If he plays in Boston for, say, another 8-10 years, Brandon Carlo’s main assets will be his size and reach, and defensive intelligence, stuff that doesn’t show up on that goals-assists-points line.
The 6-foot-6-inch Carlo, 26, is first and foremost a defenseman, a solid top-four, right-shooting play-stopper, which in part explains why he flashed a smile wider than the Zakim Bridge Monday night when he pumped home his first goal of the season.
It was the 22nd goal of Carlo’s 430-game regular-season career. Like every goal scorer, be their hauls big or small, he hopes there is more to come.
“It’s an area where I’d obviously love to contribute,” he said late Wednesday morning, following the Bruins’ workout in Brighton to prepare for Thursday night’s visit by the Jets. “I feel like this year, more than others, I’ve had some great opportunities to see the net, and I’m getting a little bit more comfortable in those areas [on the ice] where I have scoring chances and I’m learning through the process.”
In their recent stop in Arizona, noted Carlo, left wing Brad Marchand delivered a pass that set him up in a prime shooting spot on the back door. A slight delay with the puck at the end of his stick cost Carlo the chance.
“I should have just shot it,” lamented Carlo, in his seventh season with the Bruins. “You don’t really know those things until you get into those certain areas within a game.”
Lesson learned, and once more set up with a Marchand relay off the sidewall Monday night, Carlo zipped assertively some 25 feet into the slot and snapped off a wrister that beat Panthers goalie Spencer Knight to the glove side.
If scoring begets scoring, Carlo is all for it.
“I think for anybody, you can say that first one of the year is a big one for sure for a confidence boost,” he said. “Hopefully, there will be more to come.”
Carlo’s goal was the second in a 1-2 punch triggered earlier when fellow defenseman Connor Clifton scored his third goal of the season. At game’s end, the backliners had their biggest night of the season, a 2-4–6 line, a sharp contrast to the modest 68 points they posted across the first 30 games.
Coach Jim Montgomery noted after Wednesday’s workout that in recent days he renewed his message that he’d like his defensemen to get more involved in the offense. Prior to Monday, Bruins blue liners had scored only two goals (Charlie McAvoy, Derek Forbort) over the previous 14 games.
When the chances are there, no matter what the pairing, Montgomery encourages his blue liners to take smart risks, make themselves a shooting option down the wing and into the faceoff circle.
“His DNA is to shut people down,” said Montgomery, noting Carlo’s strengths. “He reads the ice really quick. We showed a bunch of really good neutral-zone forechecks [in a video session] today before practice and almost every one, where it’s a D-man killing a play, it’s Brando.”
On offense, by Montgomery’s eye, Carlo is an intelligent “support” contributor, with a keen sense of where to be as the offensive chance develops. Now it’s a matter of shifting from support mode to score mode.
“And I think he’s getting more comfortable being down around the top of the circle, or below the dot, in the offensive zone,” added Montgomery. “I think that’s something that’s going to become just more and more natural to him. We see the development in his confidence, offensively. The production maybe hasn’t coincided with that, but he’s going to produce more as he gets more comfortable with it. As will all our defensemen, I believe.”
Zboril waits, and waits
The return of McAvoy in mid-November all but cemented Jakub Zboril’s standing as the seventh defenseman.
Zboril, 25, suited up Nov. 23 vs. the Panthers, his only action over the last 38 days, following his appearance Nov. 13 vs. the Canucks.
Zboril’s 2021-22 season was truncated after 10 games when he blew out a knee at Nashville. His knee surgically repaired, he has played only 13 games this season.
“Yes, we do,” said Montgomery, asked if the club worries that Zboril’s development could be hindered by such protracted inaction. “It’s a tough situation. We stay in communication with him about, you know, his development. We want to get him in a game.”
However, Montgomery added, “We’re in a winning business.” And with six other defensemen playing very well, and the Bruins with a league-best mark of 25-4-2, Zboril remains the odd man out.
Home has been sweet
The visit by the Jets will end the Bruins’ five-game homestand, the longest of the season. The Bruins, 3-0-1 thus far, have not trailed during their Causeway run, amassing a lead advantage of 159:06 to 00:00.
The Bruins’ advantage through 31 games, home and away, thus far: 902:31-301:30.
“It allows us to use our [lineup] depth more,” said Montgomery. “I think a negative of it is, we have come back a couple of times. We were down, 2-0, to Carolina and Vegas, 3-0, and we’ve shown the ability to come back. We know we can do it. But sometimes it’s good to be down, and it’s going to happen, organically, but to be down, 3-2, in Toronto or Tampa Bay or tomorrow night against Winnipeg … ”
In those instances, there’s a lesson to be learned in resiliency and strategy, noted Montgomery.
“To be able to shorten your bench, and come hard at people,” he said, “to come through in moments like that, that’s important, too. There’s some negatives to playing with a lead, but you’re never going to deny the lead.”
The Bruins are a franchise-best 17-0-2 at home and have failed to hold a lead in only two of those games.
For the season, they have built an advantage in lead time on home ice of 660:55-98:37.
Smith back from Providence
Craig Smith was recalled from AHL Providence and likely will suit up on a fourth line with Nick Foligno and Tomas Nosek vs. the Jets.
The back-and-forth with Providence, commonly referred to as a “paper” transaction, is aimed at trimming back some of the cap consequence of Smith’s $3.1 million hit. His salary is $4.3 million.
The savings could help general manager Don Sweeney when it comes to making a deal as the March 3 trade deadline approaches.
Kevin Paul Dupont can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.