The Boston Bruins aren’t interested in reinventing the wheel on defense this season.
It’s actually a pretty simple formula.
When a matchup is deemed too heavy for Matt Grzelcyk to ride with Charlie McAvoy on the Black and Gold’s top pairing, the Bruins will plug Derek Forbort to the left of McAvoy. But on nights when the Bruins want to unleash their pace-pushing Grzelcyk-McAvoy pairing on the opposition, much like they did in Philadelphia on Wednesday night, Forbort will slot next to Connor Clifton on the Boston third pairing. That’s by all means all the tinkering Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy wants to do in that situation.
So when that happens, the Mike Reilly-Brandon Carlo duo effectively becomes the team’s lone ‘constant’ on the point. And it’s a pairing that needs to be a whole lot better than they were in a 6-3 loss in Philly for this plan to work.
“Reilly and Carlo have played a lot together and I think they’ve had better nights,” Cassidy said.
It may have been Game 2 of 82, but the Boston bench boss was clearly miffed. The time between Flyer goals and Cassidy’s march to the podium didn’t do much to settle him. And for good reason, as a disastrous third-period from both Reilly and Carlo essentially wiped away any chance of escaping Philly with a point.
The calamity on the middle pairing started with a bang in the third period, as Reilly’s turnover in the neutral zone sparked the Flyers on another two-on-one chance against a struggling Jeremy Swayman in the blink of an eye.
“Breakdown by me on that fourth play, for sure,” Reilly, who admitted that he’d likely hold onto the puck a second longer if given a redo, said. “Just trying to make a play. But you live and learn, and move on to the next one.”
And Carlo, the last line of defense before Swayman, did little to help his netminder out on the sequence.
“We didn’t defend the two-on-one either. We let the pass across for a tap-in,” Cassidy said. “So not only did we turn over the puck over, [but] the partner doesn’t defend the two-on-one properly, and it’s an easy goal.”
It actually got worse. With Reilly unable to corral a bouncing puck in the neutral zone, the Flyers’ Sean Couturier just outright yoinked the puck and sent Reilly backpedaling into his zone. And though Reilly tied up Couturier, he also provided a slight moving screen on Swayman to only add to Swayman’s headache on what still seemed like a stoppable shot off the stick of Philadelphia winger Travis Konecny.
This is part of the risk-reward with a guy like Reilly, whose puck movement skills were a definite need for the Bruins’ left side last year, and remain one in 2021-22 with Grzelcyk the only other lefty stick capable of such skills.
“He’s a puck mover,” Cassidy acknowledged. “You gotta give him the freedom to make plays and hope he does. But we force a play, it’s in our net, we pinch early, it’s in our net. Plays like that hurt us big time tonight because we didn’t get the save coming back the other way. And that’s the difference.
“They took advantage of the opportunities that I think we presented to them.”
And in case the night needed a cherry on top of its onion-and-bologna sundae, Carlo took a frustration roughing penalty with 2:17 left in the third period to wipe out any chance of an admittedly improbable comeback.
Now, the Bruins can take comfort in the fact that nights like this are relatively uncommon from this duo.
Reilly was actually one of the league’s more underrated puck-moving defensemen last year, and unless that fortune goes right out the window and he goes from 2008-09 to 2009-10 Dennis Wideman right before our eyes (oh God, they have the same number), it’s hard to imagine his puck-play being as unlucky as it was Wednesday. Carlo, meanwhile, has rarely if ever been called for the undisciplined penalty that he was late in the third period. In fact, that nastiness is something that people have actually begged to see more of from the 6-foot-5 defender.
But on nights when the Grzelcyk-McAvoy dominates the puck like they did (the B’s held a 11-3 shot advantage, 2-0 goal edge, and 7-0 high-danger scoring chance advantage with Grzelcyk and McAvoy out there at five-on-five), the Bruins need Reilly-Carlo to build off what they did, not completely undo it.
“We expect better out of them,” Cassidy said of his second-pairing tandem. “Those guys have been in the league and I don’t think it was their best [game].”
Here are some other thoughts and notes from a doubled-up loss at the Wells Fargo Center…
Brad Marchand is a wizard
It’s just the second game of the season, but Bruins winger Brad Marchand is already reaching into his bag of tricks.
With the Flyers’ Keith Yandle on his back in the first period of Wednesday’s game, Marchand took the puck around the night, and came up with some Datsyukian-esque magic that not only knocked Yandle off him, but led to a collision between Yandle and teammate Travis Konecny.
Goodness gracious. The man is a menace.
Marchand also got on the board with Boston’s third goal of the game, and looks as dialed in as ever.
Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.