December 2, 2013

Bruins Report Card: Goaltenders and defensemen

By Jesse Connolly

We’re a third of the way through the NHL season. Most of us grew up in a world where grades were handed out quarterly, but thankfully there exists a trimester system, providing us an excuse to judge how each and every Bruin has performed from opening night up to this juncture in the campaign.

We’ll kick off this two-part series by looking at the Black and Gold’s netminders and blueliners. As always, grades are heavily based on expectations. We’ll also look at what pace each player is on and venture a guess as to whether or not they’ll maintain it:

GOALIES

TUUKKA RASK (A)
14-6-2, 1.90 GAA, .935 Sv%, 2 shutouts, 22 GP

After a Tim Thomas-like showing in the 2013 playoffs, which saw him backstop the B’s to within two wins of a Stanley Cup championship, Rask’s postseason performance has rolled right over into the 2013-14 campaign. The Finnish netminder has allowed two goals or less in 16 of his 22 starts to date, showing remarkable consistency that’s justifiably put him in the driver’s seat for this year’s Vezina Trophy. He’s third in the league in wins and shutouts, and ranks sixth in goals-against average -- a field that features two players with just eight starts on the season ahead of him.

On pace for: 42 wins
Over/under: Slightly under

CHAD JOHNSON (B+)
4-1-0, 1.97 GAA, .918 Sv%, 0 shutouts, 5 GP

After having inferior numbers to Niklas Svedberg in the preseason, many questioned the B’s likely-financially-motivated decision to go with Johnson as their NHL backup out of the gate. Those concerns resurfaced when the 6-foot-3 native of Calgary didn’t look so hot in a win over Buffalo and again when Boston lost 3-1 to the Isles. Since then, however, Johnson’s impressed. He’s reeled off three-straight victories, the highlight of which was a 32-save performance in a 3-2, overtime win over Columbus. Johnson falls just short of an ‘A’ because he’s played bottom-of-the-barrel offenses, but the B’s certainly must be pleased with how he’s fared when Rask’s been given the night off.

On pace for: 15 starts
Over/under: Over

DEFENSEMEN

MATT BARTKOWSKI (B)
0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points, even, 13 GP

Injuries are unavoidable, and Bartkowski’s proven how important it is to have a reliable seventh defenseman in the early going. The Pittsburgh native ranks second among B’s blueliners with six assists, despite playing in just half of the team’s games. All of his points have come at even strength. Bartkowski appeared in 10 games in November with Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid missing time during that stretch. Overall, the Bruins are 8-4-1 with him in the lineup.

On pace for: 39 games
Over/under: Under

JOHNNY BOYCHUK (B+)
1 goal, 5 assists, 6 points, plus-8, 26 GP

For some reason, Boychuk’s ability to score on a regular basis in the playoffs just never translates during the regular season. No. 55 found twine six times during the B’s postseason run this past spring, but he’s done so just once on 42 shots in 2013-14. Other than that, you have to applaud what the Bruins’ No. 3 defenseman has done thus far, especially given that the 29-year-old veteran hardly sees any time on the man advantage. Boychuk leads the Black and Gold with 49 blocked shots -- putting him on pace for a career high of 149 in that category -- and is tied for second among Boston blueliners with a plus-8 rating.

On pace for: 18 points
Over/under: Over

ZDENO CHARA (B)
6 goals, 5 assists, 11 points, minus-1, 27 GP

Chara’s numbers have received a nice boost thanks to his new role on Boston’s power play, as Claude Julien has used the 6-foot-9 blueliner down low and in front of the opponent’s net on the man advantage. Because of that, Boston’s captain leads the team with four tallies on the power play. Chara’s even-strength play hasn’t been up to his usual standards. The 2009 Norris Trophy winner, who has regularly ranked among the league leaders in plus-minus, is last among B’s blueliners at minus-1. Say what you will about the importance of that stat, but 27 games is a pretty decent sample size. Furthermore, he has just six even-strength points through 27 games (0.22 per game). Over the past two seasons, Chara averaged nearly double that (0.37) with 47 even-strength points in 127 contests. Nevertheless, you have to be impressed by the fact that the 36-year-old Slovak is on pace for 18 goals this season. His career best as a Bruin was 19 in 2008-09.

