Bruins Have the Tools & Depth to Maintain Early Season Success

Through the first eight games of the season, the Boston Bruins have established themselves as a top-5 team in the league. This position is even more surprising given the uncertainty surrounding the club at the start of the offseason. Key pieces Brad Marchand, Charlie McAvoy, and Matt Grzelcyk were all absent at the start of the year and expected to miss substantial time. Grzelcyk has already returned for multiple games, Marchand returned last night — nearly a month ahead of schedule — and McAvoy continues to be a full participant at practices as he works to regain his fitness level for game action. The best news of all? This early success is sustainable, and here is why.

Bruins’ Depth Contributions

For years, the Bruins were a top-heavy team led by a line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak. Year in and year out, this team would be buoyed by their stars and eventually sunk by their (lack of) depth. This season, that script has changed. The stars are still performing, but there are even more options to shoulder the burden now with the emergence of Jake DeBrusk, the return of David Krejci, and a return to form for Taylor Hall. These stars have further reinforcements in the depth contributions from Charlie Coyle, a resurgence from Nick Foligno, and the emergence of A.J. Greer as a bottom-6 contributor.

Taylor Hall Boston Bruins
Taylor Hall, Boston Bruins (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

On the back end, the main weakness most people saw on the Bruins’ roster was the right side of their defensive corps. Brandon Carlo’s injury only seemed to exaggerate this deficiency, but there have certainly been issues here. Mike Reilly has not built upon a strong preseason and has especially struggled when asked to play on his off side. But Connor Clifton has reinvented himself. He has maintained his frenetic style, charging around the ice and hitting anything he can. But he has focused this energy now, combining this style with greater defensive awareness.

Clifton’s pairing with Derek Forbort has been one of the league’s strongest to start 2022-23. While this unit has been deployed more than they likely would’ve been with a full complement of healthy defensemen, the flexibility a Clifton-Forbort third pairing provides head coach Jim Montgomery is important to consider. McAvoy’s return will be important, but he will need time to ease back into the rotation. By trusting Clifton, Montgomery can help manage McAvoy’s ice time.

Bruins’ Health Improving

With the injury issues surrounding the team, the goal had been to stay afloat until the reinforcements could arrive. Instead, the Bruins have dominated long stretches of play and planted themselves near the top of the league. Now with the reinforcements arriving, they look to fortify this position.

Related: Bruins Exceeding Expectations Early in 2022-23 Season

Hats off to the medical team, who managed to return Grzelcyk and Marchand roughly a month ahead of their originally expected return dates. Grzelcyk has added an extra offensive weapon to the blue line and seamlessly fits into Montgomery’s style of play. Marchand will add his typical energetic disposition to Bergeron’s wing, and nobody doubts his ability to pick up right where last season left off.

Brad Marchand Boston Bruins
Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

McAvoy’s recovery continues to be ahead of schedule. Even though he is the last preseason injury to return, his original timeline of a December return looks to have moved up into mid-November. Adding a bona fide No. 1 defenseman will surely strengthen the team. Similarly, some of the defensive miscues that have allowed opponents to remain in games to date could be cleaned up by adding McAvoy’s skill set to the mix.

Even when players have been injured during the season, as Brandon Carlo was during the home opener, they have not missed as much time as was initially feared. When Carlo received his concussion diagnosis, many feared he would be out for months, assuming he was able to return at all given his concussion history. Instead, he missed four games, then returned against the Dallas Stars. This streak of good health will be important for the Bruins to continue their upward trajectory, but these examples of players returning ahead of schedule is encouraging moving forward.

Where Do the Bruins Go From Here?

With Grzelcyk, Marchand, and McAvoy’s impending return, the Bruins should remain right where they are, among the top teams in the Eastern Conference. As is the case with any season, there will be ups and downs, but this team has shown early on they have the ingredients for a special season. The team’s depth has often been its downfall. Now with an improved top-9 and a strong checking fourth line, coupled with three competent defensive pairs complete with offensive weapons and defensive shutdown options, the Bruins will continue to give the fans a reason to cheer and the goalies to have a post-game hug.

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