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Over the last four games, the Boston Bruins received significant offensive production from their defensive core. In reality, their recent stretch is a byproduct of their adaptive approach to Jim Montgomery’s system.
Yet, the offensive production from Boston’s blue line hit a snag before its recent offensive uptick.
The Seattle Kraken did something no other team could: earn a regulation win over the Bruins at TD Garden on Jan. 12. The NHL’s 32nd franchise stymied Boston’s blue-liners in front of Martin Jones’ crease, making them settle for perimeter shot attempts. Coming off their sweep of California, Montgomery’s squad embarked on a rare static outing during Seattle’s 3-0 shutout.
Montgomery noticed that his defensemen got away from their stout puck-moving roots during that loss to Seattle. But he also noticed signs of an offensive uptick during Boston’s three-game swing in California, and especially after Hampus Lindholm broke a 10-game skid without a goal from a defenseman during the B’s 7-1 rout of Anaheim on Jan. 8.
“We made an emphasis on a couple of things we kind of wanted to add to our team, different things we could do to help,” Montgomery said. “And I think it’s paid off. We’ve seen our defensemen get more comfortable in those areas — a little bit of success, but we expect more.”
Montgomery and the coaching staff emphasized that point before the Bruins faced Seattle’s core of offensive blue-line dynamos. Even leading up to that tilt roughly two weeks ago, Boston’s D struggled to light the lamp consistently.
It wasn’t a case of offensive stagnation from the Bruins’ defensive core. They remained active in transition and created quality chances through their slick skating in their attacking end. Even with one goal over a 10-game stretch between Dec. 22 and Jan. 12, Boston’s D still produced at a healthy rate, contributing 17 assists during that time frame. Both Hampus Lindholm and Charlie McAvoy embarked on a run delivering helpers in three of four games within that span.
“I think when we played Seattle, the [coaching staff] let us know that their D were leading the league in goals. They were at 25, and we were at 12, 14… something like that,” Clifton said. “So we’re like, ‘Hey, why aren’t we scoring more?’ And then it started going in for us.”
The goals came in bunches.
The Bruins have increased their blue-line goal total from 12 to 20 over the last four games. Amid that run, they’ve developed various means of finding the back of the net.
“With Monty and the coaching staff, they’re able to show some stuff on video that they’ve taken, trying to help you (find) new ways to stay involved offensively to keep plays alive,” McAvoy said before his Long Island homecoming on Wednesday. “It’s something that we’ve been working on for a few weeks now. And hopefully, we can just keep getting involved [offensively].”
The recent goal barrage from the Bruins’ D began when Matt Grzelcyk blasted the game-winner off a unique feed from Taylor Hall late in regulation to cap off an emotionally-charged triumph over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 14.
Boston’s blue liners aren’t just settling for one-timers from the point or hoping for a tip, or a bounce. They’re also attacking the net without sacrificing their defensive responsibilities. Grzelcyk showcased that development in the two games after his game-winner, delivering a snipe from the right face-off dot during Monday’s matinee against the Flyers.
The Former Boston University product and Charlestown native extended his point streak to three games two days later. Grzelcyk assisted on McAvoy’s tying marker during Wednesday’s tilt with the Islanders following a skating tour in the attacking end.
Even under Bruce Cassidy, the Bruins encouraged their mobile defensemen like Grzelcyk, McAvoy, and Lindholm to pinch when the opportunity arose. Through his more aggressive philosophy compared to his predecessor, Montgomery persuaded every one of his six defensemen to jump in whenever they deemed fit.
The defensive-minded Derek Forbort isn’t shying away from delivering that timely offensive support. The second-year Bruin pounced on a fortunate bounce created from Pavel Zacha’s shot attempt, delivering a doorstep go-ahead marker in the second period of the B’s 4-1 win over the Islanders.
The Bruins had to overcome Brandon Carlo’s lower-body injury after the 2015 second-round selection exited Thursday’s tilt with the Rangers early in the second period. Even playing with five defensemen for most of the second half of the Empire State back-to-back, the Bruins D didn’t deviate from their offensive approach.
Jeremy Swayman stood tall as the Bruins persevered without Carlo for 38-plus minutes. Clifton provided more insurance for his netminder early in the third, completing a 2-on-1 sequence with Brad Marchand shortly after exiting the penalty box to give his team a 3-0 lead a mere 38 seconds into the final frame.
“I think our defensemen, ever since we got back from the West Coast, have become more assertive offensively,” Montgomery said. “And I think because of that, their gaps have been really tight. They’ve been really good.”
Really good may be an understatement.
Over time, the Bruins D gained a better grasp of Montgomery’s system. Amid the smooth transition, the Bruins sit eighth in the league in defensive point production with 103 total points. They finished 25th in that category with 150 points in 2021-22.
They’ve traded a north-south approach under Cassidy, emphasizing a more angled attack. It’s allowed them time to recover in transition whenever they encounter a tough bounce or other troubling situations in the attacking end. As a result, they sit near the top of every 5v5 statistical category and possess a plus-76 goal differential through 45 games.
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