By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com
In silencing the dangerous Sebastian Aho, Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo have become the Bruins' shutdown defensive pair.
The Bruins took their domination of the Carolina Hurricanes to another level in Sunday's 6-2 drubbing on Mother's Day at TD Garden. Mainly because they virtually erased Aho from the action when deploying Krug and Carlo along with Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak.
Aho finished with a garbage-time assist and one shot on goal in 19:10 of ice time. Advanced stats bear out that he was even more nonexistent than those totals suggest. Here were the Hurricanes' shot attempt percentages with Aho on the ice vs. the aforementioned five:
Krug: 20 percent (2-for-10) in 7:07
Carlo: 18.2 percent (2-for-11) in 7:15
Marchand: 16.7 percent (1-for-6) in 6:28
Bergeron: 0 percent (0-for-5) in 6:22
Pastrnak: 0 percent (0-for-5) in 6:22
Aho could barely gain a decent possession against these guys, whether grouped with Andrei Svechnikov and Teuvo Teravainen or with Nino Niederreiter and Justin Williams. The latter line happened after Canes head coach Rod Brind'Amour switched things up. It's possible it was out of frustration.
Krug had a simple explanation for the Bruins' dominance on Sunday. With Aho on the ice, the Hurricanes barely ever had room to operate in the neutral zone. It led to a lot of giveaways, weak zone entries, and quick breakouts for the Bruins.
"I think we’ve limited their odd man rush opportunities and I think that’s been a strength of not only our defensive pairing and that line but our team in general," Krug told reporters after Game 2. "If we can squash this line in the neutral zone and really limit their chances off the rush then it doesn’t allow them to get any momentum going and then in the defensive zone it’s just clamping down on time and space. It’s what we talk about all the time. Take away time and space from great players and you don’t have as much time to make plays and we’ll just try to keep it up."
There was nothing exotic about the Bruins' defensive approach. Just flawless execution. They simply flooded the neutral zone, and disrupted passing lanes with active sticks. At times it practically resembled a trap, in that the Bruins parked four guys in the neutral zone. In this case they kept one defenseman hanging back with the other acting effectively as a fourth forward.
Below is an example from the Aho line's first shift. Krug pinches closer to the red line with Marchand hovering around the Hurricanes' blue line. Bergeron is choking off any possibility of a centering pass and Krug blocks the right side as the puck is harmlessly dumped in. Carlo easily corrals it for a breakout the other way. Aho is floating around with the puck and his teammates nowhere near him.
Hard to get anything going when you're looking at this:
Jumping ahead to the third period, Aho (this time with Niederreiter and Williams) again faced the Bruins' wall of defenders. Carlo is ready to pounce on any pass Aho's way while Marchand bears down on Williams.
This looked even more like a straight-up trap.
Offensively, the Bergeron line was content to get the puck deep and grind against the Hurricanes' back end. For Carolina, the space evaporated around them as the clock bled out.
If the Canes continue to hammer their heads against the wall like they did against the Bruins' shutdown group, they'll have trouble making the Eastern Conference Final a competitive series.
But Marchand expects changes ahead of Game 3, as he should.
"I think it’s more just us preparing to play our game and teams adjusting a little bit to the way we play," Marchand said. "Playoffs is a chess match, you change little things every single day regardless if you win or lose. You look at the tape, you make adjustments, they’ll do that again next game, we’ll do the same. We know that teams are going to try to play physical with us, that’s playoff hockey we’re trying to do the same thing."
For now, the Bruins' approach to limiting the Hurricanes' time and space has worked wonders. There's a chance Aho and his line finds life in Game 3 when they get the matchups they want on home ice. But they'll have to find a way through the neutral zone or it's going to keep looking as ugly for them as it did on Sunday.
Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff or email him at [email protected].