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Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo aren’t a usual pair for the Boston Bruins. Here why they should be against the Chicago Blackhawks.
The Boston Bruins play the Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday night for their first matchup of the season. After weekend wins against the Rangers and Canadiens, the Bruins look to make it three-for-three against Original Six opponents.
The Blackhawks come to town with a few familiar faces, but they are far from the juggernaut to which we grew accustomed. This is especially the case when it comes to their depleted offense.
Through 27 games this year, Chicago only scored 74 goals. That’s 25th in the league.
Patrick Kane leads the way with 33 points, but there’s a big drop after him. Alex DeBrincat is second with 19 points, and Dylan Strome is next with 17.
Kane, DeBrincat, and Strome usually play on the same line, so the offense is top-heavy. If you can shut that line down, you can shut the Blackhawks down.
This makes the gameplan pretty straightforward for the Bruins. They can counter Chicago’s top line with Zdeno Chara and either Charlie McAvoy or Brandon Carlo.
McAvoy usually is Chara’s partner, but given Chicago’s team structure, Carlo looks to be the better option. He and Chara have the potential to a true shutdown pair.
This season, McAvoy’s CF is only 49.7%, while Carlo’s CF is 52.8%. And that’s with Torey Krug instead of Chara as his most-frequent partner. Carlo’s combination of size and skating makes him a beast defensively, at even strength and on the penalty kill.
Carlo and Chara together can take up a ton of space on the ice, and they can matchup against virtually and line. So, when the Bruins face a team that relies so much on one line, Carlo and Chara can truly make the difference.
At the same time, if Carlo plays with Chara, McAvoy has the chance to lineup with either Krug or Matt Grzelcyk. We already described before why McAvoy and Grzelcyk make a great pair. The same holds true with McAvoy and Krug.
Right away, most assume that McAvoy and Krug will be a nightmare defensively. That’s not really the case. McAvoy’s more than capable on the defensive side of things, while Krug too is reliable. They may not be overly big or physical, but they won’t make a ton of mistakes.
Instead, they can use their speed and offensive skills to push the pace. Krug and McAvoy both can retrieve the puck in the defensive zone and lead a breakout. They can share responsibility in this role, something they cannot do now with Chara and Carlo.
With the last change on home ice, Cassidy can also make sure Krug and McAvoy (or Grzelcyk and McAvoy) get offensive zone starts. This can help them generate scoring opportunities off faceoffs.
Rolling with Chara and Carlo and then Krug and McAvoy gives the Bruins a better chance against a team like the Blackhawks. The Bruins are fortunate to have great versatility on the backend, so Cassidy must take advantage.
The Blackhawks won’t have this kind of luxury on Thursday night. Their defense group isn’t great to begin with, but now they’ll play without Duncan Keith. He leads the Blackhawks in ice time, and he always take the toughest matchups.
Keith’s absence means that Chicago will have to counter the Bruins with a weakened defense. That usually spells bad news.
We don’t need stats to tell us that the Bruins offense is good. Really good. Boston is second in the league with 101 goals scored. Three players average a point per game. Patrice Bergeron won’t be in the lineup against Chicago, but David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand will be there.
Another player, David Krejci, has 21 points in 22 games, and there are six more players with double-digit point totals.
While the Bruins look to have an answer for Chicago’s top forwards, the Blackhawks probably have no answers for Boston’s. All these will make a big difference Thursday night in Boston.