Ex-NHL player explains how Jim Montgomery has transformed Bruins originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Boston Bruins are not a young team, and they don’t have a roster full of guys who would dominate the Fastest Skater competition at NHL All-Star Weekend, and yet the Original Six club looks like a faster, more aggressive and more confident group compared to last season.
What’s the difference?
Well, as much as winning can put an extra pep in your step — and the B’s lead the league with a 28-4-3 record entering Friday — the primary reason for this change in pace is new head coach Jim Montgomery.
Montgomery, of course, took over for Bruce Cassidy in July. Cassidy was fired on June 6, a few weeks after the Bruins were eliminated by the Carolina Hurricanes in the first round of the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Bruins weren’t bad by any means under Cassidy. They won 51 games last season. He led them to the playoffs in all six of his seasons in charge, including a trip to Game 7 of the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
But sometimes a new voice is needed, and Montgomery has without a doubt been a breath of fresh air for a mostly veteran group.
USA TODAY Sports
Former NHL defenseman Keith Yandle, a Milton, Mass., native who played 16 seasons before retiring earlier this year, views coaching as one of the biggest reasons for Boston’s hot start to the 2022-23 campaign.
“The biggest thing is the coaching. Bringing in Monty — he’s a guy everyone loved in Dallas,” Yandle told NBC Sports Boston earlier this week. “I’ve played with guys who played for him in college and they loved him. The way that the guys are playing, they’re playing hard for him, and playing loose.
“I think Cassidy was a great coach and he did a lot of great things, but sometimes just getting a fresh face in for those guys that have been there for a while with him has really helped them out this year. They’re just playing loose, even last night (against the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday) they’re down a goal and they’re pressuring, even when they tie it up they’re still pressuring. They’re not playing on their heels. It just looks like they’re having fun and trying to win games.”
One area where Montgomery has transformed the Bruins is on the blue line. Bruins defensemen are much more involved in the attack this season. They are joining the rush and taking some more chances. Sometimes it creates odd-man rushes the other way, but for the most part, the players have balanced being aggressive in creating scoring chances with maintaining the strong defensive structure that Claude Julien installed 15 years ago.
I’ve played with guys who played for him in college and they loved him. The way that the guys are playing, they’re playing hard for him, and playing loose.
Keith Yandle on Jim Montgomery
Perhaps the best example of this new strategy working is Hampus Lindholm. The Bruins acquired him before last season’s trade deadline in a deal with the Anaheim Ducks. Injuries prevented him from hitting his stride, and a concussion early in the first-round prevented him from making a strong impact during that series.
Under Montgomery, Lindholm has looked like a true No. 1 defenseman. He has tallied 27 points (four goals, 23 assists) in 35 games, including a stunning end-to-end rush to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime on Nov. 1.
“You can tell, especially with the defensemen. I feel like they’re involved in the play a lot more,” Yandle explained. “Last year when Lindholm came over, he was a guy who — you know how good he is, but I think this year under Monty, he’s really shown how good he is with having the freedom to jump up in the play and being active. Even their defensive zone coverage — they’re patient but they’re aggressive.”
The Bruins under Cassidy often tried to impose their will on teams by dumping the puck in the zone, winning puck battles along the boards and getting lots of shots on net. Montgomery has the Bruins using their speed and skill a little more to fly through the neutral zone and catch teams off the rush. Shot quality is preferred over shot quantity. This approach with Montgomery has produced much-needed improvement at 5-on-5. The B’s ranked 15th in 5-on-5 goals last season, and they’ve scored the third-most this year.
“I think they do a really good job in all three zones,” Yandle said. “They’re not just dumping pucks in and getting pucks deep. It seems like they’re making plays through the neutral zone where, maybe in the last few years, it would have been a chip-and-chase type of game. Honestly, it looks like they’re having a lot of fun and playing with confidence.”
The Bruins will ultimately be judged in the playoffs. A record-setting regular season would be impressive, but for a team that could be making its last push at a Stanley Cup title with the current veteran core, anything less than a championship in June will be a disappointment.
There’s a long way to go between now and the Stanley Cup Playoffs. A lot can change. But there’s little doubt the Bruins are far better equipped to make a deep postseason run compared to last season. Montgomery’s style of play and his ability to connect with players are two of the main reasons for that turnaround.