It seems pretty unlikely that Matt Grzelcyk will play in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, but we won’t know for certain until Wednesday.
The Boston Bruins defenseman has been sidelined since suffering a concussion in Game 2 due to a hit from St. Louis Blues center Oskar Sundqvist. It looked like Grzelcyk would be out of the concussion protocol ahead of Game 5, but it didn’t pan out for that contest or Game 6.
Grzelcyk again was wearing a red no-contact sweater at Bruins practice Tuesday, so the countdown almost is to zero for the 25-year-old to get cleared.
But let’s say he does get cleared and put into the lineup for Game 7, who comes out?
By process of elimination, it seems almost certain that the Bruins won’t skate seven defensemen again like they did in Game 5, and there’s no chance any of the blueliners from the top two pairings will be scratched. That leaves Connor Clifton and John Moore.
At first blush, Moore seems like the logical answer. He, like Grzelcyk, is a left shot, and he has been a healthy scratch periodically throughout the playoffs, only playing in the case of injury.
But since making his series debut in Game 3, Moore has looked really, really good. And he’s clearly gained the trust of Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy, who has begun using Moore more often while limiting Clifton’s minutes. Since Game 3, Clifton has averaged 12:19 time on ice, Moore is averaging 16:12.
And even with the increased usage, a lot of Moore’s numbers have been superior. Let’s check how their stats compare over the last four games of the series since Moore was inserted into the lineup (all numbers courtesy of Natural Stat Trick).
Corsi (Measures any shot attempt: Goals, shots on net, blocks and misses)
Moore: Corsi For: 33; Corsi Against: 38; Corsi For Percentage: 46.48
Clifton: Corsi For: 26; Corsi Against: 45; Corsi For Percentage: 36.62
Fenwick (Measures any unblocked shot attempt: Goals, shots on net and misses)
Moore: Fenwick For: 27; Fenwick Against: 27; Fenwick For Percentage: 50.00
Clifton: Fenwick For: 20; Fenwick Against: 32; Fenwick For Percentage: 38.46
Moore: Scoring Chances For: 17; Scoring Chances Against: 16, Scoring Chance For Percentage: 51.51
Clifton: Scoring Chances For: 13; Scoring Chances Against: 22, Scoring Chance For Percentage: 37.14
High-Danger Scoring Chances
Moore: High-Danger Chances For: 6; High-Danger Chances Against: 6; High-Danger Chances For Percentage: 50.00
Clifton: High-Danger Chances For: 3; High-Danger Chances Against: 9; High-Danger Chances For Percentage: 25.00
Indeed, by putting Moore with Grzelcyk, one of the two would be playing on their off side. But both have done that already this season, and it shouldn’t be an excuse to not play the better player.
It became evident with Karson Kuhlman’s insertion into the Game 6 lineup and the ensuing result that the only way the Bruins win this series is by using their speed to beat the Blues instead of purely trying to match up with them physically. Moore is Boston’s best defenseman in terms of pure skating ability, and though his style is a bit more reserved than Clifton’s, a convincing argument could be made that Moore tends to be the more responsible player altogether — even if that makes him less exciting to watch than Clifton.
Make no mistake, Clifton is a great story. Back in September it’d be unfathomable to imagine Clifton skating in six, maybe seven Stanley Cup Final games. But if Grzelcyk is, in fact, able to play, Moore has earned the sixth defensemen spot and deserves to skate in the season finale.