Once the Washington Capitals ended the Pittsburgh Penguins season, offseason verbal assaults began on their perceived failures. One of the biggest victims was newly-acquired center, Derick Brassard.
Although three goals and five assists over 14 games were less than optimal, Brassard has a steep learning curve to the Penguins system. Then, a late-season injury put him in the press box for the final two weeks of the regular season. However, a mere one goal over 12 playoff games from the one they call “Big Game Brass” proved especially bothersome to many fans.
Before the injury, Brassard was far from invisible. His puck movement was solid and his ability in the defensive zone proved to be as advertised. Offensively though, Brassard had more chances as his time in Pittsburgh progressed. Pittsburgh Hockey Now broke down the film and the numbers.
According to naturalstattrick.com, Brassard only generated one scoring chance in each of his first three games as a Penguin.
That trend changed drastically on Mar. 3 against the New York Islanders. Mid-way through the third period, Brassard converted his only high danger scoring chance to tie the game. Beginning with that performance, Brassard generated HDSC’s in six consecutive games, but only managed one goal and two assists during that time.
Most other Penguins struggled to score at 5v5 despite chances, perhaps Brassard caught the Penguins even strength flu which limited the team in the first half of the season.
After a one-game lull, Brassard ramped up even more opportunities with seven chances in the high danger areas over the next three games. Including four against the New Jersey Devils, when Brassard tallied one assist and this missed opportunity.
This sequence was the pinnacle of the Brassard-Era in Pittsburgh. If you watch the play, notice Brassard at the edge of the blue paint. He delivered what looked like a lazy backhand shot into the pads of Devils’ goaltender, Keith Kinkaid but it’s actually a minor miracle the Penguins even got that.
From the start of the transition into the offensive zone, Olli Maatta delivered an errant pass beyond the stick of Phil Kessel. Kessel did a fine job of recovering the bad pass and corraled the puck deep in the zone. From there, Andy Greene released from Brassard in front to get in the passing lane and Brassard did an admirable job of adjusting to the defense. He shaded toward the center once Kessel attracted Greene’s and Kinkaid’s attention.
Kessel got Kinkaid so far off of his angle that he entirely left the net, leaving Brassard with a yawning cage before him.
But Kessel’s delivery was off the mark, which robbed Brassard of the easiest of chip-shots (Kessel’s scream of frustration is audible in the video). Brassard had to recover but by the time he could, he was defended well and all he could manage was the soft backhander.
Bottom line, from the start of the rush to the scoring chance, Brassard did everything right on this sequence. This play is only one example, but the advanced stats don’t lie. It didn’t start well, but his play improved quickly. Unfortunately for the Penguins, it was cut short due to an injury which lingered in the postseason.
If the trends increase like they did last year, a full season of Brassard will pay dividends.