We’ve surrounded what the Boston Bruins forward lines will likely look like when the NHL’s 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff round-robin stage opens up. What about the defense? The Bruins are known around the league to have one of the deeper defensive groups. That’s a good problem to have. Head coach Bruce Cassidy can only dress six defensemen, however. That will lead to some difficult decisions.
The Boston Bruins have at least eight legitimate options that they can dress come Game 1 of the playoffs. Which six will Cassidy go with?
Let’s dive into the likely defensive pairings, shall we?
Zdeno Chara – Charlie McAvoy
No one stands to gain more from ‘the pause’ than the captain. At age 43, Chara is not the same player he was ten years ago. Fatigue is a factor for him, and the grind of the postseason immediately after an 82-game season is a lot to handle. Chara is going to enter these playoffs fully rested, and as a result he should be more effective. A healthy and rested Chara will be dangerous for whoever draws the Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs.
McAvoy didn’t have the same offensive season he was accustomed to having. That said, McAvoy was doing all of the other things needed to be a complete defenseman in the NHL. Teammate Charlie Coyle was very complementary of the young defenseman after he scored his first goal of the season in February.
“Yeah he’s doing a little of everything,” Coyle said in February. “It’s not always gotta be just the goals. We’ve got plenty of guys who can score, and I’m not saying he can’t because we know he can, but when you’re not scoring, you’re making sure you’re contributing other ways and he’s doing a lot of that. He’s doing a bunch; sticking up for teammates, being a physical presence, a big hit here and there, great sticks, stepping up at the blue line, forcing offside and just little things in the game that are so big for our game as a whole, which sends other guys in our transition and other guys are scoring because of plays that he’s making.”
This pairing has been one of the few constants for the Boston Bruins over the last few seasons. Expect them to be together when the puck drops.
Torey Krug – Brandon Carlo
Krug has emerged as the offensive juggernaut of the Bruins defensive group. He led the team in scoring by a defenseman with 49 points (9 g, 40 a) in 61 games. Krug is a major presence on the powerplay, and his ability to transition from defense to offense is key at five-on-five.
This pairing meshes well together. While Krug brings speed, puck moving ability and offense, Carlo brings the steady presence needed in the defensive zone. His development has been up and down due to injuries, but Carlo took a step last spring and hasn’t looked back. He averaged 20:29 per game and was a +16 in 67 regular season games.
Both of these players impact special teams and both played top-four minutes at five-on-five all season long. Like Chara and McAvoy, they are locks to be in the lineup and close to locks to play together.
Matt Grzelcyk – Connor Clifton
Grzelcyk is the fifth and final lock to be in the lineup for Game 1. His offensive ability, speed and puck moving ability make him a perfect fit for the modern game. He registered 21 points (4 g, 17 a) in 68 games played, and finished with a +15 rating in 2019-20. He’s evolved from more of an offensive specialist to a well-rounded depth defenseman in the last two seasons. His performance in last spring’s playoffs likely eliminates any concern about age.
I’ve decided to give Clifton the nod as the sixth and final defenseman in the lineup. John Moore and Jeremy Lauzon were also real options here, but Clifton gets the nod. Why? He can kill penalties and plays a hard style that should thrive in the postseason. He’s also got some playoff experience, which is paramount this summer.
While Clifton is aggressive, he’s also mobile and has a decent shot.
Clifton only played one game in 2020, however. He suited up in Philadelphia on March 10th for 12:44. Clifton was injured after playing just 5:52 against the Buffalo Sabres on December 29th.