Bruins sticking with new-look top defensive pairing vs. Rangers
Matt Grzelcyk’s return to the Boston lineup Tuesday night in New York City will not come with a reunion with Charlie McAvoy on Boston’s top pairing.
Not out of the gate, anyway, as the Bruins will instead stick with last Saturday’s top pairing and keep Mike Reilly to the left of McAvoy atop the defensive depth chart.
“[Reilly]’s probably the only guy that hasn’t played with Charlie since I’ve been here,” Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy noted Tuesday morning. “So what the hell, we might as well look at him, too, and go from there.”
Together for over 16 minutes of five-on-five play in Saturday’s win over the Senators, the Bruins held a 14-5 shot advantage with Reilly and McAvoy on the ice, and outscored the Senators 2-0 over that sample. (The Bruins, in case you’re wondering, were outshot 20-14 when the Reilly-McAvoy pairing was not on the ice together at five-on-five.)
And to Cassidy’s point, this is a pairing that we’ve rarely (if ever) seen together for any sort of prolonged stretch.
In fact, including their 16-minute night last Saturday, the Reilly-McAvoy duo has now been on the ice for over 100 minutes of five-on-five action since the start of last season. That makes them the Bruins’ 14th-most utilized defensive pairing over that stretch. That’s not a ton of time together, to say the least. But it’s a testament to where the Bruins believe McAvoy is as a defender, with No. 73 able to drive a pairing (and drive the Boston defense as a result) no matter who skates to his left.
“He’s ahead of his years,” Cassidy said of McAvoy. “Doesn’t need a type-A or prototypical stay-at-home guy [like] Zee when he first started. He’s played with Grz, who’s a puck mover. He’s been with Vaakanainen. They were fine together. Vaak’s a little more [of a] vanilla-type of guy that defends well, moves the puck. Or Forbort at the start of year.
“Lot of different flavors. He’s just going to play. We expect him to break out pucks well, get involved in the offense. Does he play his best with Grz? Probably, because they have their history together. But we’ll see over time if that changes.”
The thinking of splitting ’em goes beyond giving the Black and Gold’s top pairing a different flavor, according to Cassidy.
“I liked [Jack] Ahcan with [Brandon] Carlo,” Cassidy said. “I thought it allowed Brandon to have good pucks in transition [and] not tough ones all night. So that helped Brandon’s game sort of ease into it with his puck moving. Brandon, I thought, defended real hard the other night. Maybe a little confidence with the puck bled into the parts he did well.”
With Grzelcyk back, Ahcan is the odd man out, and Grzelcyk is the player who can closest replicate what Ahcan does well, so the Bruins are essentially hoping that the move will allow Carlo to string together another positive night.
Up front, the obvious downside is that the Bruins will remain without Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand for their third straight game. The good news for Bergeron is that the expectation is that the 36-year-old captain, out with an upper-body injury (a head injury, to be more precise), will rejoin the team Wednesday and could be back in action as early as Thursday night. Marchand, meanwhile, is expected to have his appeal for his six-game suspension heard on Wednesday in New York. Tuesday will mark Marchand’s third straight missed due to suspension.
Elsewhere, Jeremy Swayman will get the call in net for the Bruins.
The 23-year-old Swayman is riding high after a 30-save shutout over the Sens last weekend, and will get another crack at getting in the win column against a high-quality opponent in the Rangers. That’s been a problem for Swayman in 2021-22, too, with a 1-6-1 record and .900 save percentage in eight decisions against teams inside the NHL playoff structure.
The Blueshirts won the only prior 2021-22 head-to-head between the sides by a 5-2 final back in Boston on Black Friday, and rust could certainly be a factor for ’em, as this will be the Rangers’ first game since Feb. 1.
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.