BOSTON (CBS) — Left defense turned out to be the Bruins’ Achilles’ heel come playoff time.
Although that position is where Norris Trophy finalist Zdeno Chara and rising star Torey Krug reside, when it came time to fill a second defense pair to slow down the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference second round, the Bruins were caught short. Matt Bartkowski and Andrej Meszaros weren’t able to fill the void left by Dennis Seidenberg’s injury. Krug filled in admirably but when he moved up, the third pair became a weakness in the Bruins’ seven-game loss.
Seidenberg’s return in 2014-15 should solidify this position again, but the Bruins will have to do a better job of adding depth before and during next season.
Here are my grades for the left defensemen for the entire 2013-14 campaign:
Contract status: Signed until he can be teammates with his preschool-aged daughter.
It was another great defensive year for Chara, who was plus-25 despite continually facing the opponents’ best offensive performers. His acceptance of a forward’s role on the power play was a huge key to the Bruins’ success, as he scored 10 goals and Boston’s power play surged toward the top of the league rankings. However, he scored seven goals as a defenseman in the regular season and none in the playoffs. For close to $7 million per season, the Bruins need Chara to contribute to every facet in the game. His play against Montreal was disappointing. He was obviously slowed by a hand injury, but that didn’t explain his inability to stay up on his skates or play better positionally.
Contract status: Hoping Bruins pay him like a second-pair defenseman rather than a third-pair defenseman on his second pro contract this summer as a restricted free agent.
Considering his limitations in size and strength, the Bruins did a great job of protecting Krug from dangerous situations. But when he was forced to up his responsibility defensively, he mostly met that challenge in the playoffs. Offensively, he made huge strides and was rarely caught after a mistimed pinch. The Bruins’ power play renaissance started with Krug’s ascension to the NHL. He led all rookie defensemen in points with 40 in the regular season and shared the team lead with 10 in the playoffs.
Contract status: Hoping Bruins ignore his playoffs when they pay him as a restricted free agent this summer.
Bartkowski deserves a lot of credit for making the best of his role as seventh defenseman at the start of the season and then contributing once he got in the lineup. However, he failed to score in 64 games and started to lose his way puck management-wise late in the season. His decision-making continued to falter when the speed of the game picked up in the playoffs and a flu obviously weakened him physically. He was a disaster against Montreal, as he continued to think he could get away with taking a hand off the stick while defending. It’ll be interesting to see if the Bruins want to continue grooming Bartkowski or if they’re ready to see what he can do in another city.
Contract status: Looking for a team that has a lot less talent on defense so maybe he can sign somewhere and play as an unrestricted free agent.
You can wrap up Meszaros’ stint in Boston just by watching the video of Dale Weise’s breakaway goal in Game 3 against Montreal. Meszaros takes a slap shot and admires his work as it’s blocked and the puck is sent up the ice. He was brought in to just be depth, and that’s all he was. He scored two goals for Boston in the regular season while the Bruins were going through their pre-playoffs tune-up. In the postseason, he became the equal of two evils when it came time for coach Claude Julien to dress a third left D after Chara and Krug.
Contract: Perfectly timed his signing of a four-year extension last fall before he went down with an ACL/MCL injury.
Seidenberg’s grade gets inflated for how much the Bruins missed him in the playoffs. But he’s typically a slow starter and was far from playing his best hockey when he went down in late December. Of course, he was probably about to turn the corner and was still plus-11 in 34 games. If the Bruins could’ve gone one more round, he probably would’ve had a chance to further improve his grade.
This is the third installment in a six-part series grading how Bruins players performed over the course of the 2013-14 season. You can read the report card for goaltenders by clicking here, and the report card for the right D-men by clicking here. Check back for the forwards’ grades next week.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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