Brandon Carlo

First taste of life without McAvoy looked rough for B's

First taste of life without McAvoy looked rough for B's

BOSTON – The first returns of life without Charlie McAvoy weren’t very encouraging ones for the Bruins.

Clearly, there will be plenty more time to evaluate things with the 20-year-old out for the next four weeks with a sprained MCL in his left knee and the Bruins hope things will get better as they adjust to life without him for the next month.

Still, the Bruins defense was pretty poor Tuesday night in a 6-5 overtime win over the Red Wings at TD Garden and the newly reformed Zdeno Chara/Brandon Carlo pairing was at the heart of some of the worst struggles. Bruce Cassidy acknowledged those struggles after the game while hoping it was a one-time event, but the truth is the Bruins were lucky they were playing a poor team like the Red Wings where they could still come away with two points despite the careless level of play.

“Some of it, as a coach, you understand, and the other part of it is they’ll always be held accountable and they’re told that. We know there are 82 of these [games], and it’s hard to stay in the moment for 82, and [be] focused and not want to have a little offensive surge and trade chances,” said Cassidy. “But we’re trying to play to our identity, as well. So we talked about it. Hopefully, it doesn’t go in one ear and out the other and we take it to heart and build on it for our next game.

“Some of that was winning those pucks and getting the clears. So, that was the common denominator. I don’t think it was like Montreal where we turned it over a lot and it was all odd-man rushes. I mean, we had a line change in the second, we got messed up, they got a breakaway. They’ll do that, Detroit, they spring guys. So it was kind of the opposite of Montreal where our slot coverage, typically our strength, [was where] we needed to be better.”

The aforementioned Chara/Carlo pairing certainly didn’t get all of last season’s chemistry back in one fell swoop against the Red Wings. Instead, the 40-year-old Chara had one of those nights where perhaps he looked his age a little bit and made errors in puck management and defensive-zone coverage while on the ice for four of the five goals Detroit scored. Perhaps even more noteworthy, Chara ended up playing 25-plus minutes with many more on tap this month. He didn’t ring up a single registered hit or blocked shot despite leading all players in ice time.

Carlo wasn’t much better. He was on the ice for three Detroit goals and both tall, rangy defenders were far from the shutdown pair they were on many nights last season. We may learn in the next month that McAvoy was indeed a big part of Chara enjoying such a successful season and there may be some choppy waters ahead without him.

But some of the rough night for Chara can also be attributed to it being late in the season when the Bruins are in a stretch of 16 games in the 31 days of March. The truth with Chara is that the B’s would be best served to rest him at some designated points in the final month of the regular season. That may mean convincing him to be a healthy scratch on a couple of occasions given A) Boston’s comfortable position within the Eastern Conference playoff standings and B) the Bruins ideal depth on the back end since the addition of Nick Holden.

“I’ll have to look closer at that,” said Cassidy, when asked about the Chara/Carlo pairing after the game. “I think there was so much going on [against the Red Wings] that I didn’t worry too much about that part. They’ve played together, so they will find their chemistry. I thought Brandon was skating better again. He is trying to move pucks out of the zone with his feet, so that’s a good thing.”

That is a good thing and that is the hope over the next month. Playing with Chara again as a shutdown pairing might be the best thing that could happen for the 21-year-old Carl. Certainly, he played with more surliness and attitude in the defensive zone than we’ve seen in the past. Those things bode well for both Carlo and the Bruins as he prepares for his first playoff experience as well and perhaps it will work out over the next month.

But the defensive debacle against Detroit also painted a pretty stark picture of what life could be like for the Bruins in the playoffs without their 20-year-old wunderkind Charlie McAvoy and it wasn’t a very pretty one at all.



Carlo "ready" and "prepared" to step into top pairing in McAvoy's absence

Carlo "ready" and "prepared" to step into top pairing in McAvoy's absence

BOSTON – While it’s unclear how long rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy is going to be out of the Bruins lineup, the backup plan without McAvoy is one that’s been in Boston’s holster all season.


The Bruins will push 21-year-old Brandon Carlo back up to a top shutdown pairing with 40-year-old Zdeno Chara as they functioned very well for all of last year, and perhaps get a little more out of Carlo than they have for much of this season. 

