Bruins’ Zboril Should Be Lineup Mainstay After Recent Play

Through the first month of the 2021-22 season, the Boston Bruins defense has been shaky. It’s not just one or two players, but it’s been a collective disaster at times as a group. Turnovers have plagued them, as well as bad pinches in the offensive zone that have led to odd-man rushes for their opponents. Coach Bruce Cassidy knows that the current state of the Bruins blue line is not going to cut it over the final 68 games on the schedule.

Related: Bruins’ Defense Not Living Up to Expectations

Cassidy has sent messages to some of his veteran and young defensemen. Mike Reilly was a healthy scratch in two games on back-to-back days against the New Jersey Devils (Nov. 13) and Montreal Canadiens (Nov. 14). Connor Clifton has been a healthy scratch multiple times this season, including the last two games this past weekend against the Philadelphia Flyers and Calgary Flames. In his place, Jakub Zboril was inserted into the lineup and the 24-year-old has proved that he deserves to stay in the lineup.

Zboril Impressive in Four Straight Games

Zboril was in the lineup against the Devils and Canadiens and proved himself nicely. He was strong along the boards, taking the body and winning puck battles. After a five-day break in the schedule following the Bruins 5-2 victory over Montreal, Cassidy had Zboril paired with Reilly, in place of the struggling Clifton against the Flyers. It was a pairing that played a big role in the Black and Gold’s third consecutive 5-2 win.

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

In recent games, the Bruins have been playing from behind, something that you don’t want to be doing a lot of in the NHL. Twice against Philadelphia, Boston lost one-goal leads, only to retake the lead on their way to a victory. The paring of Zboril and Reilly out-chanced the Flyers, 15-6, with the combination on the ice. Even much more impressive is that 5-on-5 when the combination was on the ice, the Bruins held a 7-0 advantage in shots in just over seven minutes.

The seventh and final shot was the Bruins’ fifth and final goal of the night. Zboril made a cross-ice pass to David Pastrnak, who made a move back across the front of the Philadelphia net and put the game away with his fifth goal of the season. It was another example of Zboril being dialed in right now.

“Better compete level is when I noticed he’s dialed in, a little more urgency in his 1-on-1 battles,” said Cassidy. “You don’t lose your hockey sense and your ability to make plays. You lose your confidence to make them and when to make them. If you don’t play for a while, you lose your edge, which we certainly expect for guys that are in and out. But I just find that he’s more competitive in his corner battles, net-front battles, urgency to get back on pucks, all the little things that make you a good pro. Every time you’re over the boards, you’re ready to play. There’s no easy shifts.”

In Boston’s most recent game, a 4-0 loss to the Calgary Flames, it was not another banner night for the Bruins blueliners, but Zboril might have had the best night of the group. In 24 shifts and just under 20 minutes of ice time, he had two shots on the net and three hits. That’s not going to be eye-popping on the scoresheet, but that is just how he plays, steady and not making any glaring mistakes.

Zboril Should Remain in Lineup

With all the issues that the Bruins have been facing on defense this season, is Zboril going to put an end to them? No, but he has done a very good job of fitting in and playing well in his first five games of the season. With Matt Grzelcyk, Reilly, Derek Forbort, and Zboril in the lineup, those are four left-shots with Brandon Carlo and Charlie McAvoy being the only two right-shots. Playing with four left-shots is something that Cassidy has done before and will continue to do if it is for the greater good of the team.

There is no doubt that general manager Don Sweeney knows that eventually later this season, there is going to be a need to add another left-shot defenseman to his roster for the stretch run and possible postseason berth. For now, Zboril, the 13th overall pick in the 2015 Entry Draft, is providing Boston with some stability and a consistent effort that the group has been missing for a good part of the season to date. Unless an injury occurs, there is no reason for him to come out of the lineup in the near future.

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