By: Ryan Duffy | Follow Me On Twitter @Rduffy26
The Bruins are off to the best start in their franchise history, with contributions coming throughout their lineup. Along with their outstanding record, their d-core has been one of the most consistent in the NHL despite the injuries they’ve faced. With Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Derek Forbort injured earlier in the season, Boston has needed other defensemen to log crucial minutes and play in all situations. Hampus Lindholm and Connor Clifton, in particular, have taken the reigns on defense and helped Boston in all three zones.
When looking at Lindholm’s start to the season, it’s hard to argue that he hasn’t been a top-five defenseman in the NHL. With four goals and 14 assists in 17 games thus far, the second-year Bruin is tied for fourth in points with Colorado Avalanche superstar Cale Makar in points amongst defensemen. The former Anaheim Duck set a career-high in points back in the 2014-15 season with 34 points, which he’ll likely shatter as he averages 1.06 points per game and is on pace to finish with 86 points through an 82-game schedule.
Following Boston’s 4-1 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, where Lindholm finished as a plus-two, he now ranks first amongst all skaters in the NHL in plus-minus with a plus-20. This feat is truly spectacular, as he set a Bruins record with the most consecutive games played as a defenseman without finishing a single game with a negative plus-minus.
Lindholm is so special because he has a keen awareness of his surroundings on the ice. He is a cerebral player in reading and anticipating plays and is one of the best defensemen in breaking out the puck. He understands when to skate the puck up the ice while having the vision to pass to open men on the breakout. Clifton has been one of the players who has benefited from playing alongside Lindholm this year. Lindholm’s defensive partner shared his thoughts with Eric Russo’s article on NHL.com:
“He’s a special player,” Clifton said. “I think that’s pretty obvious when you watch his game. So calm and collected with the puck. It’s really impressive. You don’t see him make a bad play in 60 minutes. It’s kind of crazy.”
With McAvoy and Carlo missing multiple games this season, Connor Clifton was the next man up on the right-side defense. Ever since he was placed up in the lineup, Clifton has elevated his game and he’s found more consistency in his play. Compared to previous seasons, the 27-year-old defenseman has shown his ability to perform in top-four minutes and play with more confidence with the puck on his stick.
“I think my offensive skill set really hasn’t taken a step forward the last couple years and it’s finally doing so,” Clifton said regarding his offensive production. “It’s just about confidence. Confidence with the puck, not throwing it away and seeing your play and making it. When we score so many goals, you’re gonna get a couple more goals that way, too.”
The five-year NHL veteran this season has two goals and eight assists in 17 games thus far and is just two points shy from tying his career-high ten points in the 2021-22 season. Clifton achieved his career-high in points last year in 60 games. Based on how Clifton has been playing with his increased role, he may eclipse his personal record in nearly a third of the number of games.
Not only has he shown improvement in his offensive production, but his average time on ice has significantly increased to 21:16 per game. His average ice time ranks second on the team behind his partner Lindholm, who averages 24:10 per game.
With Carlo and McAvoy back full-time in the lineup for the last couple of weeks, it seems that Bruins’ head coach Jim Montgomery plans to keep Lindholm and Clifton together as a pair. Throughout Montgomery’s time behind the bench, he’s mixed and matched different defensive pairings and offensive lines. Until Derek Forbort returns from IR, we won’t know the finalized defensive lines. Regardless of whether Montgomery decides to keep Lindholm and Clifton as a pair, it’s safe to say that the Bruins have one of the best d-cores in the NHL.