Pursuing the Cup: How Will The Bruins Use Their Defense?

The Bruins got their first look at Andrej Meszaros, who was picked up from the Flyers at the trade deadline, against the Florida Panthers. The Bruins won 5-2, here are Andrej’s stats from the game.

Shots Goals Blocks Hits Giveaways Takeaways TOI
6 1 1 0 1 0 20:36

For you fancy stats fans, he had an on-ice CorsiFor of 15 (Meszaros generated 9 of that), but was a CorsiFor% Rel of -10.5%. Basically the Bruins threw the puck towards the net 15 times, 9 times by Meszaros, while he was on the ice. That is 10.5% worse than how the rest of the team did, meaning the Bruins generated fewer shots against the Panthers while Meszaros was on the ice than without him. Part of this is likely due to the fact that he had more face-off starts in the defensive zone (6 defensive vs 4 offensive). Through all of that he managed to score a goal, and was not on the ice for either of the Panthers’ goals. That’s an all around good performance.

Watching him play, I was honestly impressed. I felt he was quick to move the puck when he had it. He took shots and tried to make outlet passes. He missed connections on a few passes, leading to one dangerous turnover in particular. That certainly can’t happen.

I would also say that a lot of his positioning and decisions to jump off the blue line looked second guessed. I felt he was going through a checklist to determine if he should make a move. Like he was consciously checking if he was covered, or if he needed to cover. I suppose this is expected as he learns the Bruins’ system. It certainly gives us a good baseline to see if his confidence improves and these decisions become second nature.

Naturally this brings up the question of who will be deployed by the Bruins for defense in the Playoffs. The Bruins were unable to scoop up a Top 4 defenseman at the trade deadline, so the body sliding into Dennis Seidenberg’s spot along Zdeno Chara during the playoffs will likely be someone from the pre-deadline roster. Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli spoke about getting ‘depth’ at the deadline, and that’s what he did with Meszaros and waiver pickup Corey Potter.

Claude Julien needs to plan on how to work these new pieces into the line-up over the remaining eighteen games. To see what skills they bring, keep them in game shape, and build chemistry with their potential partners. There are going to be decisions to scratch players that are certain to ruffle the feathers of Bruins fans. Claude’s decision to scratch Dougie Hamilton in favor of Meszaros against the Panthers was the first. One of my favorite Bruins follows on Twitter, @cupofchowdah, made some interesting points in the following conversation.








The conversation had me thinking – why not sit Dougie? The Bruins are now first in the Eastern Conference after their win against the Panthers. If the Bruins can sit comfortably at the top of the standings and get their players rest then please, Claude, given them rest. I’m OK with Chara, Dougie, Bartkowski, or Boychuk enjoying a pretzel or two on Level 9. If you can give them some time off the ice while working in Meszaros and even Potter, then do it. I don’t think Julien’s choice is a reaction to how Hamilton has played, or any specific performance critque (see update below). The Playoffs are a grind, and if we can rest key defensemen in advance then please do. But @CommissarTaco – who was running Stanley Cup of Chowder’s Twitter for the game – has a valid concern.

Dougie only saw the ice in seven of the twenty-two games the Bruins played in the Playoff’s last year. You could argue it was his first season in the NHL and he would have been a liability. But Torey Krug played in fifteen games, and you could certainly argue that Dougie’s fresh legs could have helped a beaten and tired defense corp by they time they were playing the Blackhawk’s. But Dougie has been playing alongside Chara this year, and is more established with this team. If Julien is sitting Hamilton to play Meszaros in order to replace him, well then Chiarelli and Julien talking about ‘depth’ pick-ups has been a terrible lie.

So the auditions have begun. I asked who @cupofchowdah would like to see sat in order to play Meszaros, and maybe more importantly, what the defensive pairings should be in the Playoffs.



I think the locks – Chara-Hamilton, Boychuk, and Krug – sound good. Chara and Hamilton’s play has been consistent while together, and if you can get them rest (do you see my agenda) they should be able to handle the grind of the Playoffs. Johnny Boychuk has played like a man possessed this year. He has experience and has established himself as defensive leader capable of quarterbacking the second pairing. Finally, Torey Krug brings offensive puck moving capabilities to the blue line and helps give us a better power play. Which leaves two remaining spots.

I’ve written at length at how Matt Bartkowski has taken on most of the minutes available since Seidenberg’s injury. But as we saw last year with Dougie, that doesn’t guarantee Playoff minutes. Here are the pairings I would like to see in the playoffs, with one shuffled example at the end if injury or performance dictated a change. Claude likes to keep his defensemen skating on the side of their forehand, so that will likely factor into how they pair – with the exception of Meszaros who boasts being able to play either side which we saw when he played on his off wing with Chara.

5 v 5
Chara Hamilton
Bartkowski Boychuk
Krug Meszaros
5 v 4
<unit one forward> Meszaros
Chara Krug
4 v 5
Chara Hamilton
Bartkowski Boychuk
5 v 5 (protecting lead / special matchups)
Chara Boychuk
Bartkowski Hamilton
Krug Meszaros
5 v 5 (secondary option)
Chara Hamilton
Meszaros Boychuk
Krug Miller

That first 5 v 5 example would leave Miller, McQuaid, and Potter as your depth defenseman. The danger with this is that the Bruins would only have right shot defenseman for depth. Also, I don’t trust McQuaid and his off and on injury when you can get similar play from Miller who has shown moments of brilliance. A criticism of Bartkowski is that a second pairing spot is a stretch for his abilities. If Meszaros proves to be able to handle the minutes he did tonight and remain effective, I wouldn’t be surprised if Claude went for experience and you saw the secondary 5 v 5 pairings I listed – with Bartkowski being scratched.

The next few weeks will be interesting as the Playoff roster becomes clear. But no need to lose sleep if players like Dougie, Bartkowski, and even Chara get a night off. We need a rested D going into the Playoffs, it held the B’s from the Cup last year and if Claude has learned that as a lesson then I’ll take seeing some healthy scratches as the season closes out. Especially with the position they hold in the East.

UPDATE 2014-03-10 16:29

Well, it looks like I may have to adjust some of my concerns. In Amalie Benjamin’s column for the Boston Globe (may be a paywall – Google “Andrej Meszaros scores in debut for the Bruins”) this morning, Claude is quoted as saying the following:

“I think Dougie Hamilton has played really good hockey,” Julien said. “He’s been good for us, and offensively he continues to be good. He struggles at times defensively. We’re going to pull him back and continue to work with him. Certainly he’s a guy that we want in our lineup. “It’s a one-game situation where I said, this is an opportunity to see Meszaros, back-to-back game you’ve got a fresh guy in and we’ve got another guy that we want to continue to work with.”

This certainly validates @CommissarTaco’s concern that there may be a negative perception of Dougie’s performance. Tom Servo (@tservo42) points out that Dougie is one of their best possession defensemen and doesn’t contribute significantly more offensively than the team without him on the ice.


This is really unfortunate.


Founder of Dekes and Dangles. Die hard Bruins fan. Lover of hockey. You can find me spewing my crazy thoughts at twitter.com/JackTheWire.

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