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NEW YORK, NEW YORK - FEBRUARY 10: Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins checks Ryan Lindgren #55 of the New York Rangers against the boards during the second period at Madison Square Garden on February 10, 2021 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

By Matt Dolloff, 985TheSportsHub.com

Charlie McAvoy is the new identity of the Bruins defense, and his high level of play is the main reason that the unit is outperforming expectations.

Even when Zdeno Chara still soaked up big minutes, much of the Bruins defense was predicated on quick puck retrievals, efficient breakouts, aggressive neutral zone play, and presenting a real offensive threat on the rush. McAvoy is doing all of those things at a high level to start the 2020-21 season, and it’s rubbing off on the rest of the defense. We’re seeing Brandon Carlo and Jeremy Lauzon do things on offense that we didn’t realize they were capable of doing. You could call it the McAvoy Effectâ„¢.

But McAvoy made the big play himself on Wednesday night, batting a saucer pass out of mid-air and whacking a perfect bank-shot to Brad Marchand in the neutral zone. Marchand finished his breakaway to give the Bruins a 3-2 overtime win.

It was the latest example of McAvoy “taking flight” in all three zones in his first full season as the Bruins’ unquestioned No. 1 defenseman, as Ty Anderson described it in the newest episode of the SideLines podcast. McAvoy is tied for fifth out of all defensemen in the NHL with 11 points, and he’s among the league leaders at the position in key advanced metrics.

McAvoy is second in the NHL in shot attempts among defensemen, behind only Colorado’s Cale Makar. But at the same time, he’s starting less than 50 percent of his shifts in the offensive zone, which is relatively low for a defenseman who scores. It’s indicative of how important and effective he is in the defensive zone, which can’t be said about other dynamic young blue liners in the league.

“He has been doing it at both ends of the ice, and this is what they needed,” Ty said on SideLines. “This was part of the calculated decision to move on from Chara [which] was, ‘Well we have this guy here, and we think he can do this if we get rid of the 44-year-old next to him.’ That’s sort of what [Bruce] Cassidy talked about, in a respectful manner, basically saying that ‘Now that McAvoy is the elder statesman, so to speak, on his line, he’s playing with more assertiveness, he’s playing with more ‘OK, I’m in charge of this, I need to make the moves here,’ whereas in the past he would kind of defer to Chara, saying ‘OK this guy has 20 years of experience, I’m going to let him do this and I’ll just be backup.”

“I think that’s where it’s made a big difference. Lauzon and Zboril have helped, but McAvoy having the freedom to be what he needs to be for this franchise, I think, has made all the difference in the world. It’s been gigantic for this team.”

You can hear our full thoughts on the Bruins in the podcast below. Fair warning, though, it’s mostly Super Bowl talk and was recorded before Wednesday night’s game. There’s some hockey banter at the beginning, but you can skip to about the 1:16:53 mark for the Bruins stuff.

MORE: Brad Marchand’s OT winner tops Rangers

Matt Dolloff is a digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Have a news tip, question, or comment for Matt? Yell at him on Twitter @mattdolloff or send him a nasty email at matthew.dolloff@bbgi.com.