The Boston Bruins are a legitimate Stanley Cup contender despite some of the holes that exist on their roster. Though they may not be considered the favorites by any stretch of the imagination, they are still among the best teams in the NHL and should have that mindset throughout the playoffs if they want to make any noise. Luckily, the Bruins are operating as a team this season and actually getting scoring up and down their lineup for the first time in what feels like ages.
While there are players on the team who have stepped up and exceeded expectations this season like Erik Haula and Jake DeBrusk, things haven’t all been sunshine and roses. In fact, in the case of Brandon Carlo, the 2021-22 season has felt like a rollercoaster. Whether it’s a sense of timidness due to injury history or just general slumps, Carlo has seemingly struggled at times this season.
This isn’t to say that the 25-year-old has been terrible for the entirety of the year. On the contrary; Carlo felt struggles early in the year, like the rest of the Bruins’ roster, but also turned a corner at the start of the 2022 calendar year. His play started to improve and fall closer in line with what he’s been in past seasons before eventually faltering a bit more as of late. This was especially evident after the Bruins’ 4-0 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Thursday. Though it may be recency bias and a tad bit hyperbolic, it was possibly the worst game Carlo has played this season.
Things aren’t always clear-cut, though. It isn’t all doom-and-gloom in regards to Carlo and as mentioned, he did appear to turn a corner following a rough start to the 2021-22 season. Also important to note is that Carlo did exit the Bruins’ 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues on April 12 and missed their game against the Ottawa Senators on April 14 before returning to the lineup on April 16 against the Penguins.
Sometimes, these injuries can linger and cause some poor performances as a result.
Carlo is a Good NHL Shutdown Defender
When he’s playing at his best, Carlo is undoubtedly one of the best shutdown defenders the Bruins have on their roster. When shorthanded or when trying to protect a lead with a defensive-zone faceoff on deck, Carlo and McAvoy are both legitimate options to roll out as right-shot defenders depending on how the game script has gone. While McAvoy is legitimately among the best defenders – and players, on the planet, giving him some rest and getting the most out of Carlo’s skill set in these situations just makes sense.
He’s proven to be capable in this spot and there’s no reason to think he can’t continue to be a lockdown defender when his number is called. This is also why Carlo has started 62.6% of his shifts this season in the defensive zone (though that number drops to 53% when at even strength and 51.5% when playing at five-on-five.
After a dominant stretch of hockey from the start of January onwards, it was only a matter of time before the Bruins hit some sort of wall and went through some growing pains. Injuries have certainly taken their toll on the Bruins as of late and that’s contributed to this difficult stretch of time. Despite this, though, the players who are in the lineup each and every night need to play at their best to make up for the absences, not use the absences as an excuse for poor results.
The next-player-up mentality is a difficult one and doesn’t always lend to positive outcomes. It would be unrealistic to expect a team dealing with so many major injuries at the same time to simply chug along as if nothing happened. With that said, though, this is a results-driven league and things need to get better to help this Bruins team build confidence for a deep playoff push.
Carlo may not be the only player struggling right now and he’s certainly not the cause for this poor stretch of power-play production, but the Bruins are going to need more from him come playoff time. This is especially true if the Bruins want to keep McAvoy and the recently-injured Hampus Lindholm healthy and fresh for a long playoff run.
Fans of the Bruins are aware of how important Carlo can be to this team when he’s playing at his best. The 6-foot-6, 217-pound blueliner is going to have to tap into that and make sure he’s the best version of himself when the postseason kicks off.
Brandon Share-Cohen has covered the NHL and various professional sports for seven years. Working with The Hockey Writers, Brandon works extensively on covering the Boston Bruins in addition to his role as the News Team Lead.