importance to the team. While his injury could help spark some energy, there’s no doubt it will be an uphill battle for those dawning the Spoked-B.
It may seem like hyperbole given the fact that Grzelcyk is a bottom-pairing defender on the Bruins and the fact that this team has won games without Zdeno Chara and Charlie McAvoy during this playoff run already. Still, it would be a disservice to Grzelcyk to not put him in the same class as those two players as far as value goes for the Bruins blue line.
This postseason, Grzelcyk has averaged 16:22 of ice time, the ninth most of any skater on the Bruins roster behind McAvoy, Chara, Brandon Carlo, Torey Krug, Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and David Pastrnak.
When considering the names he’s following, it’s pretty clear to see that Grzelcyk is right up there with some of the more known names in Boston.
In 19 games this postseason, the Boston-native has scored three goals and seven points and has been one of their best players as far as just about every advanced metric is concerned. While he’s been an analytical darling, he’s also passed the eye test with flying colors and has garnered the respect and admiration of an entire fan base.
While Grzelcyk has done a great job in Boston, he hasn’t been given the easiest opportunity to create the chances he has for the Bruins. With that, it’s important to take a look at his usage.
Bruins Will Miss Grzelcyk’s Versatility
Cassidy has done his best to use players where they’re best suited for action, to put that in context, Krug and Carlo, who skate on a pairing together, have not started all of their five-on-five shifts together. Krug, an offensive-minded defender, has started 61.6% of his shifts in the offensive zone. Carlo, on the other hand, a defensive-minded player, has started 54.9% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
Grzelcyk has started even more of his five-on-five shifts in the defensive zone than Carlo, starting 55.3% of them in his own end while still putting up such impressive possession totals.
Interestingly enough, despite Grzelcyk starting the majority of his shifts in the defensive zone, he actually ranks seventh on the team in total shot attempts. He also ranks seventh in percentage of shot attempts on goal, ahead of players like Marchand, Charlie Coyle, Marcus Johansson, David Krejci, Krug, McAvoy and others.
In general, Grzelcyk is a jack of all trades, master of none. He works well at both blue lines as far as zone exits and zone entries go and he’s an effective puck-mover while also accurate as far as taking his own shots are concerned.
The Bruins won’t get anywhere near the same level of production or reliability with players like John Moore and Steven Kampfer in their lineup in place of Grzelcyk, but that doesn’t mean they won’t still succeed.
Bruins Depth is Already War-Tested
As mentioned, the Bruins have depth with a comical amount of injuries throughout both the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons and finished with 112 and 107 points respectively in those two seasons. That hasn’t happened by accident as this team has found a way to compete and win games regardless of who is playing in their lineup.
As important as Grzelcyk is to this team, they’ve dealt with injuries to Bergeron, Pastrnak, McAvoy, Chara and many other players who are considered superstars around the NHL. This is just another test for their depth and especially their resiliency as they look to show the Blues that one injury won’t stop them.
As it stands, Grzelcyk is being listed as day-to-day with this injury. This is good news for the Bruins who can take this series game-by-game with hopes that No. 48 can return sooner than later at full health.
If he can’t return, though, the Bruins can’t let that be their downfall. Instead, it should be their motivation.