By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Boston Bruins are happy to employ the NHL’s leading goal scorer. For the past two years, they’ve also been happy to roll out what is considered by many pundits and fans to be the best line in hockey.
One might assume that this gifted goal scorer and his merry mates might be options Nos. 1, 2 and 3 whenever the Bruins head to a shootout.
One would be assuming wrong.
That much was quite evident on Tuesday night at the TD Garden, when Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy tapped the shoulder of fourth-line winger Chris Wagner to kick off the shootout.
Wagner, who has one goal in 17 games this year and has 30 goals in his 267-game NHL career, did not score.
Cassidy went with common sense for his second shooter, sending Brad Marchad onto the ice. Though Marchand did not score, sending out the second-leading goal scorer on the team and the sixth-leading goal scorer in the NHL was surely a wise decision.
In the third round of the shootout, with the Bruins needing a goal to push the contest to an extra round, Cassidy could have chosen David Pastrnak. He could have chosen David Krejci, or Patrice Bergeron. Instead he chose Charlie Coyle.
It was an interesting decision, but it paid off when Coyle beat Sam Montembeault to keep the shootout alive.
In that extra round, Mike Hoffman scored for Florida. Once again, the Bruins needed a goal to stay alive, and once again, Cassidy had the NHL’s leading goal scorer at his disposal, plus two gifted centers with loads of experience in shootouts.
Yet instead of calling upon Pastrnak, Bergeron or Krejci, Cassidy went with … Charlie McAvoy. The defenseman has zero goals in 18 games played this season, and he has 14 goals in his 135-game NHL career. Certainly, the selection of McAvoy for this do-or-die shootout round was unconventional, to say the least.
Lo and behold, McAvoy did not score, Montembeault celebrated, and a painfully embarrassing night for the Bruins was officially put in the books.
After the 5-4 shootout loss, Cassidy was asked about his unorthodox decision. The head coach said he relied on input from goaltending coach Bob Essensa.
“You know, again, Bob [Essensa] has information on that. One thing Bob suggested — we were going to use Wagner,” Cassidy said. “There was maybe more shooters than dekers against this goalie coming in, but Charlie [Coyle] scored in the shootout shooting. You know, we put Coyle in and recommended shooting. [Pastrnak] tends to like to deke, so that’s why we went away from him. He’s been a little bit cold lately in the shootout, so give some other guys an opportunity that we feel can finish. Charlie McAvoy definitely has but didn’t happen.”
After Tuesday’s loss, here’s how the four skaters have fared in their careers in the shootout.
CAREER SHOOTOUT STATS
Chris Wagner: 0-for-1, 0%
Brad Marchand: 9-for-40, 22.5%
Charlie Coyle: 6-for-18, 33%
Charlie McAvoy: 2-for-5, 40%
McAvoy was 2-for-3 as a rookie, but failed to score in his lone shootout attempt last season. Still, that early success provided some basis for Cassidy to believe in the young D-man. Coyle’s success, too, helped explain why that decision in a vacuum was sensible and smart.
And, of course, the shootout was merely one aspect of this collapse, which was historic. Tuukka Rask let in not one, not two, but three soft goals in the third period, which eliminated any and all room for error for the Bruins. And with less than two minutes left to play, four Bruins skated right on through past Boston’s crease, leaving the puck sitting untouched in the slot. Keith Yandle swooped in and scored to send the game to OT.
Taking five third-period penalties, allowing a trio of soft goals, breaking down defensively in the final minutes while “protecting” a one-goal lead, and allowing two shootout goals on four attempts would all rank higher than Cassidy’s shootout selections on the list of reasons why the Bruins only got one standing point instead of two.
Yet the decision to keep the backsides of Pastrnak, Krejci and Bergeron on the bench in favor of Wagner still stands as a curious choice.
CAREER SHOOTOUT STATS
David Pastrnak: 3-for-19, 15.8%
Patrice Bergeron: 17-for-68, 25%
David Krejci: 13-for-45, 28.9%
Pastrnak certainly hasn’t been great in the shootout, but he’s better than Wagner … and he scored his NHL-leading 16th goal of the season earlier in the night. As Cassidy noted, Pastrnak is a “little cold lately in the shootout,” which is true. He’s 0-for-5 since the start of last season, after scoring on three of his nine attempts from 2016-18.
Once a reliable shootout scorer, Bergeron is on a much longer cold streak. The Bruins’ alternate captain has not scored a shootout goal since the 2014-15 season. He went 0-for-11 from 2015-19, and he’s yet to take a shootout attempt this season.
Krejci is in a similar boat, too. He has not scored in a shootout since the 2015-16 season, and he went 0-for-4 from 2016-19. Like Bergeron, he’s yet to take a shootout attempt this season.
Those two veterans have clearly played a role in the Bruins’ shootout struggles over the years. Since the 2013-14 season, the Bruins are 18-30 in shootouts. They’ve scored on just 19.2 percent of their attempts, which ranks dead last in the NHL over that span. It’s startling to see that 18-30 record, considering the Bruins’ .754 save percentage in shootouts since 2013 is the third-best mark in the NHL.
This year, the Bruins are now 0-3 in the shootout. They’ve scored one goal in 11 chances, while allowing four goals on 10 attempts.
Taking all of that together, the Coyle and McAvoy decisions make plenty of sense. As for Wagner over Pastrnak (who, one last time, leads the NHL in goals this season)? Chalk that one up to being a hunch gone wrong.