The Bruins’ impressive season-opening win over the Washington Capitals proved that this team is very different from a year ago, in a number of different ways. That’s especially true with their high-octane new style on the back end.
Defensively, the B’s had their good and bad moments in D.C., but it reflected the new reality under head coach Jim Montgomery: this Bruins staff is encouraging the defensemen to be active and aggressive, in hopes of generating more offense from the blue line.
Ty Anderson and I discussed this topic, among others, in a special Bruins postgame edition of the Sports Hub Underground podcast, which you can hear above. But keep reading for a closer look at the Bruins’ new playing style on defense.
First, The Good Stuff
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 12: David Pastrnak #88 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with teammates after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals during the first period of the game at Capital One Arena on October 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
The most consistent look at the Bruins’ newly active defense was the Mike Reilly-Connor Clifton pairing. That’s two blue liners who can skate well and join the action pushing the puck up ice. They want to play this way, and it showed.
The Bruins generated 17 shot attempts at 5-on-5 with Reilly and Clifton on the ice, the most among their defensive pairs. That was despite Reilly logging the second-fewest 5-on-5 minutes (13:04). Clifton logged three shot attempts of his own, more than Taylor Hall (two) or Charlie Coyle and Craig Smith (one each).
The approach paid off on Taylor Hall’s second-period goal, which proved to be the game-winner. Reilly gathered the puck through the neutral zone and led the rush over the offensive blue line, before threading it cross-ice to David Pastrnak, who then fed it to Hall for the finish. That’s what Montgomery’s looking for.
If the way Reilly and Clifton played was any indication, it’ll be fun for Bruins fans to see what Charlie McAvoy can do with this system.
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 12: Conor Sheary #73 of the Washington Capitals shoots and scores a goal against the Boston Bruins during the second period of the game at Capital One Arena on October 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
Reilly giveth, and Reilly taketh away. Despite his playmaking in the offensive zone, Reilly also got caught too far in the Capitals’ end on both goals allowed. He also looked too gassed to get back on defense in the first place. It was a pair of moments when the aggressiveness on defense not only didn’t pay off, but felt unnecessary with the Bruins up 3-0 and 3-1.
The Caps’ second goal happened after a Pastrnak shot attempt from the slot resulted in a fortuitous bounce that sprung the Caps for a 3-on-1. But Reilly did over-pursue in the offensive zone here, and got caught floating as Clifton was left to defend a 3-on-1 by himself.
So for Reilly, and the defense in general, the key is to feel out this new style to the point that they pick the right spots. They didn’t need to be go-go-go all the time with a three-goal lead.
Montgomery, however, didn’t seem to have much of an issue with the Sheary goal, because of the puck luck.
“The one goal that we gave up was an odd-man rush,” Montgomery said. “I know both were, but the [Sheary] one, Pasta has the puck in the slot. Because the defenseman goes backdoor, he’s wide open and we’re gonna take that every time. It’s a blocked shot, goes the other way, that’s hockey.”
That’s an indication that Montgomery isn’t exactly about to slam the brakes on the aggressiveness from the back end, particularly with guys like Reilly. He’s likely to continue encouraging them to join the attack like they did Wednesday night, and use mistakes as teachable moments to refine going forward.
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 12: David Krejci #46 of the Boston Bruins celebrates with David Pastrnak #88 after scoring a goal against the Washington Capitals during the third period of the game at Capital One Arena on October 12, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
This is a long way of telling Bruins fans that they might want to strap in, maybe take some Dramamine for the motion sickness. Because the Bruins are going to play faster and with more aggressiveness than ever, especially on the blue line.
The hope is it leads to more scoring and more wins. But it’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster ride.
Matt Dolloff is a writer and podcaster 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 and follow him on Instagram @realmattdolloff. Check out all of Matt’s content here.