Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Boston Bruins

Mar 16, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Ryan Poehling (25) and Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Peeke (52) battle for the puck during the second period at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Bruins are about a month, perhaps even to the day, away from the official start of the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But the in-house competition has really just kicked off for the Black and Gold backend, and with Jim Montgomery slated to debut another potential third-pairing option in Tuesday night’s head-to-head with the Senators at TD Garden.

After two games of the Bruins plugging Parker Wotherspoon to the left of deadline addition Andrew Peeke, Tuesday will come with a different look involving Peeke, with Peeke on the right side and Kevin Shattenkirk thrown back into the mix, but as the B’s left-side defenseman on the third pair.

  • With Shattenkirk slated to jump back into the mix, Wotherspoon will sit with fellow defenseman Mason Lohrei as the Black and Gold’s healthy scratches on the backend.

    Boston Bruins on Twitter: "ūüé•Coach Montgomery on the stretch run: "The plan all along was when we hit March, our focus is to get ready for playoffs. I think mentally we're getting there. I don't think we're executing on ice yet like that...that's what regular season does, it prepares you for playoffs." pic.twitter.com/5GG4YrxNHf / Twitter"

    ūüé•Coach Montgomery on the stretch run: "The plan all along was when we hit March, our focus is to get ready for playoffs. I think mentally we're getting there. I don't think we're executing on ice yet like that...that's what regular season does, it prepares you for playoffs." pic.twitter.com/5GG4YrxNHf

    It’s just the latest chapter in a stretch that Montgomery has already tabbed as preparation for the playoffs, and after last Saturday began with Montgomery confirming that everything has to be “earned” for players’ minutes on the backend.

  • Mar 16, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Danton Heinen (43) is congratulated by defenseman Andrew Peeke (52) after scoring a goal during the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 16, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Bruins left wing Danton Heinen (43) is congratulated by defenseman Andrew Peeke (52) after scoring a goal during the third period against the Philadelphia Flyers at TD Garden. (Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports)

    And though this is just one night and things can change by Thursday night against the Rangers, it does appear that Peeke is going to be a near-constant (or a straight-up constant) in Boston’s lineup down the stretch.

    There’s also no real reason for the Bruins to even¬†consider¬†sitting the 6-foot-3 Peeke right now.

    Operating with an obviously microscopic sample size through just two games with the Bruins, Peeke has racked up six blocks and four hits, and even had a primary helper on Johnny Beecher’s goal last Saturday against the Flyers.

    Beyond the obvious of the Bruins trading a third-round pick, as well as Peeke’s $2.75 million contract for this year (and another two after that), Peeke¬†should¬†be a constant in Montgomery’s lineup.

    With Derek Forbort out of action and done for the season, the Bruins need another defenseman they can rely on for some hard, defensive-zone minutes. The Hampus Lindholm-Brandon Carlo pairing has been asked to do that for the majority of the season, and they’ve performed well in that deployment, but the Bruins also can’t burn ’em out before the postseason, and they can’t be out there for¬†every¬†defensive-zone situation.

  • Mar 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Lars Eller (20) controls the puck against Boston Bruins defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (12) during the second period at the TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

    Mar 9, 2024; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Lars Eller (20) controls the puck against Boston Bruins defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (12) during the second period at the TD Garden. (Brian Fluharty/USA TODAY Sports)

    And how Shattenkirk factors into this is going to be interesting.

    When paired together this season, the Forbort-Shattenkirk pairing was perhaps best described as “OK at best.” They weren’t unplayably bad by any stretch, but it never really felt like the duo had any sort of noticable, ‘feed off each other’ kind of chemistry like the Forbort and Connor Clifton had a year ago.

    One of four Boston defensive pairings to play at least 190 minutes of five-on-five time together this season, the Fobort-Shattenkirk pairing found themselves on the ice for a team-worst 2.48 goals against per 60. That rate was also the 65th-worst goals against rate among 140 pairings with at least 190 minutes of five-on-five time together.

    The 35-year-old Shattenkirk also has the most riding on this competition, you would think. With both Shattenkirk and Peeke being right-shot defensemen, Peeke is the greatest threat to Shattenkirk’s minutes. And the minutes have been hit-or-miss for Shattenkirk of late, with Shattenkirk playing at least 16 minutes in just two of his last 12 outings.

    Shattenkirk has also been real up-and-down. But with Peeke being a better skater than Forbort, it’ll be interesting to see if this combo allows the veteran Shattenkirk to maybe take some more offensive chances.

  • BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - NOVEMBER 09: Mason Lohrei #6 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders during the first period at TD Garden on November 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – NOVEMBER 09: Mason Lohrei #6 of the Boston Bruins skates against the New York Islanders during the first period at TD Garden on November 09, 2023 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

    The other wild card in the mix here, of course, is Mason Lohrei.

    This will Lohrei’s second straight healthy scratch after a what was a 0-0-0 game against the Canadiens last week (Lohrei also posted zeros when it came to hits, blocks, and even shots), and a minus-3 against the Blues in the game before that. But Lohrei¬†has¬†been better on what’s now his third NHL recall, and just looks closer and closer to being ready for a full-time role with this club. Giving Lohrei a run with Peeke could be an interesting combination, as it would allow the offense-first defender to have a relatively strong safety net behind him with the defense-first, block-friendly Peeke.

    But if Tuesday, and the last week as a whole actually, tells us anything, it’s that this may be a three-horse race for just one spot in the lineup between Lohrei, Wotherspoon, and Shattenkirk.

    Let the games begin.

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