Bruins Need Better Situational Decisions in Montgomery’s System

Out with the old, in with the new.

When the Boston Bruins fired Bruce Cassidy in June, it took general manager (GM) Don Sweeney a month to find his replacement when he hired Jim Montgomery in early July. As is the case whenever there is a coaching change in the NHL, a new change most likely means a new system. In the case of the Bruins, it’s a new system that is going to benefit the defensemen in 2022-23.

Related: 3 Bruins Who Can Benefit From Coaching Change

Boston opened their season with a 5-2 win over the Washington Capitals on Wednesday night and Montgomery’s new system was in full display. There were some pros and cons with how the system worked, but in the big picture, the Black and Gold did what they set out to do, win their first game of the season. With that said, moving forward, the Bruins need to play smarter in certain parts of the systems as the season goes along.

Bruins Defense Adjusting to New System

In Montogmery’s new system, there is a lot more freedom for the defensemen than there was in Cassidy’s. That was evident from the Bruins’ first preseason game against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sept. 24 when Jakub Zboril was taking advantage and joining the rush. Watching the season opener against the Capitals, the defensemen pinched in from the blue line, and did a nice job of cycling the puck, allowing the forwards to stay down low more than in the previous system.

Jim Montgomery Boston Bruins head coach
Jim Montgomery, Boston Bruins head coach (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Another big part of the system is the Bruins’ defense leading the break out of their defensive zone, something that Hampus Lindholm did very well after being acquired from the Anaheim Ducks last March. Mike Reilly is another defenseman that has been a good puck-moving defenseman that supplied an offensive boost when he was acquired at the 2021 trade deadline, but struggled all of last season. This season, he has already seen the benefits of the new system as he joined the rush in a preseason game against the New York Rangers on Oct. 5 and scored what turned out to be a game-winning goal in the third period.

Derek Forbort has a limited offensive game, but in his first game in Montgomery’s system, he was moving the puck better, and playing with confidence, which would be a nice addition to this defensive group if he can become a better player moving the puck. The Bruins looked confident in the new system without Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk.

Bruins Need to Make Better Decisions in Certain Situations

This new system is going to fit this Bruins team well this season and it should supply more offense from their defense, which is something they have lacked in previous seasons. However, there needs to be better decisions made by the defensemen in certain situations, like the one they faced against Washington.

Taylor Hall gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead 6:14 into the second period when he buried a nice cross-ice pass from David Pastrnak. What ensued after is going to happen this year, it just can’t happen in the fashion it did against the Capitals. Exactly 80 seconds later, Reilly made an ill-advised pinch decision in the offensive end, which led to a 2-on-1 break the other way for Washington and ended with Anthony Mantha scoring into an open net after the puck deflected off of equipment and bodies. Just over five minutes later, Conor Sheary took advantage of another 2-on-1 and cut the deficit to 3-2.

Mike Reilly, Boston Bruins
Mike Reilly, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

In both instances, it was Reilly who was caught up in the offensive zone and left partner Connor Clifton and Linus Ullmark staring at an odd-man rush and the Capitals took full advantage of both opportunities. Yes, the Bruins survived the two odd-man rushes to win the game, but they won’t be so lucky on other nights. 

Another adjustment that needs to happen needs to come from the coaching staff. David Krejci, David Pastrnak, and Pavel Zacha were hands down the best line for the Black and Gold, but when they’re on the ice, there needs to be another defensive pair than Reilly and Clifton. Right now they are under-manned on defense, but once healthy, another pair needs to play with regularity with the trio.

There is no doubt that the new system is going to help this Bruins team and it should help them generate more offense, especially from the defense. It is going to be more effective once McAvoy and Grzelcyk return to the lineup, but better decisions need to be made with the flow of the game. A 3-0 lead against a Washington team that was struggling offensively gave them life and got them back into the game. That can’t happen on a nightly basis.

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