The good news? After logging just four periods of hockey since March 5, Brandon Carlo is on the cusp of returning to the B's lineup — serving as the final piece of the puzzle to a banged-up Boston blue line that has utilized 13 different skaters over the span of this compressed 2021 schedule.
The bad news? Boston only has a little over a week of regular-season runway left to see where those pieces best fit on its D corps before diving into the gauntlet of playoff hockey.
And even when Carlo is given the green light to return (likely ahead of Tuesday's matchup against the Devils), there's no guarantee that Boston will be able to run with its expected six starters on defense (Charlie McAvoy, Matt Grzelcyk, Carlo, Mike Reilly, Jeremy Lauzon, Kevan Miller) during all of these last couple of regular-season tuneups. After all, Miller is expected to sit out on Tuesday's back-to-back slate, while Reilly is dealing with a nagging injury of his own that will keep him out of Monday's matchup in Newark.
As such, some of Bruce Cassidy's decision-making when it comes to finding the best fit for each of his three D pairs will have to revolve around prior eye tests from earlier this year — coupled with some projections on how a newcomer like Reilly might fare with a guy who's been on the shelf for an extended stretch like Carlo.
"Some nights we're not able to probably look at the pairs we want to because of the health," Cassidy noted on Monday. "That's okay — as long as they're all healthy on Game 1 of the playoffs, then we're in good shape. I think we've seen enough of different pairs that we'll be okay. I guess the one guy that hasn't played with McAvoy is Reilly, so that's probably something you wouldn't see. But at the end of the day we're comfortable with both Grizz or Lauzy up there. The rest of the pairs have all had some level of time together with the exception of Brandon with Reilly."
On paper — especially when glancing at the underlying numbers — it'd be tempting to just slot Carlo in at the second-pairing spot currently occupied by Connor Clifton, push Lauzon down with Miller as part of a physical third pairing and keep a dominant first pair of Grzelcyk and McAvoy intact. After all, both BU products have routinely spent most of their shifts dissecting the opposition in the O-zone, with Boston holding a 14-6 edge in goals scored and a 184-93 advantage in shots on goal in that pair's 284:12 of 5v5 ice time together.
But it may not be that cut-and-dry for Cassidy — especially when it comes to finding the proper balance with so many puck-movers present on the roster.