After spending much of the first part of the 2016-17 season shuffling defensive pairs in an effort to protect four different goalies, the return of Adam McQuaid to the Boston Bruins’ lineup has seemingly stabilized their blue line. In their last eight games, the Bruins are 6-2 and have only allowed more than three goals in a game once, a 5-2 loss to the juggernaut New York Rangers. In total, the defense has held opponents to 15 goals total in their past eight games after giving up 14 goals total in just three games prior to that.
The top pair of Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo has remained intact all season, with the 6’9″ veteran mentoring the 6’5″ rookie. The duo has worked together perfectly, with each playing major ice time and posting a +11 thus far. With the 19-year-old Carlo presumably looking like the heir apparent to the 39-year-old Chara, the Bruins are unlikely to change up that pair any time soon. The bottom pair of the experienced John-Michael Liles and young Colin Miller has also mostly stayed together and worked well.
It’s McQuaid’s presence on the second pair with Torey Krug that has finally brought the blue line together. A speedy, offensive defenseman, Krug has always meshed well with more solid, defensive defenseman and McQuaid has fit the bill so far this year. Although he has only played for the Bruins in his career and was a member of the 2011 Stanley Cup championship team, he has received much criticism over the past couple years for being injury prone and often a liability. When Kevan Miller established himself as a reliable top-six defenseman last season, many questioned McQuaid’s role on the team. However, a resurgence this season has shown that, at the very least, McQuaid is an upgrade over Joe Morrow or rookie Rob O’Gara and has made everyone forget about the injured Miller.
- Both a beneficiary of the defensive improvement by the Bruins this season and also a main reason for their early success is Tuukka Rask. In ten games thus far, Rask is 9-1 with a .941 save percentage and 1.69 GAA (both top five in the NHL). When Rask has been healthy, and not necessarily even starting, the Bruins have not lost consecutive games. Three of Boston’s six losses came consecutively when Rask was sidelined with a lower body injury and Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban, and Zane McIntyre got the call. Rask is obviously superior to that trio, but his performance in 2016-17 has also been much better than those of a dismal 2015-16 season, showing the impact of Carlo, Colin Miller, and a cohesive Bruins defense.
- Even with the defense playing the best they have in perhaps three years, the Bruins have still been rumored to be on the lookout for a top pairing defenseman. With Jacob Trouba signed and off the market and Cam Fowler reportedly no longer on the block either, those options are dwindling. Boston will undoubtedly stay in contact with the St. Louis Blues about impending free agent and former local college star Kevin Shattenkirk, but the Bruins may now be content to stick with their current defensive group, especially with Kevan Miller soon to be healthy and options like O’Gara, Morrow, Matt Grzelcyk, and Linus Arnesson waiting in the wings this season. One thing is for sure: if the asking price for a top defenseman includes Carlo, you can forget about it.