“Go to the net and good things will happen.”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before…
The “simple approach” is something that has eluded the Boston Bruins for the majority of this young season. With injuries and inexperience defining the early portions of the campaign, the team has struggled to consistently gel, be it in the form of generating legitimate scoring opportunities or preventing them.
When that’s the case, a team is always well-suited to get back to basics; something head coach Bruce Cassidy mentioned following the team’s second consecutive loss to Colorado:
The third period [in Colorado] we scored two goals and I don’t think we did anything spectacular other than win pucks, go to the net and be belligerent there. If that’s what it takes to get going, that’s what it takes sometimes to score goals in this league. There are pretty goals and there are goals like that. If we can carry that attitude going forward that we’re going to be hard to play against in front of their net then I think things are going to loosen up for us and we’ll get rewarded. But that’s something where [the players] have to take that mindset on the ice.
Bruce Cassidy (Joe Haggerty, NBCSportsBoston) October 14, 2017
The mindset of which Cassidy spoke was once again absent during Boston’s 3-1 defeat at the hands of the Vegas Golden Knights. However, one player has played with that mindset since the campaign first commenced. Set to dress in his 100th NHL contest Thursday, Tim Schaller, to this point, has done everything that’s been asked of him.
Work Boots & Lunch-Pail
With so many of his teammates playing ineffective, even casual hockey, Schaller’s effort and purpose have been on full display. North-South, no-nonsense hockey. He’s been hard on pucks and goes to the net like it’s his job…because it is.
Re-signed this past offseason to a one-year, $775,000 contract to compete for a bottom six (fourth-line, specifically) role, he has done just that – compete. One of the prevailing narratives throughout the offseason and preseason was the sheer amount of bodies competing for just several vacant roster spots. Injuries aside, you wouldn’t know that was the case with the way some of Boston’s “fringe” players have looked thus far.
Averaging just under 14 minutes per game, he’s one of just four Bruins with multiple goals. He’s one of just five Bruins without a negative plus/minus. His nine shots on goal also place him fifth on the team, ahead of David Krejci, Anders Bjork, Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano; all players relied upon for their offense more than Schaller. Furthermore, for you analytics nerds, his Corsi and Fenwick numbers lead the way for ALL Bruins forwards. Even ones named Brad and David. Not bad for a guy starting 78% of his shifts in the defensive zone.
He leads all Bruins forwards in hits with ten and is even winning more than 50% of his faceoffs – his ability to play center and take draws as a lefty in a lineup dominated by right-handed centers serves as a nice ancillary benefit to his deployment.
There isn’t much flash to Schaller’s game. But, right now, his no-frills approach has yielded better results than that of many of his more “talented” teammates.
Know Your Role
There could be a simple explanation for why Schaller has to this point succeeded where so many of his teammates have not: He knows his role.
Players young and old alike are consistently reminded to “play to their strengths.” More often than not, that’s sound advice, reminding younger skilled players to continue to shoot in the face of stiffer competition. But, what happens when those chances are coming from farther out, or are more contested than a player is accustomed to?
Well, we’ve seen it firsthand through five games, as the vast majority of the team’s chances don’t even approach the Grade-A variety.
Players like Tim Schaller know their strengths. Better yet, they know their limitations. Skating his butt off, being physical, and crashing the net got him to this level, and he knows it’s what will keep him there.
That’s something that used to drive my father crazy watching Milan Lucic. After slumps ranging from moderate to severe, “Looch” would once again start moving his feet, banging bodies and crashing the net. Lo and behold, the goals would follow, sometimes in bunches. After potting a few in just several games he’d start dangling at the top of the circles again like he was Patrick Kane, turning his back on the factors that led to his resurgence. And once again the production would dry up.
Related: Bruins Not Panicking…Yet
Do Your Job
Boston did all the little things right offensively in their season-opening win. They failed to duplicate that effort in either of their subsequent contests and lost both games. Those two losses were followed by a return to form against Arizona, and they left the desert with six goals and a win. They failed to replicate that effort the following night and were held scoreless by an old friend for 59-plus minutes in another frustrating loss.
Notice a pattern?
Schaller’s two goals share two significant similarities: They were both scored from inside the blue paint, and both swung momentum in their respective contests. His first of the year pulled Boston to within two of Colorado, and was immediately followed by another grimy goal, courtesy of Torey Krug. His second tally came just moments after Arizona pulled within two, assuring there would be no late-game collapse like the one that nearly wiped-out 50 minutes of excellent hockey against Nashville.
The New Hampshire native is unlikely to continue scoring two goals every five games. However, his play (goals aside) has been exemplary for a Bruins team struggling with consistency. This is the kind of guy whose play TRULY shines in the playoffs, when all of the game’s intricacies are in the spotlight.
He just needs the rest of his team to help him get there.