Bruins’ Defense Not Living Up to Expectations

Eleven games into the 2021-22 NHL season, the Boston Bruins sit at 6-5-0 and sit in sixth place in the Atlantic Division. It is not a position that coach Bruce Cassidy’s crew wants to be sitting at this early in the season, but the truth is, it’s a hole that they have dug for themselves.

Going into the season, there were questions surrounding the makeup of the roster that general manager Don Sweeney gave it over the summer. Secondary scoring, as usual, is becoming a glaring issue for Boston in the first month, while the goaltending duo of rookie Jeremy Swayman and free-agent Linus Ullmark has been as good as the Bruins could have hoped for. The defense? Well, that’s a different story.

Bruins GM Don Sweeney
Bruins general manager, Don Sweeney. (Boston Globe staff photo by John Tlumacki)

The Bruins had some subtractions on the blueline following the 2020-21 season with Jeremy Lauzon being selected by the Seattle Kraken in July’s Expansion Draft and veteran Kevan Miller decided to call it a career by retiring. Sweeney locked up Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo long-term, while bringing back Mike Reilly, who was acquired at the trade deadline from the Ottawa Senators. Derek Forbort was signed as a left-shot, 20-minute a night defenseman after spending last season with the Winnipeg Jets. 

Related: Seattle Kraken Select Jeremy Lauzon From the Boston Bruins

One month into the season, the Bruins defense has been springing too many leaks and those leaks are leading to a team that had high expectations going into the season left to ponder on what to do on the backend.

Oilers Benefit From Latest Leaks

When the Bruins lost 6-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers at the Wells Fargo Center on Oct. 20, Swayman allowed a career-high five goals. He was facing multiple odd-man rushes against him following turnovers from his defensemen at center ice and in the offensive zone. Following the game, one of Boston’s blueliners took the blame. Reilly had the biggest turnover in the game when his failed rush through the neutral zone led to a turnover and a goal.

Since that night, the Bruins have been skating by with the defensive breakdowns, but in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to the Edmonton Oilers on Nov. 4, they had the biggest breakdowns of the season and particularly in the third period while nursing a 3-2 lead following 40 minutes. After giving the Bruins a 3-2 lead late in the second period with his first goal of the season, Carlo had a gaffe in his end, in front of his net that led to the game-tying goal. An attempted pass across the middle of the defensive zone, across the slot, was whiffed on and the puck went right to Leon Draisaitl and the Oilers’ leading scorer beat Ullmark to tie the game.

“Yeah, they play fast throughout the entire time. I think in that situation I need to be looking more up the ice. I don’t know why I was gonna look that way towards Grizzy, didn’t see the price sitting there in the slot until I was about to pass and then kind of fumbled it – gave it right to them. Unfortunate mistake for sure, but it’s how you respond after that and I didn’t do a good job there.’’

Brandon Carlo

Earlier in the game, right after Brad Marchand gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead, Edmonton’s Zach Hyman collected a loose puck along the right wall, skated out from the boards into the middle of the slot, and tied the game 24 seconds after Marchand’s goal with a backhander. In the play, Forbort was engaged with Jesse Puljujarui, who was boxing him out, which allowed Hyman a path to the front of the net. Too easy.

Bruins Defense Needs to Be Better

To be upfront and honest, the Bruins are just simply not giving themselves a chance to win each night. The defensive breakdowns are piling up and piling up fast. Third periods are becoming a cause for concern and not finishing games is proven costly. The defense is not the only one at fault. 

In the third period of a 3-3 game against Edmonton, Jake DeBrusk allowed Oilers’ defensemen Cody Ceci to beat him on the outside in the offensive zone after a faceoff, and Ceci’s pass to the slot as he was circling around the net was tipped in Draisaitl for the game-winning goal. It was just too easy once again for one of the most explosive teams in the league.

The defense was been a work in progress all season long. Cassidy has moved around the pairings for matchups and has even scratched Connor Clifton in place of John Moore and Jakub Zboril. For the Bruins defense, the numbers don’t lie. In their first 11 games, their combined plus/minus is a minus-9 on the blueline. No, you’re not reading that wrong, they are a combined minus-9. Matt Grzelcyk leads the way with a minus-4, while McAvoy is the only regular defensemen without a minus and he is a plus-2.

Matt Grzelcyk, Boston Bruins
Matt Grzelcyk, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The defensive woes have to be fixed and they need to be fixed fast. The Bruins have games against the New Jersey Devils (Nov. 13) and the Montreal Canadiens (Nov. 14) before having a five-day break before returning to the ice for game action. There is a good chance that if they don’t turn it around in the next two games, they will be looking at being below .500. Playing better in their defensive end would go a long way in fixing things, but Sweeney and Cassidy may be forced to make some changes to shake things up. It could not get any worse than it is now.

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