Grzelcyk’s absence would be significant for Bruins

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Matt Grzelcyk isn’t one of the household names on the Boston Bruins’ defense, but do not let that take away from just how important he has become for the team.

That importance was on display for much of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final on Wednesday night when he wasn’t available following a hit from St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. Sundqvist is facing a suspension for the hit, while the Bruins announced on Thursday that Grzelcyk is listed as “day-to-day” as he enters the concussion protocol.

He is also not making the trip to St. Louis with the team on Thursday, leaving his status for Games 3 and 4 of the series very much in doubt.

This would be a problem for the Bruins.

First, Grzelyck has developed into one of the more underrated players on the Bruins’ roster due to his ability to skate and move the puck. He may not be one of their big-minute players or one of their top point producers, but he is excellent when it comes to starting the rush out of the defensive zone and breaking down the opposing forecheck, an area where St. Louis feasted in Game 2, and especially after Grzelcyk exited the game.

“Losing the 15 to 16 minutes of [Grzelcyk’s] time, he’s a good puck mover and a guy that can break down a forecheck when he’s on,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy following the Game 2 loss.

“The forecheck was a strength of theirs tonight and a weakness of ours — breaking pucks out. [Grzelcyk] is good at the big escape and the big clean pass to get our forwards moving. We lost some of that element.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just to get a sense for how good Grzelcyk is at helping the Bruins move the puck and transition to the offensive zone, there is not a defender on the team that starts a higher percentage of their shifts in the defensive zone. Despite those tough assignments he is still one of their best defenders when it comes to shot attempt differential, scoring chance differential, and high-danger scoring chance differential. In other words, they are still creating more offense than their opponents when he is on the ice even though he is consistently being put into defensive situations, furthest away from the attacking net.

“He’s been fantastic,” said Brandon Carlo, one of Grzelcyk’s many defense partners in the playoffs.

“Obviously he’s gotten some pucks in the net here in the playoffs and brought that offensive presence. Have lot of respect for the way he plays. He’s very responsible offensively. I’ve had the opportunity to be played with him at times, and it makes the game a lot easier for his partner, just with the way he sees the ice and moves the puck.”

If he is not available the Bruins not only have to replace his spot (with either John Moore or Steve Kampfer) but there is also the potential trickle down impact that comes with him not being there. The Bruins have rolled their three defense pairings fairly evenly throughout the playoffs, and losing Grzelcyk’s minutes could put more pressure on some of the other blue liners that aren’t quite as effective as he is when it comes to moving the puck.

Charlie McAvoy and Torey Krug are impact players and make plays in all three zones, but there is a pretty sharp drop-off on the rest of the defense when it comes to that aspect of the game. If either Moore or Kampfer were better than Grzelcyk, they would be playing over him, so there is obviously going to be some sort of a drop when it comes to his replacement. Zdeno Chara isn’t quite what he was years ago, and while Carlo is a strong defensive player he has some limitations when it comes to making plays with the puck on his stick.

The positive news for the Bruins is that dealing with injuries to significant players is not a new thing for them over the past two years. Just about all of their best players have missed an extended period of time (often times together) and they have still managed to keep winning games. It is a testament to the depth they have assembled and the job that Cassidy and his staff have done behind the bench.

But this isn’t some random stretch in the middle of November. This is the Stanley Cup Final where there is little margin for error, you are playing a great team every night, and that opposing coaching staff is doing far more intense scouting and game-planning that is designed to exploit whatever weakness you have.

If Grzelcyk is forced to miss time, that could prove to be a significant weakness that the Blues might be able to exploit.

Blues-Bruins Game 3 is Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN and the NBC Sports app.

MORE:
Blues’ Sundqvist facing hearing for Grzelcyk hit
Sundqvist only gets minor penalty for hit

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

PHT Morning Skate: Devils should clean house; Could Hall go back to Oilers?

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Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The Bruins are the best team in the NHL right now, but their fortunes may change soon enough. (Sportsnet)

• The NHLPA is covering up a theft of over $100,000 union funds. (TSN)

• The Devils should clean house after this season. (All About the Jersey)

Marcus Johansson is frustrated by the struggles he’s been having this season. (Buffalo Hockey Beat)

• Snoop Dogg is making an appearance in the NHL 20 video game. (Operation Sports)

• How has Sheldon Keefe changed the Maple Leafs? (The Score)

• There’s a few reasons why the Flyers had so much success in November. (Yahoo)

• The Edmonton Oilers are interested in Taylor Hall, but they will probably be outbid. (Edmonton Journal)

• The St. Louis Blues are gaining strength through injury adversity. (St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

• The Habs have lose nine of their last 10 games. Is it time for them to rebuild? (Spector’s Hockey)

• What is the true value of a fifth-round draft pick? (Japers Rink)

• Gus Katsaros explains how defensemen are evolving with the times. (Rotoworld)

• The Red Wings are looking to have fun during this tough stretch. (MLive)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

The Buzzer: First place Coyotes; Zuccarello leads Wild to another win

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Three Stars

1. Mats Zuccarello, Minnesota Wild. After a pretty miserable start to the season the Wild are starting to get back on track and picked up their fifth win in a row on Thursday by beating the Tampa Bay Lightning, 5-4. Zuccarello was the big star for the Wild with three points (his first three-point game of the season) including the game-winner in the third period. His goal came just eight seconds after Tampa Bay’s Alex Killorn had tied the game. Things looked bleak for the Wild’s playoff chances in the first month of the season, but their win on Thursday moved them — at least temporarily — into the second wild card spot in the Western Conference.

