The Bruins are going back to the drawing board defensively.
As best they can in mid-November, anyway.
Without much of anything going in terms of consistency from their seven-man grouping on the backend, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy said that Mike Reilly will make his return to action Saturday after sitting out last weekend’s back-to-back as a healthy scratch. But Reilly’s return will not come at the expense of seventh defenseman Jakub Zboril, who appears to be running with his latest chance to stick in the Boston lineup, Cassidy confirmed.
So, just where does that leave the Bruins?
You have four spots between Brandon Carlo, Connor Clifton, Derek Forbort, Matt Grzelcyk, and Charlie McAvoy. And OK, now that we’re done laughing about the idea of ever scratching McAvoy, and same for Carlo (scratching McAvoy is an outright ‘lmao’ while Carlo is a simpler ‘lol’ kind of reaction), the Bruins are by all means looking at their options between Forbort, Grzelcyk, and Clifton. But to keep Zboril in, the most likely move will be to put him to the right, which isn’t totally foreign to Zboril.
“[Zboril] and Johnny Moore, both were told, ‘Hey you’ve got to work on the right side,'” Cassidy noted. “If a righty went out, a lefty has to go in, or if we made a decision that we didn’t like the play of a righty, we don’t want it to be a righty gets hurt, ‘Ok we have to go to Providence to replace him.’ So that’s been in their ear from training camp.”
If that is indeed the case, deductive reasoning (and just plain ol’ reasoning for that matter) would indicate that Clifton would be the odd man out for the Bruins, which has been the case with almost any defensive shake-up the Bruins have made this season. That’s only because we haven’t seen either Grzelcyk or Forbort, both of whom are left shots, play their off side this season.
It would also make sense for Clifton to be the Black and Gold’s scratch given his Sunday performance; Clifton made an ill-timed pinch to give the Canadiens a three-on-one rush while Montreal’s second goal appeared to go off Clifton and in. Some of that is bad luck and will happen given the way Clifton needs to play to be at his most effective, but it also puts him as the seventh-best option should the Black and Gold want to make any changes the next time around.
“He’s trying to be physical every night, which we’ve asked and we give him credit. That’s something that we need on the backend as a whole,” Cassidy said of Clifton.” On the flips side, the goal the other night is something he has to avoid. That reckless play, diving down when there’s really zero chance. To dive in like that, when forwards are stuck in the corner, that’s a poor decision. Those are things we’re trying to get out of his game.”
Assuming Clifton is out, what would that leave the Bruins with in terms of pairings?
As it relates to Reilly’s return to action, it feels fair to say that the Bruins really need to get the Reilly-Carlo pairing going. This was the team’s second pairing in the 2021 playoffs and was their lone constant in training camp. It hasn’t been a great start for the duo (they’ve been on the ice for just one five-on-five goal and 24 scoring chances for in over 75 minutes this season), but it’s been better than the Grzelcyk-Carlo alternative (outscored 8-2 in a 99-minute sample at five-on-five), and perhaps the two games from up top have helped unlock whatever block has been in front of Reilly.
Should the Bruins try to reunite Reilly and Carlo together on the second pairing, that would leave the Bruins with a potential Grzelcyk-McAvoy or Forbort-McAvoy top pairing. And for what it’s worth on that front, the Bruins have outshot teams 64-34 and outscored opponents 6-2 with Grzelcyk-McAvoy on the ice at five-on-five, and have outshot teams 56-45 but been outscored 4-1 with Forbort-McAvoy out there at five-on-five. The Bruins entered this season saying that they’d likely turn to Grzelcyk-McAvoy against smaller, quicker teams, but the commitment to that has appeared a little hit and miss, with Forbort getting the call to McAvoy’s left against some teams that’d certainly fit that ‘smaller, quicker’ bill.
The Forbort-McAvoy pairing has been the B’s most common pairing in 2021-22, too, with 111:30 of five-on-five play to date.
The Bruin will see how any potential shake-up looks on Saturday night, with the Bruins set to kickoff a weekend back-to-back in Philadelphia on Saturday before a home head-to-head with the Flames on Sunday night.
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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.