Bruins’ Defensive Success Will Rely Heavily on Health of Brandon Carlo
If the Boston Bruins are able to make it out of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season, Brandon Carlo will be a big reason why.
Literally, a big reason. The 6’ 5”, 212-pound defenseman towers over most of his teammates and opponents, while still possessing the skating ability to keep up with and defend against the smaller, quicker forwards he finds himself matched up with on the ice.
Against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning, there will be no shortage of those skilled, speedy players for Boston to put up with (See Kucherov, Nikita & Marner, Mitchell).
The 22-year-old’s successful rookie season, however, came to an abrupt halt right before the playoffs in game number 82 after he was hit from behind by Alex Ovechkin.
Then last year, during his sophomore campaign, Carlo was stretchered off the ice on March 31 after suffering a freak ankle injury against the Florida Panthers. The Bruins may seriously have to consider swaddling him in bubble wrap next month, because they’re going to need him on the back-end this spring even more so than they have the previous two.
Zdeno Chara is taller, stronger, and far more experienced than Carlo, especially in the playoffs. Charlie McAvoy has far more skill and is strong on his skates and stick, but lacks Carlo’s natural size.
Torey Krug is undoubtedly the Bruins’ most skilled defenseman offensively, but is diminutive in stature, which exposes his defensive shortcomings, no pun intended.
Matt Grzelcyk is quietly one of Boston’s better all-around defenders, with his skating and passing game complemented by responsible defensive habits; like Krug, however, his lack of size can expose him at times when battling opponents.
Kevan Miller is a greatly reliable, menacing stay-at-home defenseman but is missing Carlo’s skating game and a bit of his range. John Moore is an interesting depth piece, as he has some size and speed while managing the puck well, but if the Bruins are fully healthy come playoff time, he’s best suited in the press box as the B’s seventh defenseman.
Carlo’s game should be considered virtually irreplaceable for the Bruins. Head Coach Bruce Cassidy trusts him in any and all situations in which a goal is not needed. Then again, he is paired with Torey Krug, which still allows offense to be produced and quick transition facilitated while Carlo’s shutdown game is being utilized simultaneously.
His combination of size and skating is what makes him so unique and useful; he can shutdown plays like Chara, but can also make crisp passes and jump up into the forecheck like McAvoy, Krug, or Grzelcyk, albeit to a lesser extent.
Carlo knows when to pinch to keep a play alive in the offensive zone, and when to back off to prepare for an opposing forecheck. The Bruins need Carlo in the lineup in April and May if they hope to have a chance at eliminating Toronto and Tampa Bay.
I’m not saying that the Bruins would have defeated the latter in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last year if number 25 had been in the lineup, but he certainly would have helped tremendously when defending against a guy like Brayden Point, who essentially had his way with the Bruins.
Carlo has the skating game to keep pace with Point-esque players, along with the range and defensive prowess to prevent them from making and finishing plays if or when the speed and skill of these players get the better of him.
Not to mention both Toronto and Tampa Bay have the offensive firepower on the power play to give your team’s penalty kill seizures. Carlo was born to kill penalties. He can win puck races with his skating, recover and win battles with his size when he can’t win the race, block shots, and use his range to break up plays with his stick.
This year alone, Carlo has whacked multiple pucks out of the air or off the goal line to prevent goals simply because of his height and reach.
Something tells me he may need to make a few more game-saving plays for the Bruins in the playoffs this year, which is why we should all cross our fingers that the third time is in fact the charm for Carlo in terms of his quest to make his playoff debut for the Black and Gold in NHL season number three.
A defenseman like Carlo could have a tremendous impact on a series against the Leafs or Bolts, so let’s all hope that his third time around is indeed the charm for him and he’s able to lace them up for the B’s in the playoffs this year.
As you may recall, In Taken (2008), Liam Neeson famously said via telephone to one of his enemies, “I have a very particular set of skills … skills that make me a nightmare for people like you.”
If he is fully healthy come playoff time, Carlo should be saying the exact same thing to the likes of Marner and Kucherov.
Until then, Cassidy and goaltender Tuukka Rask may have to break out the bubble wrap.