On pace for: Minus-3
Over/under: Way over (on the plus side)

DOUGIE HAMILTON (B-)
3 goals, 4 assists, 7 points, plus-8, 25 GP

After a sluggish start to what was expected to be a breakout sophomore season, which included a pair of games as a healthy scratch, Hamilton appeared to regain his confidence and we’ve seen a much steadier game from the young defenseman over the last month-plus of hockey. He’s tied with Boychuk for second among Boston’s blueliners at plus-8 and has jumped up from an average of 17:07 of time on ice last season to 19:39 this year. The only downer for Dougie is his production dried up after a three-game point streak at the start of November. He went 11 games without a goal or an assist until notching a helper Saturday against Columbus. Hamilton’s one of three defensemen used regularly on the man advantage. He’s one of just four Bruins with multiple tallies on the power play.

On pace for: 21 points
Over/under: Over

TOREY KRUG (A+)
7 goals, 9 assists, 16 points, plus-5, 27 GP

After his record-setting showing in the playoffs, it seemed safe to assume Krug probably set the bar a tad too high for himself. Well, apparently not. The young rearguard is in a four-way tie for the league lead among all NHL defensemen with seven goals, leads Boston’s blueliners with 16 points, has injected life into a power play that’s been dismal at times for what feels like half a decade and quickly asserted himself as one of the early favorites for the Calder Trophy as Rookie of the Year. Best of all, he’s a blast to watch, as Krug is never afraid to take chances and do what he does best, all while more than holding his own in the defensive end via his high hockey IQ and underrated strength.

On pace for: 48 points
Over/under: Slightly under

ADAM MCQUAID (B-)
1 goal, 2 assists, 3 points, plus-7, 18 GP

McQuaid’s provided exactly what you’d expect out of him in the first third of the season: limited offense, steady defense, a handful of fights predicated on standing up for a teammate and, sure enough, a fluke injury of the potentially-self-induced variety. No. 54 missed 18 days worth of action due to a lower-body injury he suffered Nov. 9 against the Leafs, which may have been sustained in a bout with Frazer McLaren but ultimately knocked him out of action on an ensuing shift. The Sudbury Wolves product has looked a step slow since returning and has been burned for just a hair too many odd-man rushes this season but, to his credit, he'ss finished just one of his 18 contests with a negative plus-minus rating and has been a solid complement to a chance-taking, offensive-minded partner like Krug on the B’s bottom pairing.

On pace for: Plus-21
Over/under: Push

KEVAN MILLER (INCOMPLETE)
0 goals, 0 assists, 0 points, even, 3 GP

As expected, Miller showed little flash but plenty of toughness, averaging three hits per game in his short stint up with the big club. Three games, however, is a little too small of a sample size to truly judge his abilities at the NHL level. Unless the B's are down two blueliners at the same time again, it's unlikely we'll see Miller back in Boston this season, but he certainly didn't hurt his chances of a recall should that opportunity present itself.

DENNIS SEIDENBERG (B)
0 goals, 6 assists, 6 points, plus-11, 23 GP

The offensive numbers are never great, and his blocked shots are down from years past, but Seidenberg remains a strong anchor on the Bruins’ second defensive pairing. The German rearguard had a stellar first month of the campaign with four assists and a plus-10 rating in 12 October games. It’s possible the lower-body injury that kept him out of the lineup for 10 days in late November may have been hindering him prior to his time on the sidelines, as Seidenberg dipped to just two assists and a plus-1 rating in 11 games last month. A healthy No. 44 is practically a must for the Bruins going forward, as the 32-year-old defenseman ranks second behind Chara with 21:12 of ice time per game and is always counted on in key defensive situations.

On pace for: 0 goals
Over/under: Over

Check back tomorrow for the second half of our report card, featuring the B's forwards.

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com