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.
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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.