Ever since he entered the NHL ranks back in the spring of 2017, Charlie McAvoy has often had a familiar face next to him on the blue line.
From the start of the 2017-18 campaign through Tuesday’s loss to the Canadiens, no Bruins defensive pairing has logged more time on ice (all strengths) than the duo of McAvoy and captain Zdeno Chara — with a total usage of 1748:43 of ice time through 122 games.
Two decades might separate them in terms of age, but Chara and McAvoy have found plenty of success serving as Boston’s top defensive unit — with Boston outscoring the opposition at 5v5 play, 81-58, during that extended stretch of time in which the two have been out on the ice.
But as Bruce Cassidy continues to tweak his lineup in an effort to reach some sense of equilibrium among his D corps, Boston’s tried-and-true top unit could be in line for a major shuffle.
After starting together on Saturday against the Senators, it looks as though we might start to see McAvoy paired up with his old collegiate D partner in Matt Grzelcyk going forward — as the BU products skated together during Thursday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena.
With McAvoy-Grzelcyk likely to earn to a look during Friday’s road matchup against the Red Wings, Chara will likely be slotted next to Connor Clifton — another young blueliner looking to get back to playing his strengths after a rather reserved, non-"Cliffy Hockey" stretch over the last two weeks.
For Cassidy, Thursday’s D combinations are more due diligence than anything, with Boston trying to push the right buttons in order to maximize the production that promising skaters like McAvoy can harness out on the ice.
“Well, we see it more equitable if Clifton goes with Zee,” Cassidy said. “We’re just gonna give it a go. It matches the size factor a little better. We always thought Grizz and Clifton were two good players, but are they ideal players (together)? This allows Charlie to free up a little more, probably on the offensive side of things. Maybe not get the heavy matchup every time over the boards. Because Zee will definitely be matched up, that’s his strength. We’ll see with each game how long it lasts, but that’s the thinking.”
Yes, pairing McAvoy with a fleet-footed, shifty skater that excels on breakouts in Grzelcyk could be the switch that the Bruins need to access some of that untapped offensive potential on the blue line. But based on the early returns, a McAvoy-Grzelcyk pairing could very well establish itself as a dominant top pairing in just about any situation it’s thrown into.