There’s little doubt when you look at the team numbers for the Boston Bruins that they are playing differently this season.
The B’s are no longer the top NHL offense in the league and they aren’t averaging four goals per game as they were during the first few months of the season, but they are still second in the NHL averaging 3.90 goals per game just a shade behind the high-powered Buffalo Sabres. Certainly, part of it is the star power that’s always been there for the Black and Gold while building up a 25-4-2 record on the season, and they have the third-best power play attack in the league this year as well.
But it’s also been about a change in offensive mentality. The Boston Bruins coaching staff wants shot quality over quantity and is looking for ways to generate more attempts from the slot, and they continue to try and transform the collective Bruins defensemen corps into a more dangerous offensive weapon.
One of those adjustments has been playing deeper in the offensive zone during possession and coaching the weak side D-man to play around the faceoff dot rather than sitting back closer to the blue line in a standard defensemen position. It’s been a process to get NHL defensemen more comfortable playing in a spot deep in the offensive zone that comes with risk if things go a little sideways with the offensive zone possession, but one can’t argue with the results when it turns the Bruins into a five-man attack in the offensive zone.
“It’s things that we want to do. A lot of times I want our weak-side defenseman below the weak side dot and that’s just a comfort level of them being okay hanging out there,” said Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery. “I think there was a time [against Florida] where we should have had a puck recovery and it was Charlie [McAvoy] and he was down at the right spot, and he backed off. It was almost like a shock collar went off that he had to get back to the blue line.”
Clearly there’s been benefits, though. The team offensive numbers are impossible to argue with and both Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy are close to point-per-game players on the back end. Connor Clifton might be the biggest beneficiary as he’s on pace for a career-best eight goals and 29 points this season and has already set career-highs in goals (three) and points (11) just 31 games into this new season.
It seems pretty clear that new Boston Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery and his offensive-bent to the systems he employs have worked for a player in Clifton that’s always had a little bit of physical and offensive risk to his blue line game.
“[Connor Clifton] makes plays out of nothing, which is instincts and natural ability, but he also has the ability to make really good decisions with entries. I think the offensive zone is an area where his game can grow the most offensively
“Just knowing that it’s going to work and having the confidence to go to those areas as a support player.”
For anybody whether it’s Clifton, McAvoy or even Brandon Carlo, it’s been a slow-moving adjustment to that kind of risk-taking and changing the support role in the offensive zone. It’s also worked as Clifton, Hampus Lindholm and Derek Forbort are all on pace for career-best offensive seasons while McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo are looking at seasons that would be among their best offensively as well.
“I think I finally found some confidence and it’s been building from Game One,” said Clifton. “I had some talks with [Jim Montgomery] and I think I had lost my game a little bit a few games ago, but I thought [the Florida game] was really good. It’s finding that balance and keeping that confidence.
“One day [Montgomery] came to me and said I didn’t think I had to worry about you and your lack of aggressiveness. He’s like ‘I want you to go there’ and I was like ‘okay, that sounds great!’ Obviously, there’s a line there. Want to be part of the offense and we have been, but you don’t want to give up some chances that you could have prevented. Monty loves it and we want to be part of the offense, and the closer we are to the net the better the chances are [to score]. It’s been an adjustment, but it’s been great for our team and for the guys on the back end especially.”
🎥 Connor Clifton on his two-point night against the Panthers and his overall success this season: "I think I finally found some confidence and it's been building since Game 1." pic.twitter.com/cRNnyVloTw
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) December 20, 2022
It’s impossible to argue with the numbers and the offensive mindset with the way things in the NHL have tilted toward an offensive way of thinking that’s been a perfect fit for the Boston Bruins personnel this season.