TAMPA — Brandon Carlo can sometimes fly under the radar, which is no easy task for a 6-foot-5-inch, 218-pound NHL defenseman.
Perennial Norris Trophy candidates Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm tend to get the most attention from Bruins’ opponents, though those who are around Carlo every day are quick to point out how valuable the eight-year veteran has been to the blue line corps.
“I think he’s been excellent. He’s a steady rock back there,” coach Jim Montgomery said. “He does a lot of things defensively. He puts out a lot of fires for a lot of mistakes that other teammates make. That is why he’s so valuable to us [on the ice] and inside our locker room so valuable and his teammates love him.”
A strong even-strength defender and key cog in the league-leading penalty kill (90.8 percent following Monday night’s 5-4 overtime loss to the Lightning at Amalie Arena), Carlo has been getting involved in the offense more and more.
He scored his first goal of the season Nov. 14 in Buffalo and followed that with an assist on Trent Frederic’s tip-in in the win over the Canadiens Saturday, when he registered a game-high plus-3.
Carlo’s contributions on offense don’t always show up on the scoresheet and a perfect example was Pavel Zacha’s goal against Montreal. Lindholm and David Pastrnak picked up the assists, but it was Carlo that started the play.
“His offensive confidence is [growing], you can tell how involved he is,” said Montgomery. “We score that [Zacha] goal … he’s the one that initiates it. and he drives middle lane, which opens up the whole top of the ice for us.”
Brad Marchand, who described Carlo as a “rock,” has been impressed watching him expand his game.
“He’s so tough to play against defensively. But what I really love about his game is he’s pushing himself offensively as well,” said Marchand. “He’s really chipping in getting pucks through from the blue line, making plays, making some really good high end plays in the D zone right now, bumping into the middle. He’s just one of those guys that every night guys line up against, they know it’s going to be hard because he just limits so much time and space.”
Carlo said he’s been playing with more confidence in Montgomery’s system this season and that has allowed him to play a more all-around game, similar to how he played before he made the jump to the big leagues.
“When I got to the NHL, I took a lot of pride in the defensive aspect. I knew that was more so my role, but from here on out I’m just trying to have a little bit more poise with pucks,” he said. “And from there you’re seeing more opportunities to open up, like last game, holding onto [the puck] a little bit longer, and then I’m able to find Freddy for a tip there. So just little moments like those where I’m not trying to get the puck off my stick as fast and hold onto a little bit more. And Monty’s been great for that. He encourages that. So that’s been a big help.”
Jeremy Swayman got the start in net; the first time Montgomery has broken his alternating goalie pattern this season.
“Linus [Ullmark] needed a little maintenance and Swayman has been playing so well, so we were like not going to risk anything,” said the coach.
Swayman (41 saves) said he was informed of the decision on Sunday, and it had no effect on his preparation.
“I expect to play every game. That’s my mentality. It’s the way I want to prepare, and I was fired up and I got this opportunity and I wanted to seize it,” said Swayman. “It’s been over a year since I’ve been able to do that, so I was really excited about it, but it doesn’t change my mind-set moving forward.”
Putting safety first
Lightning forward Cole Koepke wore a cut-resistant neck guard, which looks like a mock turtleneck, similar to what the Bruins’ Jakub Lauko wears.
Koepke was friends with Adam Johnson, the American who died when his neck was sliced in an on-ice collision during an Elite Ice Hockey League game in England in October.
Koepke told reporters after the morning skate that the decision to wear the protection was an easy one.
“You don’t think it will happen to anyone, let alone someone you know,” he said. “How it affected so many people just being from the same area. Seeing the impact of it and everything, it just makes sense.”
Moment of mirth
With the Bruins’ fathers on this trip, there have been plenty of laughs, and there was a light moment in the dressing room after morning skate when Marchand was asked when he knew he was like his father. Before the 5-9 captain could answer, the 6-4 Derek Forbort quipped, “When he stopped growing.” ... The Lightning have been without Andrei Vasilevskiy all season after the former Vezina- and Conn Smythe-winning goaltender had back surgery in September. He is back practicing and is expected to return before the end of the month ... Rafter check: Vincent Lecavalier (No. 4) and Martin St. Louis (No. 26) are the lone retired Lightning numbers, though plenty more will be in the pipeline, including Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman, and Vasilevskiy ... Song of the night: “Thunderstruck,” by AC/DC (there really couldn’t be any other choice here).