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Boston Bruins Tweaking Defense Pairs To Get Them ‘On Track’



Matt Grzelcyk

The Boston Bruins will have a different look on the back end when they take the ice on Wednesday night against the Buffalo Sabres for their traditional night-before-Turkey Day game being played this year in New York. Clearly the Bruins haven’t loved what they’ve seen defensively in the first quarter of the regular season, so now the tinkering begins.

Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy dropped Derek Forbort down to the middle defensive pair with Brandon Carlo for a true shutdown twosome, and elevated Matt Grzelcyk up to make it two BU alums in the top pair along with Charlie McAvoy during Tuesday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. Cassidy said the reasoning was twofold while looking to bust Grzelcyk out of a recent funk and get a decent look at Forbort and Carlo together as a lockdown defensemen pair.

“Gryz and Charlie have played together, we know that. But Gryz I think right now is ‘off’ a little bit and I think playing with Charlie might get him on track. They tend to play well together,” said Cassidy of Grzelcyk, who has just two assists and is a minus-5 in 15 games while averaging 19:50 of ice time per game. “The Gryz/Carlo [pairing] has been just average. Brandon played some of his best hockey with Zee in a shutdown role. Just focus on that. I know it’s been a few years, so he can do that well and maybe that gets him back to where he needs to be.

“I’ve liked the Reilly/Zboril pair. They’ve added some good transition and puck movement and defended hard. So, we don’t really want to mess with that one if he don’t have to. So we just flipped the two guys.”

The bottom line is that Cassidy hasn’t loved the play out of his top-4 defensemen this season as they’re clearly still attempting to move on without names like Chara, Krug and Miller that aren’t in Black and Gold anymore. Grzelcyk has been soft defensively, off net with his shot attempts and hasn’t played with the kind of smart, determined brand of hockey that usually marks his game.

“When we’re together I think we just have that attack mentality,” said Grzelcyk of skating with McAvoy. “Hopefully I get a little more of that playing with him and then I can continue with that for the rest of the year.”

Carlo has been better than Grzelcyk but has struggled in moments like the third period against the Edmonton Oilers a couple of weeks ago when turnovers and bad decisions marred his usually low-risk, clean game. Forbort has actually been pretty decent most of the time with a surprising four goals in his first 15 games, a positive plus/minus and nearly 20 minutes of ice time per night.

So now Cassidy is looking to find some way to get improved play from guys like Carlo and Grzelcyk that aren’t playing up the previous level that either play has established in Boston over the last few seasons.

Clearly the fancy stats crowd loves the Grzelcyk/McAvoy pairing and maybe that can help kick-start some offense in transition, and perhaps Forbort/Carlo can become a traditional shutdown pair rather than the puck mover/shutdown pairings that the Bruins have preferred in the recent past. Time will tell if it works well enough to get the B’s where they need to be on the back end, or if all this tinkering from the Bruins coaching staff is merely rearranging chairs on a roster that will ultimately need an upgrade on the back end.

Here’s the line combos and defense pairings from practice:




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Joe Haggerty has covered the Boston Bruins and the NHL for 18 years with NBC Sports Boston,, the Boston Metro and the Woburn Daily Times, and currently serves as lead Bruins reporter and columnist for Boston Hockey Now. Haggs always strives to capture the spirt of the thing any way that he can.

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Rick W Murray

Quit tweeking, the bruins need better players until I look out there and stop seeing Kuhlman, Blidh the completely useless Foligno. I’m gonna stop watching

[…] Boston: The Boston Bruins are scuffling a bit, too. They’re “down” with the Penguins in the wild-card fight. Coach Bruce Cassidy is tweaking the blue line pairs trying to light a fire.  […]

William Mahoney

Good move – McAvoy and Grzelcyk is correct thing to do!.


sorry your wrong, coach is moving grez around because he makes everyone else worse, he will take away offense from mcavoy,,like he did on all the othering pairings, everyone else is trying to shield him because he is not tough enough..and wont go into corners, boxing out is lax lustre…and no balls to hit anyone…feel sorry for the him and debrusk…haula signing,,, small and not tough enough.. cassidy has to stand up,, sweeney is not geting the job done, but he likes spending money and handing out no movement clauses like its candy…wake up mr Jacobs.


let me know when grez starts scoring like a 3.75 mil dollar player, it will never happen my friend..sweeney likes him cause hes the same size he was…

[…] Boston : Les Bruins de Boston se bagarrent aussi un peu. Ils sont « à terre » avec les Penguins dans la lutte contre les jokers. L’entraîneur Bruce Cassidy peaufine le paires de lignes bleues essayant d’allumer un feu. […]


Maybe take a look at the forwards next. Here is an ugly stat…Andrew Mangiopane has as many goals on the season as all the Bruins forwards not playing on the first line combined!! So much for addressing the secondary scoring woes in the offseason!

[…] BU Hockey fans and the analytics faction of Boston Bruins fans can rejoice because Bruce Cassidy has reunited Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy on the team’s top defensive pairing. (BHN) […]

[…] BU Hockey fans and the analytics faction of Boston Bruins fans can rejoice because Bruce Cassidy has reunited Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy on the team’s top defensive pairing. (BHN) […]

[…] BU Hockey fans and the analytics faction of Boston Bruins fans can rejoice because Bruce Cassidy has reunited Matt Grzelcyk and Charlie McAvoy on the team’s top defensive pairing. (BHN) […]

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