April 10, 2012

Bruins Report Card: Final grades for d-men, goalies, staff

By Jesse Connolly

Determining a collective grade for the Bruins’ 2011-12 regular season is a tall task and with good reason.

The B’s began the year in a 3-7-0 funk, obliterated every opponent during a 21-2-1 run, couldn’t string together consecutive wins for nearly two months then finished the year red-hot, earning 19 of a possible 24 points in their last dozen games.

While certain players were considerably more consistent throughout the course of the year, some experienced the same ups and downs the B’s went through during their 82-game rollercoaster ride.

Without further ado, here’s Part I of the final grades for the entire 2011-12 campaign, starting with goaltenders and defensemen, as well as coach Claude Julien and general manager Peter Chiarelli. As always, expectations factor in heavily.

GOALTENDERS

Tuukka Rask (B+)

Many of you probably want to know why No. 40 didn’t get an ‘A’ for the year. On paper, the numbers look pretty sparking, as Rask ranked among the league’s best in both goals-against average (2.05) and save percentage (.929). But the fact that he finished the year with zero wins in his final seven starts (0-4-2) can not be overlooked.

Tim Thomas (B+)

Expecting Thomas to replicate his superhuman season of a year ago would’ve been asking a lot. While the netminder did put together what was, by all accounts, an extremely solid season, his streakiness seemed to coincide perfectly with the team’s ongoing battle with consistency. However, Thomas bumped himself up from a ‘B’ to a ‘B+’ when he allowed two goals or less in seven-straight starts before Boston’s 4-3 win in their regular-season finale.

DEFENSEMEN

Johnny Boychuk (B+)

Despite being a model of consistency on Boston’s top pairing for majority of the campaign, Boychuk’s season went largely unheralded. While his numbers might not jump off the page (15 points), the 28-year-old blueliner certainly deserves his share of kudos. Boychuk set career-highs in games played (77), plus-minus (+27), hits (145) and blocked shots (133). The B’s are undoubtedly relieved he only suffered a mild knee sprain last week and should be fit for duty when the playoffs begin.

Zdeno Chara (A)

Chara turned what was a very good season into a great one when he caught fire at the end of the year. With his team mired in a prolonged stretch of mediocre play, the captain stepped it up when it mattered most, notching 16 points and a plus-11 rating in 17 games in March. Chara set a new career high with 52 points and finished third in the NHL with a plus-33. Don’t be surprised if, once again, Big Z is among the three candidates for this year’s Norris Trophy.

Joe Corvo (D+)

Corvo was everyone’s favorite punching bag throughout most of his first – and likely only – season with the Black and Gold. While the grade seems like one that’s been decided upon just to please the crowd, the fact remains that Corvo fell well short of expectations. Billed as the anti-Tomas Kaberle for his willingness to unleash his powerful slap-shot, Corvo didn’t even make it halfway to double-digit goals.

Never known for being strong defensively, the veteran blueliner had an average of 0.45 points per game in the first 35 contests, which certainly served as a redeeming quality in the first half. But when his play in his own zone continued to be sub-par and the production vanished (0.22 points per game in final 40 contests), Corvo was justifiably made the odd man out on Boston’s back-end. He still has a shot at making up for it all (J.D. Drew style) with a stellar postseason, but then again, Kaberle had the same opportunity and – for the most part – let everyone down.

Andrew Ference (A-)

Ask just about anyone who followed the Bruins what they thought about Peter Chiarelli giving Ference a nice raise and a three-year extension in the spring of 2010 and you’d probably have been told the GM just made the silliest move in the history of the universe. Looking back now, however, Chiarelli looks like a borderline genius for keeping his “glue guy” in the fold.

Once plagued by injuries, Ference has played in 70-plus contests in each of his first two years of the deal. After being an instrumental part of the B’s Stanley Cup run, he set a career-high with six goals, had 24 points (his best mark in Boston) and was as steady as ever this season for the Black and Gold.

Adam McQuaid (B-)

The tenacious rearguard followed up his breakout season with a solid, though unspectacular, campaign. McQuaid was undoubtedly slowed by a few ailments over the course of the year, including head injuries suffered in October and March. Whether it was a lack of fights or thunderous hits, the 25-year-old d-man just seemed to be less noticeable this year. Still, that’s hardly a true knock on McQuaid, who many teams would love to have on their bottom pairing. He finished the season with a highly-respectable plus-16 and chipped in ten points.

Mike Mottau (B)

While Mottau (Avon, Mass.) may have only suited up for six contests down the stretch, the 34-year-old defenseman more than proved he can be relied upon if the Bruins need him in the playoffs. With his steady play in his own zone and an underrated ability to make strong outlet passes, Mottau more than held his own whenever inserted into the lineup by coach Claude Julien, who will surely have the confidence to make the same move – if need be – in the postseason.

Dennis Seidenberg (B)

After a remarkable playoff run that saw him outshine the rest of his fellow blueliners, Seidenberg followed it up with another ho-hum regular season. After racking up 32 points in 81 games in 2010-11, the German d-man had just 23 points in 80 contests. His plus-15, which probably suffered a tad after being paired with Corvo for most of the campaign, ranked fourth among B’s defensemen – a pretty surprising figure for a player who sees the second most time on ice on the team (24:02). However, Seidenberg still gets a grade worthy of the honor roll after leading Boston with 151 blocked shots and placing third on the club with 154 hits.

Greg Zanon (B+)

Zanon was projected to be a not-so-flashy but super steady presence when inserted into the lineup, but he couldn’t find his groove in his first few games. After sporting a minus-5 rating in his first six tilts with the B’s, Zanon turned things around and showed why Chiarelli went out and got him at the deadline from Minnesota. The 5-foot-11 rearguard was plus-9 over his final 11 regular season tilts. All in all he dished out 39 hits in 17 contests in Black and Gold, and also blocked 32 shots. Even when everyone is healthy, Zanon has proven himself worthy of a spot in the lineup during the playoffs.

COACH

Claude Julien (A-)

Let’s just face it: The Bruins’ breakout game will never cease to be maddening and the power play will always have prolonged stretches of futility. Once you get over that, it’s pretty easy to come to the conclusion that Julien is arguably the most underrated component of Boston’s success. One could spend oodles of time dissecting why, but it comes down to this: Julien is in his fifth season with the club and has reached the playoffs every single year. After the Bruins hired and fired coaches with alarming regularity for two decades, Julien’s longevity and success, quite simply, do all the talking when it comes to his impact behind Boston’s bench.

GENERAL MANAGER

Peter Chiarelli (B+)

If he really wanted to, Chiarelli could’ve brought back the entire Cup winning team for another crack at it (shy of retired winger Mark Recchi, of course). But the GM elected to plug a few holes with cheaper solutions. Instead of signing Michael Ryder, he brought in Benoit Pouliot. Ryder had a 35-goal season, the best of his career. Pouliot was streaky, but certainly earned his $1.1 million salary with 16 strikes.

Chiarelli wisely let Kaberle walk. The Czech defenseman was subsequently traded from Carolina to Montreal, and the Habs may wind up buying him out this summer. Unfortunately Kaberle’s replacement, Corvo, didn’t fit in as planned. Nevertheless, the GM kept money off the books for future seasons in going the route he did and also made some superb additions at the deadline. Zanon has carved out a role in the top six, Mottau has proven himself reliable, and Brian Rolston has found the fountain of youth and made Boston’s already potent depth up front all the more dangerous.  The fact that the B’s have as good a shot as any club to win the Cup this season certainly makes Chiarelli worthy of a well-deserved golf clap.