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
It’s hard to grade someone when they’re so miscast. Ference struggled early this season as part of Boston’s bottom pair, where he should be playing. Ever since Boychuk’s injury, Ference has been Chara’s partner on the top pair. That means a lot of ice time and a lot of matchups against the toughest scorers around. All he has done is post a plus-12 rating and limited his mistakes to just a few egregious ones. You’d still like to see him pitch in with more than just two assists, especially when his ice time is up. But he has been more aggressive joining the rush and it’s more important that he do the things necessary to let Chara play his game.

Stuart/By S. Bradley

Mark Stuart: B-minus
There have been a few nights Stuart was a difference-maker with a handful of bone-rattling hits and sound transition play, but he has too often struggled getting out of his own end — regardless of who he has skated with. This is supposed to be Stuart’s big breakout year and he still has time recover. Recently he has been skating in the top four alongside Seidenberg. But the Bruins need more from him at both ends of the rink.

Adam McQuaid: B
It’d be tough to ask more from the rookie, who skated in 10 solid games and even notched an assist after he was scratched from the season’s first six games. Back on the sidelines as the seventh defenseman, McQuaid should help the Bruins again down the road when they decide they need his brand of simple play and toughness in their lineup again.