The young defensemen for the Boston Bruins understandably kept things simple in the early going this season for the Black and Gold.
After all, Jeremy Lauzon was stepping into most of the situations usually reserved for Zdeno Chara when it comes to killing penalties, shutting down opponents and playing a physical, hard-to-play-against brand of hockey against the other team’s best players. Jakub Zboril was simply looking to establish himself as an NHL defenseman and prove that he wasn’t a bust as one of those infamous three first straight first round picks for the B’s in the middle of the 2015 NHL Draft.
Other young defensemen are in different places for the Black and Gold with Brandon Carlo looking to step up and provide a little more offense, Charlie McAvoy hoping to establish himself as a consistent, dominant No. 1 defenseman and Matt Grzelcyk working into a top-4 role for Boston when he’s healthy enough to play. But those three are all established young defensemen at the NHL with guys like Kevan Miller and Connor Clifton filling in roles as well.
One of the big question marks this year, then, was going to be the play of Lauzon and Zboril as they essentially stepped in for Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug. The offensive end of things was a major question mark for both players to start the year. That’s why recent signs of offensive production and creativity from Lauzon and Zboril are an extremely encouraging development for the Boston Bruins.
It was Zboril that threw a pass down low to David Pastrnak on “the Kessel play” as the Bruins like to call it when No. 88 circles behind the net, curls in the face-off circle with the puck and then fires on the net while leaving the defense in the dust. Then it was Lauzon driving the net and sliding a perfect, backhanded cross-ice pass to Craig Smith for the game-tying goal in the third period with everything on the line for the Bruins.
“It was a broken play, but we kept rolling like we’ve talked about. [Lauzon] made a great pass to the backdoor on his backhand,” said Smith. “I just had to get my stick on the ice and put it in. So, it was a great play by him.”
It was icing on the cake when Carlo sniped one top corner to give the Bruins the comeback win over the Washington Capitals on Monday night, and it was an impressive showing of offensive oomph from the young B’s defensemen crew. It’s also something they are going to need as they look to keep generating more 5-on-5 offense.
“I thought keeping pucks alive by our ‘D’ had a lot to do with it,” said Bruce Cassidy, of the five unanswered goals that the Bruins scored on Washington to end the game. “Sure enough, Charlie getting up the ice, Lauzon making a play and Carlo [scoring the goal]. We just got a little more involved and hopefully we can feed off that moving forward. It was good risk/reward situations.
“Good for them making the adjustment. [The Capitals] got a couple goals from their ‘D’: Zdeno Chara got a goal and John Carlson had one. So, you need that in today’s NHL. If you’re in a game where you need three or four to win, they’re going to need to be a part of it. So that was very encouraging.”
Clearly the bulk of the B’s back end offense is now going to go through McAvoy with his goal and eight points in nine games, and rightfully so given his elite puck skills and offensive instincts as a natural replacement for the 10-goal, 50-point seasons. But both Lauzon and Zboril have a couple of assists apiece in nine games for the Bruins this season with a lot of room for improvement and playmaking in a B’s system that caters to responsible creativity with the puck.
They’ve already shown encouraging signs with their solid two-way play, and with Zboril really looking adept in pretty much all situations thus far for the Black and Gold. But the active, confident decisions that they’re now making to keep pucks alive in the offensive zone can really take Boston to a different level. It’s also why some of the chatter about chasing Blues defenseman Vince Dunn on the trade market seem a little premature because the B’s are doing just fine right now.
The mobility, the offensive upside and the possibilities to create a high-tempo attack are a big part of the reason why Lauzon and Zboril are in Boston, and why Chara is now with the Washington Capitals after 14 years in Boston.
Now, the Boston Bruins just have to hope the third period comeback vs. Washington was just the tip of the iceberg for young D-men like Lauzon and Zboril, and that they are just beginning to just discover their offensive ceiling at the NHL level.