The 12-1-2 Bruins are accruing points.
But Tuesday’s 5-2 win over the Sabres did stand as an outlier for Jim Montgomery’s squad.
Despite their perch atop the NHL standings, the Bruins haven’t made things easy on themselves when it comes to breathing room on the scoreboard.
Of their 15 games, seven have been decided by one goal. Tuesday marked just the second time they have scored at least five times. Last season’s record-setting team scored five-plus goals in 25 of their 82 games.
It was to be expected that there would be a dip in scoring following the departures of some key forwards via retirement, trades, and free agency. But all it takes is a glance at Tuesday’s scoresheet to discern why the offense spiked against the Sabres.
On a night when four players buried their first goals of the season, most of the offense was sparked by a defensive corps that peppered Buffalo’s net.
Brandon Carlo and Hampus Lindholm accounted for two of the five goals, while Charlie McAvoy chipped in with two assists.
It was a step in the right direction for a team that entered the night with just four goals and 25 total points from defensemen.
But for Montgomery, getting his blue liners to buy in remains a work in progress.
“Yes, but not enough still,” Montgomery said of the defensemen adopting a shot-first mentality. “I think we got a couple of goals and then I thought we had times to pound pucks and now we’re up 4-0 or whatever and we’re trying to get cute.
“We do need our defensemen to be more shot-ready, and it’s every one of them. When there’s traffic at the net — and I think we have a team that is doing a really good job this year with our forwards at getting traffic at the net — the D-men need to be more selfish.
“It’s not because they don’t want to score goals. It’s just we’ve got to create more consistent habits at getting pucks to the net.”
Carlo’s decision to join a three-on-one rush (off an aggressive poke check from Linus Ullmark) paid dividends.
Montgomery certainly will welcome defensemen activating and joining the play when the opportunity arises. But a solid contingency plan for manufacturing Grade A chances involves volley after volley of pucks sailing in from the blue line.
The Hurricanes’ buzz saw of a five-on-five attack might be rooted in a suffocating forecheck, but it’s often a salvo of shots from an aggressive D corps that kindles scoring chances. Last season, five Carolina defensemen (Brent Burns, Brady Skjei, Shayne Gostisbehere, Brett Pesce, and Jaccob Slavin) were ranked among the top 51 NHL defensemen in shots on goal.
A team with a similar potent mix of a punishing forecheck and shot-heavy blue line? The Panthers — who had Brandon Montour, Aaron Ekblad, and Gustav Forsling rank fourth, fifth, and sixth in shots by defensemen.
The Bruins can attest to how dangerous (and demoralizing) it can be when a gifted playmaker like Montour joins the attack by way of a booming shot.
Defencemen with 5 goals in a #StanleyCup playoff series since '94:— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 1, 2023
Brian Leetch (NYR) vs Canucks in '94
Andy Delmore (PHI) vs Penguins in '00
Rob Blake (COL) vs Sharks in '02
Ed Jovanovski (VAN) vs Wild in '03#FlaPanthers Brandon Montour vs Bruins in '23pic.twitter.com/EnL0eX4G35
As gifted as the Bruins defensemen are at shutting down plays and pushing the puck in transition, firing shots at the other end is a bit more of an undertaking.
Lindholm (158 shots, 29th overall) was the lone Bruins defenseman to rank in the top 50 last year. His power-play blast Tuesday was welcome, but there’s plenty of work to be done.
This season, Lindholm ranks 140th out of 197 defensemen in shots per 60 minutes of five-on-five play at 3.33, per Natural Stat Trick. Only Derek Forbort (2.72, 167th) has a lower rate on Boston’s blue line.
“Quality over quantity” has been a hallmark of Montgomery’s offensive approach here. Rather than snap off pucks from every angle, Bruins forwards have shifted their strategy, opting to be more selective to avoid relinquishing possession.
But as much as the forwards have adhered to that strategy, 14 teams have generated more high-danger scoring chances per 60 minutes of five-on-five play than the Bruins’ 11.75.
As evidenced by Danton Heinen’s first-period tally against Buffalo — a rebound goal generated off a shot from McAvoy — an easy way to juice that rate is for defensemen to hammer pucks often, at least when black-and-gold sweaters are parked near the crease.
“If the defenseman is outside the dots and we have two at the net, take the shot,” Montgomery explained. “No one’s in your shot lane. The chances of that going in if we have two at the net is really good. You have no one at the net? You don’t want anyone to shoot that puck.”
The Bruins’ attack is no longer anchored by star centers Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Proven stalwarts Taylor Hall and Tyler Bertuzzi aren’t putting defenses on the ropes off rush chances and net-front scrambles.
But as long as their revamped forward group keeps planting itself around the net, the chances will be there. All it takes is a few blasts from the blue line to set Montgomery’s plans in motion.
Conor Ryan can be reached at email@example.com.