Bruins Lindholm Shining on Defense in McAvoy’s Absence
Entering the trade deadline last March, Boston Bruins general manager (GM) Don Sweeney was in the market for a top-pairing left-shot defenseman. The biggest names on the market was Hampus Lindholm with the Anaheim Ducks and Jakob Chychrun with the Arizona Coyotes.
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Boston was linked to both players, but in the end, Sweeney ended up making a deal with Ducks’ GM Pat Verbeek and got Lindholm, along with Kodie Curran. The Bruins sent prospect Urho Vaakanainen, John Moore, and Boston’s 2022 first-round draft pick back to Verbeek. One day after the trade, the Bruins locked up Lindholm, who was going to be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) last summer, on an eight-year contract extension for $52 million locked and through 11 games in the 2022-23 season, Sweeney is getting his value with Lindholm.
Lindholm Struggled Following the Trade
Following the trade, it was not the smoothest transition for Lindholm with the Black and Gold. He missed some time dealing with injuries over the final month and a half of the regular season and only played in 10 games, recording five assists. When he was healthy in the lineup, he showed glimpses of what the future could look like as a top pairing with Charlie McAvoy.
Things did not get any better in the first-round playoff series against the Carolina Hurricanes. In the second period of a 4-1 loss in Game 2, Lindholm was cutting behind the Bruins net when Hurricanes’ forward Andrei Svechnikov caught him with his head down and laid him out with a hit. Lindholm was helped off the ice and then only played in two of the final five games of the series, going pointless and registering just three shots on the net.
It was a frustrating two months for the Bruins and Lindholm from the day he was acquired until the Game 7 loss to Carolina. When the players went their separate ways in late May, little did everyone know that Lindholm will be put into a spot entering the 2022-23 season that he was comfortable with.
Lindholm Carrying the Load Without McAvoy Early in 2022-23
It was announced in early June that McAvoy was going to miss the beginning of the season following offseason surgery. That left a huge void on the blue line for the Black and Gold. When Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug left in free agency following the 2020 playoff bubble in Toronto, McAvoy took on the role of the leader of the defense. Missing him and Matt Grzelcyk to start the season was going to be two big voids for first-year coach Jim Montgomery to fill.
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Connor Clifton, Derek Forbort, and Brandon Carlo helped to hold the fort down in front of goalies Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman, however, the glue in the first 11 games has been Lindholm who has single-handily become Boston’s best defenseman early in the season. There are many different ways you can go to look at the blistering start the Bruins have had to begin the season. The goaltending has been stellar and the forwards have been getting contributions from up and down the lineup, but the work Lindholm is putting in on a nightly basis has been what has been needed.
Lindholm is averaging 23:13 of time on ice a night, with four goals and nine assists, with a plus/minus of plus-12. He has a Corsi For (CF%) of 57.7 and a Fenwick For (FF%) of 58.2. He has been playing in all situations, excelling in all of them. His best performance came on Nov. 1 in a wild 6-5 Bruins overtime win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Boston trailed 5-2 just over midway through the second period after four consecutive Pittsburgh goals, but that’s when Lindholm went to work. He assisted on a Brad Marchand power play goal with seven minutes left in the period to cut the deficit to 5-3. In the third period, he flipped a shot toward the net that Pavel Zacha was able to deflect past Penguins’ goalie Tristan Jarry with eight minutes left. Taylor Hall tied the game with just over a minute left and Lindholm picked up the secondary assist.
In overtime, Lindholm was called for a tripping minor that his teammates killed off. After getting out of the penalty box, he set up Tomas Nosek for the potential game-winning goal, but his shot hit the post. After a face-off in the defensive end that was won by Patrice Bergeron, Lindholm skated the length of the ice and beat Jarry with a wrist shot in the top corner to complete an incredible comeback victory. He finished the game with 29:47 of time on the ice with one goal, three assists, and three blocked shots. Playing that many minutes a night is nothing new as he averaged 22 minutes a night in nine seasons with the Ducks and Montgomery has no problem playing him when needed.
“I just have so much confidence in him,” said Montgomery. “I just roll him over the boards as much as I can because he just believes in himself, and he can make plays. He might be the most underrated defenseman in the league…he’s been phenomenal. I don’t know any other words except he’s pretty dominant out there.”
Two nights later, he had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win over the New York Rangers to improve the Black and Gold to 3-0 on their current four-game road trip.
One of the biggest questions at the beginning of the season was how was the Bruins defense going to hold up until Grzelcyk and McAvoy returned. Grzelcyk returned ahead of schedule and McAvoy is working his way back ahead of schedule, but the historic start that the Black and Gold have had in the first three weeks is largely in part due to Lindholm. Even strength, shorthanded or on the power play, he has been everything the Bruins have asked for. If there were any questions if he was going to be able to play like a No. 1 defenseman in Boston, he has answered that through the first 11 games.
Scott Roche covers the Boston Bruins for The Hockey Writers. A frequent user of the Oxford comma. Scott has been a sports writer for 25 years for different sites and daily newspapers. Writing started out as a hobby, but it has become a passion for Scott over the years.