Why Jim Montgomery deserves huge credit for Bruins' hot start to season

Why Montgomery deserves huge credit for Bruins' hot start to season originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

The Boston Bruins didn't make a ton of massive roster changes in the offseason. Sure, the bottom-six forward group being a bit different and David Krejci coming back after a year away from the NHL are definitely notable, but there was no seismic overhaul.

In fact, many experts predicted the Bruins would struggle early in the 2022-23 season with defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk, and left winger Brad Marchand all out of the lineup because of injuries.

So why are the Bruins, who enter Tuesday tied for the best record in the league at 11-2-0, the best team in hockey right now?

Look no further than new head coach Jim Montgomery.

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Montgomery has implemented a more up-tempo system that is unlocking the speed and skill of this Bruins roster without sacrificing too much of the defensive structure and discipline that has given the franchise so much success over the last 15 years.

"It's been great. He obviously brought a different energy and a different voice," Bruins captain Patrice Bergeron told reporters before Saturday's game in Toronto.

"A tweak here and there in the system, not too many changes but he wants us to be really aggressive, he wants the D to be really aggressive and he wants the D to join the rush. I think you see the results of it. It's been great for us."

The results do speak for themselves.

The Bruins are the highest-scoring team in hockey and they consistently generate more scoring chances (including high-danger chances) than the opposition.

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One area where the Bruins absolutely had to improve from last season was scoring more goals at 5-on-5. They ranked 15th in the league last season and it wasn't good enough to make a deep playoff run. Montgomery's faster, more aggressive offensive style has paid huge dividends.

The Bruins have given Montgomery a very deep roster -- 17 different players have scored at least one goal -- but great depth doesn't automatically produce strong on-ice results. The coach has to get the line combinations right and know which types of situations suit each of the players. So far, Montgomery has been putting his guys in positions in which they can thrive.

Nick Foligno is one such example. After scoring only two goals in 64 games last season, the veteran forward has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 13 games.

"He really understands what our team is going to have success with, and that's being a heavy team down low," Foligno told reporters before Saturday's game in Toronto. "He talks about wearing out the goal line. That's conducive to a lot of guys in this room. So I think just that messaging alone plays into a lot of guys' hands where they feel like the offense can start to come because of that. They're more comfortable. The reads you can make down low, you don't get burned on as many times if it doesn't work out. There's still a 200-foot game that a team has to get to. I think he's given the guys some freedom to open up, especially on the power play, where our looks -- our power play has always been good -- but I think those guys feel freed up to make some more plays.

"And then defensively, I feel like we're just closing quick. I think that's still a work in progress, but we just feel like we're closing better on players and not giving teams as much time and space, which is something you fight for in this league. It's really worked for us."

Foligno is right -- what Montgomery has preached defensively is working for the Bruins. There have been times, especially in the first couple games, where the Bruins' more aggressive offensive approach resulted in odd-man rushes at the other end of the ice. We've seen less of those chances being given up over the last two weeks. The Bruins have allowed 31 goals in 13 games, which is tied for the third-lowest total in the league.

Trust and belief in players are two other ways that Montgomery has maximized the production of this roster. Look no further than Jake DeBrusk. The 26-year-old winger received plenty of criticism from previous head coach Bruce Cassidy and was a healthy scratch at times during the previous two seasons. DeBrusk even submitted a trade request last November (which he ended up rescinding).

DeBrusk had a strong second half of the 2021-22 regular season under Cassidy, but he's taken a much bigger leap this year with Montgomery. One example of Montgomery's trust in DeBrusk came last week in a 5-2 win over the Rangers in New York. DeBrusk went off the ice for an early line change and the man he was responsible for, Rangers defenseman Adam Fox, skated into the offensive zone and scored early in the third period to tie the score. It was a mistake that Cassidy might have benched DeBrusk for, or at least lessened his ice time. Montgomery stuck with DeBrusk and his faith was rewarded later in the game when the right winger scored Boston's fourth goal, giving the B's a 4-2 lead.

Another young player benefitting from Montgomery is Trent Frederic. The 2016 first-round pick has been a disappointment through his first four seasons in Boston, but he's showing real signs of improvement this year.

Frederic scored Monday night to put the Bruins up 3-1 over the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden -- a lead they protected through the end of the game.

Frederic has always brought plenty of physicality to the ice -- and he isn't afraid to fight when needed -- but for him to make a real difference and earn a regular role in the lineup, his offensive production needed to be much more consistent. He has tallied five points (three goals, two assists) in 12 games and his 1.55 goals per 60 minutes is more than double what it was last season (0.74). Frederic is one of several examples of bottom-six forwards on the roster having success offensively under Montgomery's more aggressive and fast-paced system.

"Monty does a great job connecting with guys," Marchand told reporters Saturday before the game against the Maple Leafs. "He's been finding ways to figure out what makes guys click and what makes them play their best. He's able to push those buttons. He seems like a great players' coach. That was the feedback we got from every team and every guy we talked to about him."

Cassidy was an excellent coach for the Bruins. He took them to the playoffs in all six of his seasons behind the bench and nearly led them to a Stanley Cup title in 2019. But sometimes the message gets stale. Sometimes a fresh voice/approach is needed. Sometimes a couple small tweaks need to be made.

Bruins management, especially general manager Don Sweeney, received a ton of criticism for firing Cassidy in June, including from me. But give Sweeney a lot of credit. He identified a new voice was needed and made a tremendous hire.

"Bruce was great for us," Bergeron told reporters last Saturday. "No question about it. And he's going to do great in Vegas. ... There's always something to learn, no matter what coach you have, and that's what we're trying to do with Monty."