“We could go in different directions, but Carlo is an easy one to slot back in with [Chara],” said Bruce Cassidy, of the plan without McAvoy after the Bruins went 3-1 without him earlier this season amidst his games missed following the heart procedure. “They’ve played together. [The rest of the pairings] is something we’ll sort through. We had all seven of them working out there [at practice].

“It’s a credit to the guys to be able to ‘man up’ and get it done without key guys, and knowing they can do it. It’s a sign of a good team as well. Obviously every team relies on their best players to be their best players and for the supporting players to follow, but it’s nice when a guy can step up when given the opportunity.” 

It’s been a relatively modest, up-and-down season from the 21-year-old D-man with six assists and a plus-10 rating in 62 games where he’s been largely a defense-first presence playing with the aggressive, playmaking Torey Krug. Within his sophomore NHL season, Carlo has struggled as of late with a point and a minus-7 over his last eight games as he was working through the NHL trade deadline and a glut of goals against where he found himself on the ice.

A new, but familiar assignment for Carlo with the Bruins captain might be exactly the kind of thing to really bring out the best in the 6-foot-5 D-man, and it was pretty clear he was excited about the possibilities in the wake of McAvoy missing some time. 

“I think it’s part of being in the league, and of being ready and being prepared. It’s part of being a pro, I guess you could say, that you’ve got to step up to the challenge when it comes. You look forward to it. I like to challenge myself each and every day,” said Carlo, who has averaged 19:10 of ice time this season. “Even during my ups and downs, I appreciate the downs because I think it makes me a better player. So during this stretch I’ll just go out, work hard and talk to Zee as much as I can on the ice so he doesn’t yell at me on the bench.”


Carlo and Chara obviously built up a pretty strong chemistry as a couple of tall, rangy defensemen capable of really clamping down in the D-zone, and they’ve remained partners on the penalty kill for much of this season as well. In a funny way this might be a development that really works out for the Bruins if they get McAvoy back well ahead of the playoffs, and also inject more confidence and a little hard-nosed swagger into Carlo’s game as well with his very first playoff experience coming up as well.


'Pockets of inconsistency' lead to Carlo's first healthy scratch

'Pockets of inconsistency' lead to Carlo's first healthy scratch

BOSTON - It took almost two full seasons in his NHL career for it to happen, but Brandon Carlo was finally a healthy scratch in the Bruins' 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday night. 

The 21-year-old defenseman had a rough road trip with a minus-5 performance through the first four games of the five-game swing before getting kicked up to the press box for the loss to the Sabres at the KeyBank Center. Perhaps some of the downturns in performance has been about the trade deadline with the second-year defenseman’s name being bandied about in a possible blockbuster deal for Ryan McDonagh. Some of it also is clearly the lulls that can happen in a young player’s game.

His replacement didn’t fare much better. Both Adam McQuaid and Torey Krug struggled, as did most of the team, in the loss, but Bruce Cassidy said he wants to see more consistency of the young, top-four D-man.

The chances of Carlo getting shipped ahead of the Monday 3 p.m. trade deadline aren’t very good with the Bruins likely done dealing from their roster and Cassidy said as much when discussing Carlo's scratch.

“Before speculation starts, we’ve talked about having eight capable guys and playing the best six every night as best as possible,” said Bruce Cassidy, who was also very clear to point out it was about Carlo watching a game from upstairs rather than having anything to do with the Monday afternoon trade deadline. “We feel Adam did his job very well while he was in, and Brandon has had pockets of very good hockey, and some inconsistency, so we were making that switch for [Sunday].

“I think it’s good for a kid sometimes to go upstairs and watch, and that’s our plan. We’ll see where it goes from there.”

Interestingly, newly acquired D-man Nick Holden is still waiting to make his debut with the Bruins as there are eight bona-fide candidates for the six nightly spots and anybody scuffling is going to need to pick up their game if they want to play. That goes for Carlo, who had a tough first period on Saturday night in Toronto and never seemed to rebound from that in an area of resiliency he’ll need to keep working on as the games get more important down the stretch.

February is the first month where Carlo has been a minus player this season and the healthy scratch on Sunday might just be a crossroads for a player who needs to play with more confidence, more toughness and a little more swagger if he’s going to be a positive factor for the Black and Gold.