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A battle of D: Previewing defensive pairings between the Blue Jackets and Bruins

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The Blue Jackets’ defense will need to be clutch against the Bruins in second round.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Columbus Blue Jackets Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Well, it’s been a while but the Columbus Blue Jackets will be back to playing meaningful hockey tonight as they travel to take on the Boston Bruins. Yesterday, we previewed the forwards, and the goaltenders, of the Blue Jackets and Bruins. Today we take a look at the defensive parings for these two clubs.

There are many advanced stats that can tell you how well, or not, a player is performing. Consider the following: The Blue Jackets shut down the Lightning’s prolific offensive in the Quarterfinals, out scoring the Bolts 19-8, while limiting such scoring threats including regular-season leading scorer, the Art Ross winner, Nikita Kucherov (two assists), 45-goal scorer Steven Stamkos (one goal, one assist), and 41 goal scorer, Brayden Point (one goal).

The defense for the Blue Jackets combined for 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) to the Lightning’s eight goals. If you’re curious, Boston’s defense, in their series against the Maple Leafs, combined for 13 points (three goals, 10 assists).

Now we dive into round two.


Pairing 1

Boston

Zdeno Chara - Charlie McAvoy

Columbus

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Among the best players on the entire team, we’ll see more from Zach Werenski and Seth Jones for round two.

Seth Jones notched four points (two goals, two assists) in the first round — two goals on thee shots — including a power play goal and three points overall on the power play. His goal heard ‘round the world to close out Game 1 also was his first career game-winner in the playoffs.

Werenski had five points (one goal, four assists) against the Lightning over the four-game sweep, including a goal on the power play and three points overall with the man-advantage. Those five points in a series are a career-high for Werenski, who has never missed the playoffs, since making his NHL debut with the Blue Jackets in 2016-17. He also led all defenseman with five points, and was tied-for-second in scoring overall for Columbus.

As for the Bruins, Zdeno Chara is among the oldest active players is NHL at 42-years-old, and though he’s not the star he was, he’s battle-tested. In 166 career playoff games, Chara has 64 points (17 goals, 47 assists), and 198 minutes in the penalty box. He was among the team-leaders in the regular season with 88 blocked shots.

On the opposite end, Charlie McAvoy is the baby by comparisons’ sake. Just 21-years-old, McAvoy took part in 54 regular season games, scoring 28 points (seven goals, 21 assists), and led the team with 91 blocked shots. He also led the team with 22:10 average time on ice.

Pairing 2

Boston

Torey Krug - Brandon Carlo

Columbus

Markus Nutivaara - David Savard

I gave you David Savard as one of those that might provide the type of secondary scoring that depth players and unsung heroes can provide in a seven-game series. But it was just as much defensively that Savard loomed large in the first round. He scored two points (one goal, one assist), and also led the series with 15 blocked shots. Savard always seemed to be in the right spots at all times against the Lightning, and against guys like Stamkos in particular.

Jeff Svoboda’s article highlights some of the key traits and attributes Savard was boasting in the series sweep over the Lightning.

Markus Nutivaara was lost for the rest of the first round series after being on the receiving end of a boarding infraction from Nikita Kucherov late in Game 2. Nutivaara did not participate in Monday’s practice but he did travel with the team to Boston.

Torey Krug led the Bruins’ defense with 47 assists and 53 points in the regular season. Against the Leafs, he had three assists and his lone goal in Game 6 helped propel the Bruins in getting to that pivotal Game 7 on home ice.

Brandon Carlo, the second-tallest Bruin behind Chara, at six-foot-five comes off making his playoff debut. After injury ended his season early last season, Carlo finally saw spring action, but did not record a point in the seven-game series against the Leafs.

Pairing 3

Boston

John Moore - Matt Grzelcyk

Columbus

Dean Kukan - Scott Harrington

Dean Kukan has really seen his role increase, first with the loss of Ryan Murray at the onset of the playoffs, and coupled with the loss of Nutivaara during the playoffs. Kukan had the opportunity to play more critical minutes as the last series wore on, playing under 11 minutes in the first two games, 17:51 in Game 3 and 18:59 in the clinching Game 4.

Scott Harrington chipped in three assists during the series, and it’s likely we’ll hear more from this duo against Boston.

Matt Grzelcyk, in just his third NHL season, had a career season of sorts, adding to a new career high of games played (66), assists (15), and points (18). He had four assists against the Leafs in Round 1.

John Moore was signed to a five year contract before the season — and he struggled against the Maple Leafs. Such as a turnover that led to a John Tavares goal in Game 7. I mean, the B’s won, and it is Tavares, but alas, you don't want to make a habit of turnovers against elite scorers. Which Columbus certainly attests to also featuring.

Unlikely to play as of this writing: Adam McQuaid (concussion) Ryan Murray (back) Questionable: Markus Nutivaara (upper body), Connor Clifton (upper body)

Star Player Comparison

Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are the sexy names for Columbus. As expected, Jones led the Jackets with 25:41 average ice time in Round 1, with Werenski right behind at 25:07. The offensive display is always in play for the two, and defensively, they are the keys for Columbus going forward.

For the Bruins, while Zdeno Chara is not the star he used to be, he’s still among the bigger — pun intended — names, as far as name recognition goes. Even in the twilight of his career, Chara is still producing solid minutes. In 62 regular season games, he produced 14 points (five goals, 9 assists) and another goal and assist in the seven games against the Maple Leafs.

Torey Krug was the leading point scorer among the Boston D-men in the regular season, (six goals, 47 assists). His four points in the last series co-led defenseman, along with Grzelcyk.

Depth Comparison

We’re seeing Columbus really, truly go all-in with the late additions of guys such as Alexandre Texier just prior to the regular season, and now with defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. Gavrikov, a 23-year-old, six-foot-three, defenseman drafted by the Blue Jackets in the sixth round in 2015, came over to the states after playing for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. While over there, he posted 25 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 60 games, and added a goal in another 18 playoff games.

Naturally, you wouldn't expect big minutes logged to the newcomer just yet as the playoffs will mark his NHL debut. But we’ll see what kind of impact he can contribute, and the kind of minutes he may log as the series plays out. Adam Clendening also surfaced in the last series, putting up an assist in two games

Former Blue Jacket John Moore has been around the league for a little bit. He’s only 28-years-old, but already in his 11th NHL season, he represents among the older veterans of the Boston’ defense behind Chara. He has 42 career playoff games to his ledger, including four games from the last round, in which he was an unceremonious -4 with no points.


All Statistics reflective of EV

Some parting stats for you

In the regular season, the Bruins finished tied-for-third allowing 2.59 GA/GP. They finished tied-for-sixth, alongside Columbus in shots allowed per game (29.5). In the playoffs, the Blue Jackets rank first with 4.75 GF/GP, and the Bruins fifth in GA/GP at 2.43. One of the keys for Columbus in the first round was their smothering defense that stifled the Lightning, allowing the forwards to just play their game. If they can resemble anything close to that level of play in Round 2, they will undoubtedly make things hard on Boston.