Jim Montgomery is not planning wholesale changes to the Bruins’ zone defensive system, and the new coach has a good reason for that. The B’s finished in the top five in goals against in each of the last five seasons under Bruce Cassidy, now plying his trade in Las Vegas.
But Montgomery is planning his tweaks. The most noticeable one should be the fact that he plans to encourage his defensemen to get more involved in the offensive zone, a mindset that should click in as soon as a play is shut down in the defensive zone.
Montgomery fully acknowledges that it will introduce a greater risk/reward element and, though he doesn’t want to see a plethora of odd-man chances going back the other way, he concedes that there might see a few more than we’re used to seeing from this team. The bet, of course, is the benefits in the offensive zone will outweigh the occasional mishap going the other way.
Now the D-men, who’ve taken great pride in suffocating opponents, have to adapt to the alterations.
“That will definitely be an adjustment, for sure,” said Matt Grzelcyk, still rehabbing from his shoulder surgery. “The Bruins have prided themselves on being one of the best defensive teams and playing with a lot of structure. I don’t think we’re getting away from that. But I think at the same time, just allowing yourself to have a few more guys behind you, it’s a little uncomfortable, just because you’re taught one way for a couple of years, especially as a defensman. You don’t want to be leaving guys all the time. You don’t want to lose it too much, but you want to jump in the play and add a little bit if you can.”
One player who might be asked the most to change his game is Brandon Carlo. Going into his seventh NHL season, Carlo had settled into the role of a consummate stay-at-home defenseman, playing with more offensive minded players like Torey Krug and Grzelcyk. But for a 6-foot-6, 217-pounder, he moves very well and Montgomery believes he can be an asset at both ends of the rink.
“I give not only him but everybody a long leash to get them out of their comfort zone to do that,” said Montgomery. “There was instance (in Saturday’s practice) where he jumped and the puck got turned over. And I said to him ‘I want you going there. It’s up to the guy with the puck to make the right play.’ And that’s how, for everybody, we’re going to transition from offense and defense instantaneously. That’s the hope.”
So far, Carlo is embracing the new philosophy.
“I think it’s always fun when you have the opportunity to be more involved in the offensive side of the game. I think that’s where the smiles come, when you make good plays in the offensive zone,” said Carlo. “I think it will be a challenge and learning process in certain regards for me going forward. But I’m looking forward to that challenge. I’m excited about it. I think it’s a great opportunity for all of us defensemen and we can really expand what we have on the back end. It can make our D corps and whole team better.”
Carlo and Montgomery have seemed to click off the ice.
“I feel like he’s done a good job of showing me some video in areas where if we close a play off in our defensive zone, to focus my mindset and my feet to get north up the ice rather than coast up behind the play,” said Carlo. “It’s just recognition to begin with and from there opportunities will start to present themselves and hopefully we can start to capitalize.”
There will no doubt be some bumps along the way, but Montgomery plans to allow a liberal trial-and-error period.
“I always have a long-term view and I think that the more you can allow players early on to play through stuff – and long would be like to Thanksgiving – so that they get it,” said Montgomery. “Everybody learns differently and some people can just see it and visualize it and apply it because their brain works that way. Some people need to see it on the board a couple of times. Most people? They need muscle memory before the high-twitch fiber actually starts to fire and they go with their brains.”
In theory, it sounds exciting. Time will tell if the reality can match it.
Lines coming into focus
The B’s opened the second week of training camps with lines we have a better chance of seeing on opening night. Patrice Bergeron centered Pavel Zacha and Jake DeBrusk, David Krejci centered Taylor Hall and David Pastrnak and we saw a third line from last year, with Charlie Coyle centering Trent Frederic and Craig Smith.
The fourth line appears to be still up for grabs. One unit had Tomas Nosek between A.J. Greer and Marc McLaughlin while Joona Koppanen centered Nick Foligno and Vinni Letteieri. While Foligno seemed to be going the wrong way on the depth chart, Montgomery – giving allowances to Foligno’s health challenges and new environment that the vet had to deal with last year – expects him to be a part of the team.
“I expect him to be a big part of what we do this year. Because of those things, I think he’s playing a lot freer and he’s getting on top of pucks, he’s creating a lot of loose pucks and he’s getting to the net front. And that’s where he’s made his whole career, is at the net front…where goals are scored,” said Montgomery.
The 34-year-old Foligno had just two goals in 64 games last year, and he’s not happy with that. But he said that he gauges his game on more than points these days.
“I know. I get it. There’s a number and a salary attached. I get that,” said Foligno, who has one more year left at $3.8 million. “But for me I’ve played long enough to know that, if you’re out there in certain situations, important minutes, then that’s really what matters. That’s what teammates expect out of you and where you gfet respect from coaches and players. That’s what I look for. Last year, the hardest part was finding a role and once I found one, it’s making sure you’re good. And I thought as a fourth line we were really solid. Yeah, the goals are important and when you have the opportunity, you’ve got to bury them. That’s part of this league. But it’s also what you do away from the puck in the role you’re in now. I’m in a different role in my career now.”
Odds and ends
Eduards Tralmaks suffered a lower body injury in Saturday’s practice that will keep him out for about four weeks, said Montgomery…
Veteran Anton Stralman, in camp on a tryout, skated on a pairing with fellow Swede Hampus Lindholm and Montgomery was encouraged with how they looked together…
Montgomery said that on Tuesday’s preseason game at the Garden he’ll play a couple more veterans than he did on Saturday in Philadelphia. He expects to go heavier with veterans in Saturday’s Garden matinee.
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