The Bruins have the best record in the NHL. They have already broken the NHL record for most consecutive home wins to start a season. They are off to the franchise’s best start in over 90 years.
And they have not had their best 20-man lineup on the ice for a single game yet. That will finally change for Tuesday night’s game against the Lightning at TD Garden.
Of course, the Bruins began the season without the services of Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy due to offseason surgeries. Marchand has been back since Oct. 27 and McAvoy since Nov. 10, but the Bruins’ defense still hasn’t been full-strength even post-McAvoy return.
That’s because Derek Forbort went down with a broken finger on Nov. 1, more than a week before McAvoy returned. Forbort is now back. Bruins coach Jim Montgomery told reporters Tuesday morning that Forbort has been cleared to return against Tampa Bay, and the Bruins waived fellow defenseman Anton Stralman on Monday in anticipation of activating Forbort off long-term injured reserve. (We’ll spare you all the salary cap number-crunching, but according to PuckPedia, the Bruins will have just enough cap space to activate Forbort by subtracting Stralman from the active roster.)
While Forbort obviously isn’t as big of a return as Marchand or McAvoy, he is nonetheless an important piece on this team, and his absence was clearly felt.
Forbort was playing a top-four role for the McAvoy-less B’s early on, averaging over 20 minutes per game if you take out the game he got injured (when he played only 5:03 before the injury). The Bruins had an expected goals-for percentage share of 55.7% when he was on the ice, which ranks third among Bruins defensemen this season behind only McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm. Forbort also led the B’s in shorthanded time on ice, and their PK led the NHL at 94.6% while he was in the lineup.
With Forbort out, the Bruins’ PK has dipped to 76.1% over the last 11 games and has allowed at least one power-play goal in each of the last six games. Both Stralman and Jakub Zboril have struggled to take advantage of their ice time, often leaving Montgomery in a position where he’s decided to shorten his bench in the third period of close games. Now Stralman has been waived and Zboril will be a healthy scratch.
The Bruins have a few different options for how to line up their defense with Forbort back, but Montgomery will start by reuniting Forbort with Connor Clifton, his most common partner since he got to Boston last year.
Montgomery plans to put Lindholm and McAvoy together to create what should be one of the best D pairs in the NHL, leaving Matt Grzelcyk and Brandon Carlo for the second pair (but don’t be surprised if there are games when Forbort-Clifton plays more than Grzelcyk-Carlo depending on how the game is going).
Montgomery has some options to slide things around if he feels the need to as well. Grzelcyk-McAvoy, Lindholm-Carlo and Lindholm-Clifton have all been pretty common pairings this season that Montgomery could go back to if he wants.
Behind the defense, the Bruins will also have a full-strength goalie tandem, despite an injury scare to Linus Ullmark on Friday. Montgomery said Ullmark has been cleared to play, although he declined to name his starter for Tuesday night.
Up front, Trent Frederic is set to return after missing the last two games due to injury, while Craig Smith is day-to-day with a minor injury. You could argue that means the Bruins still aren’t quite 100% full-strength, but the reality is that the Bruins’ best forward lineup right now probably doesn’t include Smith given his inconsistent start to the season. Frederic and A.J. Greer have both been playing better hockey.
Here is the Bruins’ expected lineup for Tuesday night:
Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Jake DeBrusk
Pavel Zacha - David Krejci - David Pastrnak
Taylor Hall - Charlie Coyle - Trent Frederic
Nick Foligno - Tomas Nosek - A.J. Greer
Hampus Lindholm - Charlie McAvoy
Matt Grzelcyk - Brandon Carlo
Derek Forbort - Connor Clifton
Linus Ullmark/Jeremy Swayman