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.