2. Phil Kessel, Arizona Coyotes. And which team sits on top of the Pacific Division after Thursday’s action? It is none other than the Arizona Coyotes thanks to their 3-1 win in Philadelphia. They have been road warriors this season and now own a 10-3-3 record over their first 16 away games. They used a two-goal effort from Kessel — as well as another great goaltending performance — on Thursday to get their latest win. Kessel has yet to make the big offensive impact the Coyotes were hoping for this season, but he tends to score goals in bunches and maybe this is the start of one of those runs. Arizona is back in action on Friday when Kessel makes his first return to Pittsburgh since the Penguins traded him over the summer.

3. Alexandar Georgiev, New York Rangers. Artemi Panarin scored the game-winning goal in his return to Columbus, but the biggest difference maker for the Rangers in their 3-2 win was their goalie. Georgiev was sensational, stopping 45 out of 47 shots in helping to steal one for the blue shirts. Read all about that game here.

Other notable performances from Thursday

  • Petr Mrazek had an eventful night for the Carolina Hurricanes in their 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks. He stopped a lot of shots, picked up a shootout win, and got punched in the face. Read all about it here.
  • Joe Pavelski scored the overtime winner for the Dallas Stars in their 3-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets.
  • The Chicago Blackhawks let a 3-0 third period lead slip away in Boston against the Bruins, but Jonathan Toews bailed them out in overtime with the game-winning goal.
  • Milan Lucic was finally able to get his first goal of the season for the Calgary Flames. It turned out to be the game-winning goal in a 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.
  • Matt Calvert had a goal and an assist for the Colorado Avalanche in their 3-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens.

Highlights of the Night

The Wild looked like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Lightning looked like the Washington Generals on this Jason Zucker goal.

The Colorado Avalanche have their top line back together, and Gabriel Landeskog wasted no time in making an impact in his return to the lineup.

Maybe this is the shot that gets Johnny Gaudreau rolling for the Calgary Flames.

Blooper of the Night

Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk accidentally hip-checked a referee in their 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres.

Factoids

  • It was a highly competitive night around the league with eight of the nine games being decided by a single goal, including four overtime games. The only game decided by more than one goal was Arizona’s 3-1 win over Philadelphia, and even that was a one-goal game until a late empty-net goal from Kessel. [NHL PR]
  • Thanks to Ryan Pulock‘s overtime goal the New York Islanders extended their point streak on home ice to 12 games. [NHL PR]
  • Jonathan Toews’ overtime goal in Boston was the 14th of his career in the regular season, moving him into a tie for 10th place on the NHL’s all-time list. [NHL PR]

Scores

Chicago Blackhawks 4, Boston Bruins 3 (OT)
Colorado Avalanche 3, Montreal Canadiens 2
Minnesota Wild 5, Tampa Bay Lightning 4
New York Islanders 3, Vegas Golden Knights 2 (OT)
Arizona Coyotes 3, Philadelphia Flyers 1
Carolina Hurricanes 3, San Jose Sharks 2 (SO)
New York Rangers 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Dallas Stars 3, Winnipeg Jets 2 (OT)
Calgary Flames 4, Buffalo Sabres 3

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Mrazek gets punched in mask by Thornton; leads Hurricanes to win

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It was an eventful night for Carolina Hurricanes goalie Petr Mrazek.

When it comes to the important stuff — stopping pucks to prevent goals and get a win — he was about as good as he could have possibly been by turning aside 28 out of 30 shots throughout regulation and overtime, as well as all three shots he faced in a shootout, to help lift his team to a 3-2 win over the San Jose Sharks and bust out of a mini-slump that had seen them lose three of their previous four.

He also had a run-in with Sharks forward Joe Thornton that saw him get punched squarely in the mask.

It all started mid-way through the second period when Thornton attempted to jab at the puck that Mrazek had covered in the crease. Mrazek, taking exception to that jab, then chased after Thornton, swung his stick at the back of Thornton’s leg, stood up to get in his face … then got punched.

There were penalties handed out here, with Thornton getting two minutes each for roughing and slashing, while Mrazek was given a two-minute minor for slashing.

Mrazek was asked after the game if it is tough getting back into the game and maintaining focus after a scrum like that, and he was quick to say that’s actually better for him because it makes him feel like he is in the game.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

Panarin scores in return to Columbus, helps Rangers steal one

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Artemi Panarin was back in Columbus on Thursday night for the first time since leaving the Blue Jackets to join the New York Rangers in free agency this past summer.

After hearing some early boos from the local crowd, Panarin ended up getting the last laugh and was the difference maker by scoring the game-winning goal in the third period of the Rangers’ 3-2 win.

Panarin was the Blue Jackets’ best player for two years and one of the biggest reasons they made the playoffs both years, finally winning their first playoff series a year ago when they upset the heavily favorite Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.

This is the video tribute the Blue Jackets had prepared for Panarin on Thursday.

So far his time with the Rangers has been everything the team’s management could have hoped for, and with his goal on Thursday is now up to 13 goals and 34 points on the season in his first 27 games.

What has to be especially frustrating for the Blue Jackets in this one isn’t just the fact that Panarin came back to haunt them by scoring the game-winning goal, but they were probably the better team in this game and played well enough to win. They ended up dominating the pace of the game and outshot the Rangers by a 47-19 margin and spent the entire night taking up residence in the Rangers’ end of the rink.

The problem was Alexander Georgiev was a rock in the Rangers’ net.

They also gave up a crushing goal to Brendan Lemieux in the closing seconds of the first period, erasing what had been a 1-0 lead and squandering what was a tremendous start to the game.

The win allowed the Rangers to keep pace in the Eastern Conference playoff race and leaves them just three points back of a Wild Card spot.

The Blue Jackets fall to 11-13-4 and are already eight points back.

Related: Rangers’ Panarin returns to Columbus the way he left: as a superstar

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.