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Micro Analysis: The best of Mikey Reilly, and the worst of Mikey Reilly

There are things the defenceman does that few can, and decisions that few coaches can abide.

Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHLI via Getty Images

A Tale of Two Reillys

The good Mikey Reilly moves the puck. He looks over his shoulder, scans the ice for the opposition, and dances from skate edge to skate edge. He spins on a dime, draws circles around opposing sticks, and sends the puck up the ice hard and precise to the stick of a teammate.

The good Reilly joins the offence. He shifts laterally on the blue line, drags the puck, and looks for openings in the defence.

The good Reilly is aggressive. He reads plays before they happen and breaks them up at their inception by pinching hard — so he doesn’t have to play defence.

Defending is where he can lose his elegance. When the attackers align and his mind turns blank for half a second, he changes into the blundering Reilly.

In the first half of the game, we saw the good Reilly. He moved the puck out of difficult situations cleanly, chaining a few moves no one else on Montreal’s back end is able to. He was a clear plus-player for the team. But the Bruins always have some pushback in them. On a defensive sequence in the second period, Reilly helped the puck move up the boards in his zone with a timely intervention, but then stopped skating up with the potential rush.

The Habs turned the puck over at their blue line, and the lack of movement from Reilly gave them a lot of space to work with. He backed off even more, creating more space for the Bruins and then took some steps forward, but still not closing his gap completely. Cale Fleury backed off as a consequence, as he now needed to play the sequence as a two-on-one.

What happens when a defenceman reaches with his stick before getting close enough is that he completely loses all balance. His weight shifts over his toes and he can’t accelerate anymore to match opposing movements.

Reilly had a good angle to the opposing forward and only needed to take a couple more steps forward, but he reached. He got beat, Price got beat, and the Bruins got back into the game.

He also had some lapses of focus on another goal that fortunately got called back after an offside review.

His talent makes him a very useful piece on the back-end: when he plays engaged and at the top of his game. But his lack of consistency, especially in his defensive game, is what has him trade spots with other blue-liners quite often.

Coaches often say. ‘‘Don’t change a winning formula,’’ but considering Reilly progressively sank in shot attempt differential as the night went on, it wouldn’t be surprising to me to see Brett Kulak re-enter the lineup for the game against the Flyers.

Offensive spacing

I talked about the Danault line’s offensive spacing a few weeks ago. It’s something they had trouble with at the start of the season. Without going back in-depth into the concept, the rule of offensive spacing can be summarized as this: ‘Don’t bring your own defensive coverage onto your teammates.’

This is done by stretching the offensive formation in the offensive zone or standing at a good enough distance from each other to spread the defence out. If one member of the trio manages to beat his coverage, other defenders aren’t close enough to immediately help shut him down. At least in the first half of last night’s game, the Danault line had great offensive spacing, showing that this is really not a problem for them anymore.

They gave outlets to each other using the width of the ice, creating room for themselves to make plays when they received the puck. As they were consistently in a large triangle formation, one forward was always in position to jump on the Bruins players if they ever got the puck back. Good offensive spacing also often turns into a good forecheck as one player stands outside the defensive box above the puck.

Watch the Danault line move around in the offensive zone in this wide triangle, consistently supporting each other, but also consciously taking steps away from each other to preserve their spacing, create shots from the slot, and, sometimes, stay above the puck.

They were dominant offensively last night in part because of this attention to offensive details.

Patrice Bergeron’s picking ability

Yes, Bergeron is technically the enemy around here. But he’s also a fantastic player whose years of experience have fine-tuned his craft. The little details of his play are very interesting, and make a big difference in the game for the Bruins, especially on the power play.

He is one of the better bumper players/rovers with a man advantage in the league, if not the best. He reads the play very well and knows how to create space for his teammates from his position.

David Pastrnak deserves much of the credit for the Bruins’ power-play goal in the first period. Torey Krug — a potential left-handed free-agent defenceman next summer — also set him up in a precise way, like he so often does. But watch Bergeron’s work off the faceoff. He wins the puck back to the wall, and it slowly slides down to Krug.

It’s Danault’s job to pressure the diminutive defenceman up on that side of the ice and make him rush his play. but he can’t. Bergeron is glued to him, ‘legally’ interfering with Danault’s ability to get up to the point for at least a couple of seconds.

Because of Bergeron’s pick, Krug can easily pick up speed, moving laterally along the blue line to create a passing lane to Pastrnak and set him up perfectly for the one-timer. Bergeron also moves to the middle of the slot after annoying Danault. He turns himself into a tip option to make Shea Weber hesitate as the play unfolded.

Those little interference plays from Bergeron are something he routinely does on the power play. It is very effective, as exemplified by the second clip in the video above.

I’m not exactly sure what Artturi Lehkonen was doing in this whole sequence last night. He was taking away the cross-ice pass, but remained stationary, not pressuring the lethal shot of Pastrnak at all. It could be by design, with the coaching staff not wanting players to venture too far from their box formation, but in this case, maybe the defensive structure needs some changes to better pressure half-wall shooters.