It seems readers of TheBruinsBlog.net loved the play of Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg as a shutdown pair so much they want it to continue into the 2011-12 season.
In a poll last week, I asked who should be Chara’s defense partner for the upcoming season. And Seidenberg secured the most votes.
Who should be Zdeno Chara's defense partner?
- Dennis Seidenberg (34%, 75 Votes)
- Johnny Boychuk (25%, 56 Votes)
- Joe Corvo (21%, 46 Votes)
- Adam McQuaid (13%, 29 Votes)
- Andrew Ference (7%, 17 Votes)
Total Voters: 223
However, readers aren’t likely to get their way, at least until the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Bruins kept Chara and Seidenberg separate for most of the 2010-11 season in order to balance out their pairs and avoid wearing down their best two defensemen. That ploy worked, even if head coach Claude Julien and his staff were a little slow in realizing they needed to pair the two blue-line stalwarts against Montreal. Boston was down 0-2 in the best-of-seven first-round series before the Chara-Seidenberg “super pair” was formed.
Although they succeeded in playing some of the best defensive hockey seen anywhere in years, Chara and Seidenberg will probably lead separate pairs when the 2011-12 season opens. To me, the most likely candidate to fill the spot to the right of the Bruins’ captain is Johnny Boychuk. Entering his third year, Boychuk has played some of his best hockey skating next to Chara. He didn’t fare quite as well during his time there last year, but the entire 2010-11 season seemed like a restart for Boychuk.
After a breakout rookie year in 2009-10, Boychuk suffered a broken arm early last season and struggled to get on track at either end of the ice after his return. In the playoffs, he paired with Andrew Ference to form a solid second pair. However, he went through as many lows as highs along the way.
In an effort to get his development, at 27 years old, back on the right path, the Bruins need to pair him with Chara or Seidenberg. Chara would be the perfect fit because Boychuk has had some success in that spot before and because in the grand scheme of things, Boychuk should be a younger version of Seidenberg (only with a harder shot).
Boychuk should be moving the puck with confidence up to his forwards and clearing out bodies from in front of the net to perfectly complement Chara’s game the way Seidenberg did in the postseason. Upper-body strength is as important to Boychuk as it is to Seidenberg, and he has enough of it to be a bull out there if he puts his mind to it and finds a level of consistency. Maybe the early-season injury threw him off. Maybe Boychuk was hampered by the departure of assistant coach Craig Ramsay and/or got a little complacent after his strong first NHL year. But now he’s entering another contract year and Boychuk has to regain his focus.
Playing next to Chara would be a great way to once again fulfill his promise. Of course, if he fails he could hurt his stock because if he can’t thive next to the league’s best defenseman, where exactly do you fit in?
As for the rest of the Bruins’ top six — figuring the veterans hold off the challenge for lineup spots from Steven Kampfer and Matt Bartkowski — will be filled out by Seidenberg, Ference, Adam McQuaid and Joe Corvo. In order to keep all six defensemen on their strong sides, I would leave Seidenberg and Ference on the left with the other two on their right side.
Corvo and Seidenberg might’ve had some success together in their Carolina days, but I’m anticipating some growing pains for Corvo as he adjusts to the Julien system and also forges chemistry with his new teammates. At least to start the year, he should log third-pair minutes and pick up playing time on one of the power-play units.
Ference more than proved himself as a top-four blueliner. To preserve his legs and help tutor Corvo, however, Ference would look great on the newcomer’s left. There’s a reason why most rookies come up and get paired with Ference. Corvo, for all intents and purposes, will be a Bruins rookie.
That would leave McQuaid to the right of Seidenberg, which I think would give the defensemen the Bruins just rewarded with a contract extension a chance to flourish.
McQuaid showed last season how tough he is and what a solid defender — with his reach and strength — he could be. He also showed brief flashes of offensive ability. While he didn’t put up that many points, he showed a knack for getting his above-average shot on goal and for knowing when to join the play and be in the right place during attack time or even on the rush.
The Bruins have made a commitment to McQuaid beyond this season, so it’s time to see how much more he can bring. It’s also time to see if Seidenberg can be the leader of a Chara-less pair for the long haul. Seidenberg struggled for stretches of last year’s regular season. The opportunity to play with a up-and-comer like McQuaid might do the trick to keep Seidenberg at a respectable level of consistency.
So to recap, here’s what my D pairs would look like:
The Bruins might just go with no set pairs for the first several months next season like they did last year. But if they’re looking to keep things orderly, this is the way they should go.