Penguins' Danton Heinen not surprised at Jim Montgomery's Bruins success

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Penguins' Danton Heinen not surprised at Montgomery's Bruins success originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON -- The Bruins gave Jim Montgomery a second chance at being an NHL head coach over the summer, and it's safe to say he's made the most of the opportunity so far.

The B's enter Monday's 2023 Winter Classic matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins at Fenway Park with a league-best 28-4-4 record. They are the first team in the event's history (2008 to the present) to play in this game while leading the league standings.

One opposing player in this matchup who knows Montgomery very well is Penguins forward Danton Heinen. He played under Montgomery at the University of Denver during the 2014-15 and 2015-16 NCAA seasons. The Bruins selected Heinen in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft, and he played 220 games for them before being traded to the Anaheim Ducks in February of 2020.

"I really enjoyed him as a coach," Heinen told NBC Sports Boston after the Penguins' Winter Classic practice at Fenway Park on Sunday. "He's smart systems-wise, he's a straight shooter and he finds a way to get the most out of his players."

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One noticeable change in the Bruins under Montgomery is they're playing with a faster and more aggressive pace, especially offensively. This approach has worked wonders for the Bruins, who have scored the second-most goals (136) and allowed the fewest goals (79) in the league through 36 games.

Instead of playing a chip-and-chase style, the B's often use their speed and skill to fly through the neutral zone and put opponents under tremendous pressure. It's the kind of style that the Tampa Bay Lightning, Colorado Avalanche and other teams have used with great success in recent years.

That kind of attack mentality is nothing new for Montgomery.

"He was preaching that at Denver, playing that quick transition game, defensemen jumping and joining the rush, and things like that," Heinen said. "I think the game is definitely going toward that (style). Teams are transitioning quick and going right back at you. It's definitely the way the game is trending."

He's smart systems-wise, he's a straight shooter and he finds a way to get the most out of his players.

Penguins forward Danton Heinen on Jim Montgomery

One of the common descriptions of Montgomery is that he's a players' coach. He knows how to connect with players of all ages and put them in positions to succeed. He can be tough on players, but he does it in a way that generates better results. Three of the best examples of players who have improved tremendously under Montgomery in Boston are Jake DeBrusk, Nick Foligno and Trent Frederic. Heinen enjoyed plenty of individual success under Montgomery, tallying 93 points (36 goals, 57 assists) in 81 games over two seasons in Denver.

"I thought he taught me a lot. He was great for me," Heinen explained. "I thought he pushed the right buttons and got the best out of me. I would say he's a players' coach."

Given his experience with Montgomery, it's safe to say Boston's historically strong start to the 2022-23 campaign is not a shock to Heinen.

"No, not surprised. It's obviously been a good fit there so far," he said, before adding, with a smile, "Hopefully tomorrow we can take it to them."