By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — One night you’re calling yourself the Achilles heel of the Bruins after a 4-1 loss to a division rival.
The next day you get up, go to church, take your English bulldog Winnie for a walk and enjoy a relaxing day.
The day after that you go back to work, practice hard with your teammates and then stay on the ice for some extra work with the head coach before you’re the last player to get off the ice.
Such is the life of a NHL player. Brandon Carlo just lived it the past three days.
The second-year defenseman had maybe his worst performance of his NHL career Saturday, when the Bruins lost 4-1 to Toronto. His outlet pass intended for Sean Kuraly instead wound up on the stick of Mitch Marner, who then picked the top corner for a 1-0 lead. Carlo landed in the penalty box for hooking later in the period.
With the Bruins trying to climb back in the game, Carlo screened goaltender Tuukka Rask just as Morgan Rielly’s bounced shot from the left point approached the goal and then got past a blinded Rask for a 3-1 lead in the third period.
Midway through the game Carlo went from skating his regular shift with Torey Krug to getting spot duty during 5-on-5 play, although he was still a fixture on the penalty kill. He received three shifts in the third period.
After the game Carlo said he thought the Bruins would’ve won if he hadn’t made the mistakes he made (an exaggeration if there ever was one). Despite pulling back on Carlo’s ice time, coach Bruce Cassidy expressed confidence Carlo would work hard and make sure his funk lasts just one game. Although we have a few days until we see how he responds under game conditions, Carlo seems to have already bounced back.
“I feel like everybody’s their own worst critic,” Carlo told CBS Boston after practice Monday at Warrior Ice Arena, where the Bruins got back to work after a CBA-mandated day off Sunday. “When I don’t play the way that I want to, it’s going to affect me on any given night. But something I learned kind of throughout last year is just moving on from it, letting go. I’m still confident in the player I am and confident in the way I’ve been playing this year. So just got to kind of go back to that foundation before the last game and continue on from there.”
Back from his leisurely Sunday in and around his Boston home, and after a spirited practice Monday with his teammates (or what’s left of them after another giant bite by the injury bug), Carlo decided to use the extra time after practice to get some 1-on-1 tutelage from Cassidy, a former offensive defenseman in his heyday.
“Just talking about kind of walking along the blue line and getting more pucks to the net,” said Carlo, who had 16 points (six goals, 10 assists) in 82 games as a rookie last season. “I feel like that’s something as a group on the back end we’re trying to accomplish, getting the pucks to the forwards and creating that traffic. If you don’t get it down to the net, you’re not going to get goal. Just trying to shoot a little bit more and ultimately create the lane for the shot, not just shooting and getting it blocked.”
The coach and player stood together at the blue line, continuing to chat after their passing and skating work. Who knows if they discussed more than passing and shooting lanes. Maybe Cassidy decided to play amateur psychologist to get a measure of the 20-year-old’s confidence level after the Maple Leafs loss. Even though Cassidy didn’t broach the subject of Saturday, in an effort to show he’s turned the page as swiftly as he wants Carlo to turn it, the coach hasn’t lost faith in the player.
Cassidy expects Carlo to be right back in the lineup Wednesday at Anaheim, and the in-game matchups, as well as Carlo’s play, will determine the defenseman’s ice time. Cassidy said that matchup with Toronto’s speed, in addition to a couple Carlo miscues, led to the decision to switch Carlo for Kevan Miller on Krug’s right. In general, Krug and Carlo have been a strong second defense pair and posted a 53 percent Corsi For Percentage this season. If Carlo plays well, the matchups against the Ducks, Los Angeles (Thursday) and San Jose (Saturday) should demand Cassidy put Carlo with Krug to counter the size and strength of those West Coast powers. And then Carlo will really be tested.
That’s where the extra practice on walking the blue line and finding ways to get the puck to the net should come in handy. In addition to defending against some of the bigger talents on opposing teams, Carlo’s going to have to make them defend against him in order to combine with Krug to make their pair a threat. Although he’s more than happy to set up goals for Krug, Carlo knows he’s going to have to keep the opposition honest with his own shot.
For Carlo and the Bruins, who have lost three in a row, Wednesday can’t come fast enough. The game against the Ducks will be a chance to move forward and learn from the mistakes of the Toronto game.
“I feel like they have that confidence in me to be mentally strong enough to come back in and play my game,” he said. “I feel like with the way I’ve been playing this whole year up to that point, I kind of deserve that opportunity and hopefully it goes that way.”
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter@MattKalman.