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Haggs: Warning Signs With Depleted Boston Bruins Defense



Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins have already displayed a higher offensive ceiling in the first handful of games this season.

The run-and-gun Black and Gold are averaging an NHL-best 5.25 goals per game and really setting the tone for the rest of the NHL offensively, with David Pastrnak behind only Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad for the most points among NHL players. Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron, Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci, AJ Greer and Connor Clifton are all point-per-game players and even role players like Nick Foligno have already matched their goal-scoring output (two goals) from all of last season.

Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery promised that the B’s would be higher-paced and more weighted toward the offensive game, and the Boston Bruins have lived up to that billing while scoring five or more goals in each of their four games played thus far.

But the defensive side of the game has been another story and had a rough, rough night in a 7-5 loss to the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night. Charlie McAvoy can’t return soon from his shoulder surgery, but he’s probably still at least a month away after just returning to the ice in recent days. Matt Grzelcyk is day-to-day and could be in line to return within the next week or two, but Brandon Carlo (upper body) has been lost as well after what appeared to be another concussion suffered last week in a win over the Arizona Coyotes.

So right now, the Boston Bruins are missing three of their four projected top-4 defensemen with only Hampus Lindholm left to shoulder a heavy load, and the Swedish D-man looked like it was wearing on him in a subpar effort against a fast, skilled Senators bunch on Tuesday.

“I thought we hung him out to dry. The first two shots he faced were 3-on-2’s coming at him 100-mph. We didn’t put any bodies [on them] and we didn’t get in anybody’s way and that’s a tough way to start a game on fresh ice,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery, when asked about Jeremy Swayman.

Lindholm had one shot on net, three hits and was a minus-1 in 25:58 of ice time but was on ice for four goals scored against the Boston Bruins in defeat. Lindholm has averaged 24:17 of ice time in the first four games and that isn’t going to change anytime soon with McAvoy, Grzelcyk and Carlo all out while he was trying to make it work with Mike Reilly playing on his weak side.

Beyond Lindholm not being very good, Anton Stralman looked rusty and out of sorts in his first action of the season, and even Derek Forbort struggled after he was an eye-popping plus-5 in Monday night’s win over the Florida Panthers. The turnover behind his own net was definitely an “atrocious” moment for Stralman.

The bottom line is that everybody on the Boston Bruins defensemen core is probably playing up at least one or two more spots on the back end than they would usually do, and that is going to be the storyline until the B’s get healthy. Connor Clifton is averaging 22:15 of ice time per game after being a third pair defenseman last season, and it remains to be seen if that’s anything close to sustainable for the Black and Gold. When everybody does return, the Boston Bruins will need to make a move with Craig Smith (healthy scratch on Tuesday) or Mike Reilly after he also struggled as everybody did along the blue line against Ottawa.

Sure, there were extenuating circumstances as the Boston Bruins probably rolled into Ottawa in the wee hours of Tuesday morning after traveling from Boston post-win over Florida. And they are missing some of their best defenders. And the Boston Bruins players readily admitted that these crazy games where 12 goals are scored tend to happen in the first few weeks before coaches and players really tighten down their systems.

“I think nothing has changed for us, but hockey is a long season and it’s still early. These kinds of games are going to happen,” said David Pastrnak. “You see it around the league happening all the time where the puck is going into the net at both ends. Obviously, it’s not something you planned going into the season, but you have to be able to win these kinds of games.”

But the Bruins D-men were blowing simple things like coverage in front of the net, and players like Stralman were simply giving up pucks behind their own net that turned into easy goals for the Senators. Those are easily fixed mistakes and spoke to a team that was mentally fatigued even if they were able to answer the bell physically.

“Our checking was, I guess the best word to describe it is atrocious. We were on the wrong side of pucks, we weren’t coming back hard enough, and we left our goalie out to dry,” said Montgomery to NESN postgame. “We didn’t protect the net front.”

The other part of the equation, though, is the Bruins ranking 22nd in the NHL in defense while allowing 3.75 goals per game. It’s great that they are putting up goals at a pace not seen since the Bobby Orr Bruins of the 1970’s and they are certainly fun to watch right now.

But the Boston Bruins need to tighten things up defensively rather than trust they are going to outscore other teams until the cavalry arrives back from long term injured reserve. It’s still early in the season but that’s something to watch, and be wary of, with a new coaching staff in place that’s put an emphasis on playing fast, offensive hockey that come at the expense of tight defense in games like Tuesday night’s shootout in Ottawa.


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