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  • Grades at the break: Bruins’ defensemen and goaltenders

    Tim Rosenthal February 8, 2023

    As the bye week continues, the Boston Bruins sit comfortably atop the league standings. With the home stretch approaching, let’s continue to assess the performances across the lineup to date.

    Part 1 of our mid-year report cards focused on Boston’s forwards. The grading continues in Part 2 with the Bruins’ defensemen and goaltenders.

    Hampus Lindholm (51 GP, 6 G, 27 A, 33 P)

    As Charlie McAvoy began the season recovering from off-season surgery, the Bruins leaned on Lindholm to log heavy minutes. Once again, the former Anaheim Duck provided a reliable hand, displaying an increased offensive scoring touch to compliment his stout defensive traits.

    Lindholm’s offensive production declined a bit upon McAvoy’s return in mid-November. His reliability hasn’t. The Bruins have outscored opponents 52-27 whenever Lindholm touches the ice in 5v5 scenarios.

    Jim Montgomery and the coaching staff can deploy the left-shot Lindholm in any situation. They can use him in a top-pair role with McAvoy. Or they can match Lindholm with Carlo or Clifton whenever they need more balance across the three pairs. That flexibility will only prove beneficial when the first-year Boston bench boss assesses the opposition’s lineup, especially come playoff time.

    Grade: A

    Charlie McAvoy (38 GP, 4-28-32)

    The former Boston University star was the last of the off-season surgery trio to return to the Bruins’ lineup. But even that came sooner than expected. McAvoy made an immediate impact upon returning, scoring in his first game of the season during Boston’s 3-1 win over the Calgary Flames on Nov. 10.

    Even with his 13-game absence, McAvoy’s 58-point pace would surpass last year’s career-high mark of 56.

    Grade: A

    Derek Forbort (40 GP, 4-5-9)

    A handful of Bruins supporters questioned Sweeney’s motive behind Forbort’s signing during the 2021 off-season. Aside from his surprising goal-scoring stretch during the first month of his Boston tenure, the veteran defenseman hardly provided any noticeable moments as his 2021-22 campaign progressed.

    Forbort prides himself on the blue-collar details, from timely shot blocks to his heavy presence along the walls. And while his nine points aren’t exactly eye-opening, the 30-year-old blue-liner hasn’t shied away from proving timely complementary scoring.

    The two developments meshed perfectly during Boston’s slump-busting 5-2 win over Toronto when Forbort delivered the opening marker on a shorthanded tally.

    Boston’s league-leading penalty kill struggled a bit during Forbort’s nearly month-long absence in November. It isn’t a coincidence that they haven’t looked back since his return in late November.

    Grade: B+

    Connor Clifton (51 GP, 4-10-14)

    Montgomery’s predecessor often referred to Clifton’s energetic but sometimes erratic brand of play as “Cliffy Hockey.” But Bruce Cassidy’s catchphrase isn’t sufficient with this year’s version of Clifton hockey.

    Clifton perhaps benefitted most of everyone with Montgomery’s up-tempo defensive approach. He may not have the stats to back it up, but Clifton isn’t hesitating to assist the Bruins in their transition game and attacking zone setup.

    Amid his career season, the pending UFA Clifton should earn himself a healthy pay raise during the summer.

    Grade: B+

    Matt Grzelcyk (47 GP, 3-16-19)

    The recent inductee into the Beanpot Hall of Fame — along with his father, John, the legendary standout of the TD Garden bull gang — began the trend of earlier-than-expected returns from injury.

    Boston’s blue line embarked on its most productive offensive output of the season over its last ten games. Grzelcyk, who notched seven points over that timeframe, kicked off the D’s recent scoring uptick with his thrilling game-winner late in the third period of the Bruins’ 4-3 win over the Maple Leafs on Jan. 14.

    As the coaching staff embraces activating their weak side defensemen in the attacking end, Grzelcyk’s assertive puck-moving skillset provides a blueprint for executing Montgomery’s system.

    Grade: B+

    Brandon Carlo (47 GP, 2-7-9)

    After signing his four-year contract extension last summer, the Bruins envisioned further stability on the right side of their blue line, with the stay-at-home Carlo providing a perfect compliment to McAvoy’s two-way prowess. Along the way, however, Carlo hit one of the most challenging stretches of his career.

    He’s adapted fairly well to Montgomery’s system after last year’s disappointing campaign. But Carlo hit a bit of a wall at the end of January. He became a poster child of sorts during Boston’s first three-game skid, following up a defensive miscue on Victory Hedman’s game-winner in Tampa and of the season with a costly turnover on Seth Jarvis’ early third-period tally in Carolina a few days later.

    Carlo overcame that three-game rut with his second-period go-ahead tally in Toronto last Wednesday. He also bounced back with a solid defensive outing, delivering five hits and three blocked shots in 19:18 of ice time.

    The Colorado Springs-born blue-liner isn’t immune to defensive hiccups. The Bruins could use a little more consistency from their 2015 second-round pick, especially in late-game situations. But aside from that aforementioned rough three-game stretch, Carlo’s lapses from this season aren’t as noticeable.

    Grade: B

    Linus Ullmark (26-4-1, 1.90 GAA, .937 SV%)


    After spending his first six NHL seasons in Buffalo, Ullmark started finding comfort in his new home right around this time last season. He bounced back nicely from a rough first half of his 2021-22 campaign and earned the nod for the first two games of last year’s opening-round matchup with the Hurricanes.

    Swayman took over the starting role for the final five games of the Carolina series. Yet, the Bruins envisioned another round of progress for hockey’s best goaltending bromance.

    Little did they know that Ullmark would embark on a Vezina-worthy season. He sits first in every goaltending triple-crown category.

    The Swede provides his team a chance to win with every start. And while Swayman continues to progress following his brief stint on the injured list, the Bruins likely wouldn’t find themselves within striking distance of the NHL’s points record for a single season set by the legendary 1976-77 Canadiens.

    Grade: A+

    Jeremy Swayman (12-3-4, 2.34 GAA, .914 SV%)

    While his performances have dropped off a tad from his rookie campaign, Swayman hardly showcased signs of the proverbial sophomore slump following his return from a lower-body injury in November.

    The Bruins should feel confident turning to Swayman if Ullmark misses any extended time. For now, they have the rare luxury of managing the workload between their stout netminders during the home stretch.

    Grade: B+

    Incompletes: Jakub Zboril, Anton Stralman, Mike Reilly, Dan Renouf and Keith Kinkaid.

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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