Connor Clifton has been playing pretty well lately.
Just in time for Matt Grzelcyk to come back.
Clifton has been the Boston Bruins’ seventh defenseman this season, and with Grzelcyk dealing with a few injuries early on, Clifton has seen plenty of action playing on his off side, skating on the second pairing with Brandon Carlo.
Friday might’ve been his best showing. He was zipping around the ice, per usual, wallopped Nicolas Aube-Kubel, was in on the rush and even had a few scoring chances.
Clifton has played in six of the Bruins’ last seven games after getting healthy scratched nightly to begin the season. But he’s heated up just in time for Grzelcyk to get back, and no other defenseman — particularly Jakub Zboril, Jeremy Lauzon and Kevan Miller — really has played themselves out of the lineup.
So, what’s the plan for Clifton?
With the Bruins games Saturday and Monday getting postponed due to the Buffalo Sabres’ COVID-19 outbreak, it’s a decision head coach Bruce Cassidy will be able to sit on for a few more days.
He was prepared to make it this weekend though with the Bruins originally scheduled to be playing the second leg of a back-to-back Saturday.
“Well, we’ll consider (scratching someone to play Clifton) on a back-to-back — which would’ve been tonight, by the way — if everyone’s healthy I think Grizz might’ve potentially gone back in, so we would’ve had to have made that decision,” Cassidy said Saturday morning over Zoom. “But it could come Friday/Saturday in New York (against the) Rangers and Islanders, where we look and say, ‘OK is Cliffy a better option going in fresh as opposed to three (games) in four (days).’
“But until you’re completely healthy on a consistent basis, like earlier in the year, we’ll just play it one game at a time. But you might see that as early as Friday/Saturday where we say one of these young guys could use a rest. Or maybe it’s someone else you manage. I think it’s early in the year for that, to be honest with you, to pull out a veteran guy, but certainly something that who knows down the road, like we’ll get feedback on the wear and tear of Charlie’s heavy minutes or Kevan Miller, his recovery has gone excellent, but does he benefit (from a day off).
“All those things will be discussed, and having a guy like Cliffy that’s played now and gives us a lot of juice is a great, great, great problem to have. It’s no fun when I have to go tell him he’s not in the lineup, trust me, guy that works that hard and is a popular guy, but it’s a good problem to have in the end.
“And we also have Johnny Moore that’s played in the league that now looks healthy. So it’s a good situation to have back there, a lot of depth, especially with this condensed schedule.”
That Clifton is in this position, as Cassidy alludes to, is a good problem to have. The Bruins went into this season with Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug gone, and to this point their replacements, Zboril and Lauzon, have been steady and solid. Clifton only has gone in out of necessity, Moore hasn’t even played yet and Urho Vaakanainen hasn’t gotten rotated in yet. All the while, they’re sixth in the NHL in goals against.
So for now, it’s a numbers game. But even if the Bruins stay fully healthy on the blue line for the foreseeable future, it doesn’t appear that’ll be a sign Clifton is going to be banished to simply serving as a healthy scratch in perpetuity.