Bruins Have Options to Mix & Match Defensive Pairings

It has been no secret that the first 13 games of the 2021-22 season have been a struggle for the Boston Bruins defense. It’s not just one player, as there is plenty of blame to go around. Coach Bruce Cassidy has been mixing and matching the pairings, even making some of his blueliners healthy scratches.

Related: Bruins’ Defense Not Living Up to Expectations

With a five-day break between games this week, it gave Cassidy time to assess the state of the defense and make some changes. With four days of practice before their next game on Saturday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, here are some defensive pairings that Boston should consider ahead of their second trip to the Wells Fargo Center this season.

New Defensive Pairings

With all the mixing and matching that Cassidy has done, he has yet to have a consistent pairing that he can feel comfortable going to. Here are new pairings that the Bruins might want to roll out against a physical Flyers team.

Left DefenseRight Defense
Matt GrzelcykCharlie McAvoy
Jakub ZborilBrandon Carlo
Derek ForbortJohn Moore

A Grzelcyk/McAvoy pairing is one that has a lot of potential to work very well. When they have been together in the past, they have created a lot of offensive chances, while also playing well off of each other. McAvoy is clearly the better offensive player and not afraid to join the rush, while Grzelcyk would be more of a defensive defenseman. There is a lot to like about this pairing.

You might be saying, a Zboril/Carlo pairing? Yes, I am. Why not? Carlo has not played very well in the last couple of weeks with some ill-advised turnovers that have cost the Bruins goals and even in the case of the game on Nov. 11 against the Edmonton Oilers, the game. He had a bad offensive zone turnover against the New Jersey Devils on Nov. 13, but goalie Jeremy Swayman bailed him out by stopping Pavel Zacha on a breakaway.

Zboril has played in two games this season and he has been steady and earned another shot in the lineup. In his latest game against the Montreal Canadiens on Nov. 14, he was physical, held his own along the boards, and won a lot of puck battles. At 6-foot-1 and 191 pounds, a former first-round pick at No. 13 overall, why not let him gain more confidence? 

Jakub Zboril Boston Bruins
Jakub Zboril, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The final pairing would require Moore being called up from the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL), but with the way some of the left side has been playing, it’s worth a shot. He played in the Bruins 4-1 win over the Buffalo Sabres on Oct. 22, but since then has been down with the P-Bruins. In his time in the AHL this season, he has played well and in all situations. 

Forbort has struggled, no question about it, but right now is not the time to sit him against a physical Flyers team that bullied the Black and Gold in their first meeting. Forbort is also a key piece on the penalty-killing unit with Carlo. His time as a healthy scratch might not be too far off, but now is not the time.

This lineup does include four left-shot defensemen, but Boston did go with a four left-shot defensemen lineup in their win over the Sabres and it’s worth trying again. Cassidy has already hinted at Zboril remaining in the lineup against the Flyers.

Reilly and Clifton Odd Men Out

Mike Reilly did not play in the two games over last weekend against the Devils and Canadiens. Like Forbort, his play has been suspect this season. When he was acquired at April’s trade deadline last spring, he came to Boston and gave the Bruins a jolt both offensively and defensively, but he has not been able to find consistency this season. 

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

Connor Clifton has already been a scratch this season and more nights off might be on the way. He has been caught up ice too many times, with the latest happening in the first period of on a 5-2 win over Montreal when a badly-timed pinch in the offensive zone lead a 3-on-1 break and a Canadiens goal. Clifton’s overall play has been suspect and like Carlo, he has surrendered some bad turnovers at key moments.

Changes Coming on the Bruins Defense?

If there are going to be any adjusting to the defensive pairings, you would expect it to come during this five-day break in between games with four practices scheduled. Swayman and Linus Ullmark have been good in the net for Boston, but they have also been hung out to dry by their defense too many times in the first 13 games. Sometimes change is good and now is a good time for some change ahead of their upcoming battle with the Flyers.

Morning Skate newsletter Click To Subscribe