BOSTON — Another game, another frustrating overtime loss to an inferior team.
The Bruins’ 2-1 home setback to the Columbus Blue Jackets Thursday night at TD Garden was an exercise in frustration, a night where they seemed stuck in second gear offensively, unable to bury the chances they had.
A fluke goal by the visitors two minutes into the third period knotted things up, and a one-timer 52 seconds into the extra frame sealed another two points given away by the locals.
One guy who couldn’t be faulted, though, was Brandon Carlo.
Rarely, if ever, is Carlo’s name the first brought up when it comes to the Bruins’ defense. That’s understandable; he’s not flashy, nor a brawler or a guy who can fire 75-foot tape-to-tape passes to a teammate.
Yet, this season has become proof positive that the 6-foot-5, 212-pound fourth-year pro is one of the best young defensive defenseman in the National Hockey League.
Carlo’s job description suits his style of play. His stat line Thursday — a shade under 22 minutes over 31 shifts, a shot on goal and two blocked shots — was understated, but highly effective.
His ever-steady presence allowed defensive partner Torey Krug — back after missing the last three games with an upper body injury — to assimilate back into game action quickly.
“I was trying to get my bearings with timing and breakout passes,” said Krug, “and I was able to make a few early, which definitely helped calm me down.”
The duo kept the area in front of goaltender Jaro Halak relatively clean and free of any damage.
On the penalty kill, Carlo and veteran John Moore were the first defenseman over the boards. When, seven minutes into the third period of a tie game, Columbus right wing Eric Robinson got a little too close for comfort in Halak’s crease after the whistle, Carlo was there to quickly, abruptly and forcefully interrupt any such plans by the Blue Jacket grinder.
The loss notwithstanding, Carlo’s effort was a microcosm of his season thus far.
When a rebound is generated after a pad save, Carlo is there to flick the puck up and out of danger. When there’s an enemy forward who needs to be stapled along the wall or back boards, Carlo is happy to do so.
When the situation calls for puck possession and winning 50/50 battles, Carlo’s strength and stick do the job quite nicely.
The fact that he’s scored four goals and added nine assists, putting him on a pace to shatter his career highs (6-10-16), is a cherry on top of the sundae. Carlo nearly added to his goal total late in the second period Thursday when he had the confidence to work his way into the lower left circle and bombed a one-timer on the Blue Jackets net that rang off the post to the right of goaltender Elvis Merzlikins.
But as long as he’s playing his 22-or-so minutes a night, killing penalties as part of the first PK unit, blocking shots and delivering hits, he’s more than checked off the necessary boxes that his Boston bosses expect of him.
He hasn’t lost any of his physicality, having dished out 74 hits this season. But what’s surprising is that his penalty minutes are waaaay down (8), far below the 50 he’s averaged in his first three seasons. That means he’s becoming a smarter player without losing any of his tactical edge.
Carlo is by no means perfect. But for a Bruins team that can’t seem to get out of its own way when it comes to playing hockey beyond the regulation 60 minutes, they need leaders to step up and change that course of action.
Guys like Chara, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are naturals ... but so is a guy like Carlo, who is coming into his own as one of the best shutdown defenders in this league.
Contact Phil Stacey at email@example.com or @PhilStacey_SN.