Bruins takeaways: Orlov making huge impact, Ullmark is clear Vezina favorite originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins wrapped up their four-game road trip in emphatic fashion Tuesday night with a thrilling 4-3 overtime win over the Calgary Flames.
The B's overcame a late 3-2 deficit and won on Charlie McAvoy's overtime goal with four seconds remaining. Boston scored 16 goals on the road trip and won three of the games by a single goal.
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- Feb. 23: 6-5 win at Seattle Kraken
- Feb. 25: 3-1 win at Vancouver Canucks
- Feb. 27: 3-2 win at Edmonton Oilers
- Feb. 28: 4-3 win (OT) at Calgary Flames
The Bruins will take an eight-game win streak -- their longest of the season -- into Thursday's matchup versus the resurgent Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.
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Before we look ahead to that showdown, here are four takeaways from the Bruins' successful four-game road trip.
1. B's defensemen providing consistent scoring
One of the biggest differences between this season and last year for the Bruins has been the offensive production from the blue line. Head coach Jim Montgomery wants his defensemen involved in the attack, and the results have been quite impressive so far.
Charlie McAvoy has 42 points in 47 games, and he is scoring 2.37 points per 60 minutes, which beats his previous career high of 1.75 points per 60 minutes set in 2021-22. His game-winner Tuesday night tied him with Bruins legend Ray Bourque for the most overtime goals by a defenseman in B's history with five.
Connor Clifton's 15 points are a career high. Hampus Lindholm has set a career high in assists (33) and points (40). Derek Forbort's five goals are a career high. Matt Grzelcyk is three assists away from a career high and he's only played 55 games. Dmitry Orlov has five points (two goals, three assists) in three games.
Scoring depth doesn't just come from the forwards. The blue line needs to be in the mix, too, and the Bruins are getting that production from these players on a consistent basis.
How important is it that the defensemen get involved in the offense and provide that scoring depth? The B's are 22-1-0 this season when they get one goal (or more) from a defenseman.
2. Dmitry Orlov already making a huge impact
The trade last week to bring in Orlov and bottom-six forward Garnet Hathaway from the Washington Capitals is already paying dividends for Boston. Orlov, specifically, has made a strong impact offensively.
He scored twice in Tuesday's win at Calgary. His ability to carry the puck through the neutral zone and attack opposing defensemen is impressive. His shot is powerful and pretty accurate, as seen on his first goal.
The Russian defenseman also set up the tying goal late in the third period with a fantastic pass to Pavel Zacha in front of the net.
Orlov's five points in three games has been a tremendous boost to the Bruins' blue line, a group that, as noted above, is scoring at a much higher rate compared to last season.
“Man, he's been playing great," McAvoy told reporters after Tuesday's win when asked about Orlov. "We've been shuffling (pairings) on the back end, but whoever he's been playing with, he's been playing really well, making great first passes. Tonight, he had a hot stick. Exceptional vision there on the third goal. All night he was part of it. I don’t know what to say. What a pickup. What a pickup. He really shores us up on the back end. We deserve to have confidence in this locker room with the guys that we have."
Contributing offensively isn't just limited to scoring goals and picking up assists. For example, Orlov played 8:42 at 5-on-5 against Oilers superstar Connor McDavid during Monday's victory in Edmonton. Just 33.3 percent of his shifts versus McDavid started in the attacking zone, and yet the Bruins had a 5-4 lead in shot attempts over the Oilers during Orlov's ice time against the likely Hart Trophy winner. This helps show how effective Orlov is at winning puck possession in the defensive zone and shifting the play up ice so the B's can go on the attack.
Orlov has played on all three pairings since the trade. He has mostly played with McAvoy, Lindholm and Forbort in that time. He has played on the left side and the right side, too. His versatility is huge for the Bruins and gives them plenty of options when configuring their pairings.
So far, the Orlov trade has been a home run for Boston, and he's only played three games.
3. Linus Ullmark pulling away in Vezina Trophy race
The Bruins would have easily lost and given up five or six goals against the Flames if Ullmark hadn't given arguably the best performance of any goaltender this season.
Ullmark made 54 saves, which is a new Bruins regular season record. He made 18 saves on the 19 high-danger scoring chances the Flames generated. That's an astounding stat.
The heat map below shows how many Grade A chances the Flames created (look at the giant red blob in front of Boston's net.). It's not often the Bruins surrender so many of these kinds of scoring opportunities.
Here's where Ullmark ranks in key goaltender statistics entering Wednesday.
Tuesday's performance should give Ullmark a commanding lead for the Vezina Trophy. Sure, there are other goaltenders having excellent seasons. Ilya Sorokin of the New York Islanders and Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars immediately come to mind. But Ullmark has been the top netminder from start to finish. His consistency has been remarkable.
4. It's time for Bruins to give veterans more rest
The Bruins have a 13-point lead in the race for the Presidents' Trophy and home ice advantage throughout the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They have a 17-point lead for first place in the Atlantic Division.
The schedule in March isn't easy. The Bruins play 15 games in a 29-day span this month, which includes three back-to-backs.
It's time to start thinking about giving some of the veteran players a little more rest to ensure they are as healthy and fresh as possible for what could be a two- or three-month long playoff grind.
Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and Brad Marchand should not be playing a ton of minutes down the stretch. A few nights off wouldn't hurt. Krejci, for example, played Tuesday with a nasty black eye suffered in Monday's game.
McAvoy, Lindholm and Forbort have all played heavy minutes on the back end. The addition of Orlov gives the Bruins seven quality defensemen, so rotating these guys around and giving someone a night off each game would help keep them fresh.
Players don't like sitting when it's not required, especially when the team is winning games and the vibes are great. But it's important to remember the bigger picture. It's Stanley Cup or bust for this Bruins team, and one of the best ways to prepare for the playoffs is making sure the key players are as well-rested as possible going in.