Depth is the magic word for the Boston Bruins.
If you wanted to pick out one reason the Bruins have been one of the game's most successful franchises for the last six seasons, it is the depth of talent they have on the forward line, the defense and in goal.
The blue line depth stands out this year. No matter who Claude Julien decides to pair up on the blue line, opponents know that they are going to meet with a tough, smart and strong-skating duo that knows all the tricks to breaking up scoring plays.
A serious discussion of the Boston defense must start with Zdeno Chara, the team's captain and one-time Norris Trophy winner.
Chara has been wearing the spoked-B on his chest since he signed with Boston as a free agent in the summer of 2006. Chara, 36, is the biggest and strongest player in the NHL at 6'9" and 255 pounds.
However, simply pounding opposing forwards is not the only part of his game. Certainly, when he has a chance to throw a body check in the defensive zone or in a corner, he will use his strength and leverage to do just that.
But the best part of Chara's game may be the way he uses his range and long stick to break up passes in the offensive zone. Opponents may think they can make a pass into the slot or cross-ice, but they don't calculate how well Chara uses his stick to get in the passing lane.
His ability to defend against opponents' passes was obvious in the last season's Eastern Conference Final against the Pittsburgh Penguins. While he had plenty of help from the Bruins' other defensemen and goalie Tuukka Rask, Chara's defensive skills frustrated Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the point that neither one recorded a point in the series, and the Penguins scored just two goals against Boston while being swept in four games.
However, just as Chara reached the top of the mountain, Jonathan Toews and the Chicago Blackhawks knocked him down in the Stanley Cup Finals. Instead of trying to stay outside Chara, Toews took it to the big man in the last three games of the series, and the Blackhawks turned a 2-1 deficit into a series victory.
Chara was minus-six over those last three games.
The rest of the NHL took notice of the way Toews got close to Chara and then made plays. Chara has an even plus-minus rating this season, and he is the only Bruins defenseman who does not have a plus next to his name in that category.
Claude Julien has not lost one iota of confidence in Chara. Not even close. Chara is averaging 24:36 of ice time, the most of any player on the team. He also has three goals and four assists.
Chara has not finished with a minus rating since 2006-07. He was minus-21 in that season, but he is plus-136 since then.
Dennis Seidenberg is the Bruins' second-best defenseman, and he has been since he was acquired in a trade with the Florida Panthers in the 2009-10 season.
Actually, Seidenberg made his big impression on the Bruins in the 2009 playoffs when he was playing for the Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina upset the Bruins in seven games in that series, and Seidenberg's stalwart hitting and puck carrying stood out.
He has been even better than that since coming to the Bruins. He plays a heavy, physical game, and when the Bruins are in a position where they want to shut down their opponents, Julien will pair Seidenberg with Chara. While they don't usually do that until playoff time, they can be paired together in end-of-game situations when Boston is protecting a one-goal lead.
Seidenberg has a heavy, hard shot that he can get away fairly quickly. He has not scored a goal this season, but he has six assists and a plus-10 rating, and he is averaging 22:07 per game.
Seidenberg left Tuesday night's game against the Rangers early in the first period with an undisclosed injury and did not return.
Dennis Seidenberg won't return to the game tonight. Skated one shift and 1:01 of ice time. Big loss for the Bruins #BruinsTalk— Joe Haggerty (@HackswithHaggs) November 20, 2013
With Andrew Ference in Edmonton this year, Johnny Boychuk and Adam McQuaid represent a powerful veteran presence.
Both of these right-shot defensemen are big, nasty and powerful. There is nothing subtle about either player. Boychuk is more than happy to bounce bodies in the corner, and he will drop the gloves when he has to.
McQuaid has had a myriad of nagging physical problems over the years, but he usually shakes them off as quickly as possible and always makes the effort to return to the lineup. McQuaid is not the most physically gifted player, but he is gritty and he loves to engage in the corners and he usually comes away with the puck. McQuaid is currently out with a groin injury.
Boychuk has one goal and three assists and a plus-nine rating so far this season, while McQuaid has a goal and two assists and a plus-seven rating.
Boychuk scored just one goal during the regular season last year, but he lit the lamp six times in the playoffs. He has a powerful slap shot that can intimidate goalies when he gets a chance to wind up and step into it
Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and Matt Bartkowski make up the Bruins final three defensemen. If the rest of the Bruins' defensive crew is healthy, Julien is forced to sit out one of those youngsters.
It has usually been Bartkowski, but that's no knock against him. Hamilton is a former first-round draft pick who has a mature game and continues to improve in his second year with the Bruins. While he could play with a bit more attitude and grind a little harder, he is a first-rate skater, puck handler and shooter. His defensive skills continue to get better. Hamilton has three goals, three assists and a plus-7 rating.
Krug is technically a rookie, even after he announced his presence as a big-time blue-line scorer during last year's playoffs with four goals.
Krug has scored six goals and has six assists, and he has a plus-five rating. He was an undrafted free agent whom the Bruins signed after a fine college career at Michigan State.
Krug does not look tough or impressive as he stands 5'9" and weighs 180 pounds. But he is a remarkable athlete who can handle the puck in his skates and direct the power play. He is also not afraid to play the physical game.
Krug excels at skating the puck out of the defensive zone and getting the Bruins' attack started.
Bartkowski is much the same way, but he is not quite as quick as Krug. Bartkowski can handle the defensive load and skate the puck out of trouble. He has not scored a goal, but he has four assists and is plus-four on the season.
If the Bruins have to call up another defenseman due to Seidenberg's injury, it could be Kevan Miller from the Bruins' minor-league team in Providence.
Chiarelli and Julien know they have a team loaded with defensive talent, and that's one of the main reason the Bruins rarely go through extended slumps.
It's also one of the reasons that Boston should be able to assert itself in the postseason again this year.