Quarter-pole report card: the defensemen

Chara will see a lot of Gaborik/By S. Bradley

The NHL season has crossed the quarter pole, so it’s time to grade each Bruins player before they start the season’s second quarter in Atlanta Sunday night.

Boston’s defense corps definitely was not immune from blame for the offensive troubles that plagued the team all of last season. With Zdeno Chara, Matt Hunwick and the rest suffering a drop-off in their output, the Bruins’ defensemen did little to help the forwards’ cause.

So this season the challenge was going to be to muster more scoring from the back end while maintaining the high level of defense that has been the hallmark of Boston’s Claude Julien-coached teams.

Well, boosted by the best goaltending in the league, the Bruins’ defense is No. 1 in the NHL at 1.9 goals allowed per game. The players in front of Tim Thomas and Tuukka Rask should get their share of the credit for that. Although the shots-against totals have sometimes climbed a little high, the Bruins’s blueliners have done solid work to keep those shots on the perimeter when they’re not blocked.

As far as offense, the Bruins still need better transition and more contributions from those on the back end to get the team into the top half of the league in scoring.

Here are the grades:

Zdeno Chara: A

While the captain could still stand to make more happen on the ragged power play with his rocket slap shot, he has bounced back after his off season in ’09-10 with 10 points in 21 games and a plus-11 rating. He took it upon himself to go after Chris Neil when the Ottawa forward declined Shawn Thornton’s invitation. The likes of Alexander Ovechkin and Phil Kessel have found out the hard way that Chara is back in top ferocious defensive form.

Dennis Seidenberg: B-plus

The Bruins’ team leader in blocked shots and hits by a defenseman has come on after a sluggish first handful of games this season. His defensive-zone coverage has been excellent. However, as a fixture on the power play he has produced just seven assists and no goals. More will be expected of Seidenberg in the next three quarters of the season.

Hunwick/By S. Bradley

Matt Hunwick: C

There are two schools of thought when it comes to Hunwick and power-play time: you can say he receives it undeservedly or that he has to get it because that’s his best chance to help the team. However, the fast-skating blueliner has produced just three points (one goal) all season and hasn’t been able to handle top-four minutes when they’ve been granted to him. He often looks like his confidence level is low and panics under pressure at both ends with the puck on his stick. It’s been a disappointing start to what was supposed to be a breakout year for the diminutive D-man.

Johnny Boychuk: B

This grade could’ve easily been an incomplete considering a broken arm cost Boychuk all but 11 games. Since his return, he’s been relegated to the third pair and has looked a tad off in his timing and positioning. He started strong with three assists in his first five games, but he has to put that bazooka slapper to better use and give the Bruins a lift with some offense — or at least the threat of goal-scoring.

Andrew Ference: B

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