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: