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Haggs: Bruins Defensemen Stepping Up The Offense, ‘Scoring Big Goals’

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It started as a simple statistic thrown out by the Boston Bruins coaching staff, and now it’s become a challenge across their entire blueline group.

When the Seattle Kraken came to Boston last week, the B’s coaches made a point of outlining how productive and explosive their defensemen group was leading the entire NHL in the important offensive categories. That led top Boston Bruins defensemen like Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm to ask why couldn’t it be the Boston Bruins instead of them being middle of the pack?

“When we were having our morning meeting before the Seattle game, we were talking about their D corps and I think they were first in the league in goals scored. So then that got us wondering, where are we in that? That put a little onus on us to want to be dangerous when we can, and to want to contribute,” said McAvoy. “Everyone has it in their game, everyone’s scoring big goals.”

The Boston Bruins D-men didn’t register a goal in Tuesday night’s 4-2 win over the Montreal Canadiens at the Bell Centre, but McAvoy assisted on Taylor Hall’s PP goal that snapped a 16-game goal-scoring drought for him. That also gives the Black and Gold defensemen a solid 18 points in the last seven games with each member of the six man unit registering a point, and the red-hot McAvoy leading the way with eight points over that span.

The five-game goal-scoring streak for the Boston Bruins defensemen that was snapped against Montreal was the first such streak for Boston’s back end since 2014 when guys like Johnny Boychuk and Zdeno Chara were still patrolling the back end. It’s something the B’s coaching staff has been preaching all season and it’s beginning to bear fruit.

“It was maybe about a month ago now, where we talked about our defensemen not being as aggressive in the offensive zone and I think we’ve gotten to that, and the results are showing,” said head coach Jim Montgomery. “I thought the results were there early and you’re going to go through pockets and waves like that where defensemen are scoring…I think we’re sixth in the league, so we don’t focus only on goals, but it’s nice for them to get rewarded with them being really impressive.”

Clearly the shutout win over the Sharks last weekend was the high point with Lindholm and McAvoy playing “Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better” with net drive goals that showed off all their elite offensive skills. It was quite the display of back end dominance by a Bruins team that is overmatching nearly every NHL team they play simply because they can roll out two dominant defensmen in McAvoy and Lindholm at the very top of their blue line group. It’s a simple winning formula, but one that almost nobody can match.

“All I know is, it’s great to have an elite D-corps like we do, led by Lindholm and McAvoy, who scored two unbelievable goals to get us going [against San Jose]. I thought they led us with intensity and puck possession,” said Montgomery. “I mean, our bench was really motivated by it and, obviously, when those two guys…you have two studs back there that are making plays like that…not only what it does for our bench, but it deflates the other team because they [McAvoy and Lindholm] aren’t on the ice at the same time.”

The 29-year-old Lindholm is on pace for 10 goals and 54 points while averaging 23:35 of ice time per game, and McAvoy is on pace for seven goals and 52 points in 59 games after missing more than a month to start the season. There are others too as Connor Clifton has already set career highs with his four goals and 13 points, and Matt Grzelcyk is trending toward a career high in points as well for the Boston Bruins.

Even Derek Forbort scored a goal against the Islanders last week where he was in position to pounce on a loose puck rebound in front because he was aggressively playing all the way down at the faceoff dot on the weak side of the offensive zone. That’s something Montgomery and his coaching staff preach to their defensemen whenever they get to play in “the fun zone.”

“We’ve talking about it as a D. I think we’ve been good at getting involved, but we also need to shoot some more pucks and jump through the middle and get high-scoring chances,” said Lindholm. If you could put it in the back of the net every game, you would, but it’s a league with good players…so it’s not as easy as it looks.

“It’s fun that we can create some offense and take some load off of [David] Pastrnak and [Brad] Marchand so they can get a little night off.”

The biggest part of this entire equation is McAvoy getting back up to Norris Trophy speed after missing training camp and the season’s first few months while coming back from shoulder surgery. McAvoy has been a point-per-game player in January with two goals and 11 points along with a plus-8 and looks to be at full speed in terms of skating, skill, physicality, playmaking and shooting after feeling his way around a bit for the first few months.

“I feel like I’m really getting there,” said McAvoy. “Coming back and trying to find it, I felt like I’ve been around it…that’s everything; that’s legs, that’s confidence, that’s brain, that’s all of it. It’s nice to feel like yourself out there and feel like you can contribute with the team.

“When you’re winning, it’s certainly a lot easier to have patience with yourself to find it. That’s really a testament to our team…not every night everyone’s going to have it, but we have so many guys that do and we’re able to find results.”

It remains to be seen what the Boston Bruins do at the NHL trade deadline. In all likelihood, they are going to add and it stands to reason they will bring in another veteran, physical, rugged defenseman like Luke Schenn as righthanded depth, but it sure doesn’t look like anything needs to be improved with an explosive Bruins defensemen corps that’s playing exactly the way the coaching staff wants them to right now.

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