Based on the Bruins' performances without Adam McQuaid and Zdeno Chara, they should have no excuses if and when they get the two seasoned defensemen back.
A lack of Dennis Seidenberg, then Adam McQuaid and then Zdeno Chara has failed to break the Bruins blue line. Their stable of defensemen has lost exponential seasoning since Christmas, yet they enter the Olympic break on an efficient, winning note.
With all three of the aforementioned out of its lineup, Boston took three out of four possible points to close the pre-Olympic slate. Those points were a reward for hanging around with the powerful St. Louis Blues, eventual 3-2 overtime winners, and shellacking a desperate divisional rival with a 7-2 romp over Ottawa.
This does not mean Chiarelli should cancel all plans to pursue reinforcement between the resumption of NHL action and the March 5 trading deadline. There is no guarantee that a largely youthful blue-line brigade will keep producing these results in the defining stages of the 2013-14 season.
With that being said, if the Bruins are to be buyers, Chiarelli must be more cautious about sacrifices. The five defensemen who have stepped up to larger roles are indubitably forming and flaunting appreciable chemistry.
How else can one explain the results the B's have reaped?
Since learning that Seidenberg will sit for the balance of the season on Dec. 28, the Bruins initially stumbled on a 3-5-0 run. However, they followed that with an 8-1-2 hot streak between Jan. 16 and this past Saturday.
Not exactly what one usually sees out of a group feeling sorry for itself in the absence of the skater who is second in nightly minutes (Seidenberg had averaged 21 minutes and 50 seconds per game). Rather, it reads more like a trend of learning and persistence, carrying one over an early hurdle or two.
Furthermore, most of that recent stretch has occurred while McQuaid has been in Seidenberg’s company on the sideline.
McQuaid, another one of the Bruins' rearguards with at least three full years of prior NHL experience, went down during a Jan. 19 tilt in Chicago. That game, by the way, ended in a regulation tie and shootout loss despite McQuaid leaving Boston with five defensemen after only 8:57 of ice time.
He has not been back since, yet unripe stand-ins such as Kevan Miller have plugged the hole with fruitful valiance.
It was just one day later that Miller made an explosive physical impression during a Jan. 20 win over Los Angeles. That performance implicitly precipitated the conclusion of a two-year contract extension that the rookie signed later in the week.
Granted, it has not been all smooth against all fellow bigwigs. Miller was on the ice for each of the first two St. Louis goals this past Thursday. Fellow AHL call-up David Warsofsky joined him in finishing the night with a minus-two rating when the Blues tallied the sudden-death strike on his watch.
However, if all goes according to plan, the Bruins will have Chara available in the games that matter most. As long as they maintain their minute-muncher with due diligence, he will make a substantive difference in how much burden the youth movement bears come playoff time.
Monitoring McQuaid’s condition is a must for when everyone begins to resume their routines in advance of the schedule’s resumption. The fact that he has suffered off-and-on injuries is the topmost reason why trade-based insurance should remain on Boston’s table.
If it turns out there is too much chance that McQuaid will be unavailable or even below the top of his game, then the Bruins will need to spring for an extra veteran. Their lone regulation loss within the last three weeks is a telling testament to that notion.
The Montreal Canadiens, an Atlantic Division cohabitant and prospective playoff foe, inflicted that loss by running away with a 4-1 decision at TD Garden on Jan. 30. None other than NESN’s Dale Arnold and Barry Pederson, the Bruins’ own TV studio analysts, subsequently admitted that speed is a decisive advantage for the Habs.
In that vein, seasoning and physicality will need to be in copious supply for Boston in the event of a springtime best-of-seven showdown. The Bruins’ best choice to counter offensive speed will be relentless brawn to bump, blanket and wear down the specimens of that speed.
Players like Miller can, by all means, burgeon into a factor between now and the outset of the postseason. He and the likes of Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug can embolden their confidence and chemistry with the veterans through the homestretch. That is especially if the Bruins give Chara a handful of much-needed off-nights to stock up on energy for the playoffs.
Still, a bare minimum of three healthy veterans will be a must as soon as the postseason commences. In addition, there will be two more regular-season meetings with Montreal and at least one more with the other Atlantic tenants (except Ottawa), all of which have a realistic chance of facing Boston in the playoffs.
The Bruins will need a confident corps to set a tone in the last tune-up for any prospective playoff card. On defense, that corps could consist of, say, Johnny Boychuk, Chara, Hamilton, Krug, McQuaid and Miller with Bartkowski as the top spare.
The best-case scenario would have McQuaid making the most of what will ultimately be five-and-a-half consecutive weeks away from game action. If he can put his recurring injury history behind him and regain his rhythm during the homestretch, he will join Boychuk, Chara and Miller in a fearsome physical foursome.
If and only if there is an overwhelming indication to the contrary, then Chiarelli must dip into the market.
The last thing the Bruins want is to depend solely on Boychuk and Chara for veteran defensive presence come spring. Furthermore, where he is in his development, the undersized Warsofsky (5’9” and 170 pounds) is not an ideal resort if multiple blueliners go down.
In fact, if only by virtue of logging the least of the fill-in time during this head-turning stretch, Warsofsky would likely be the right specimen to dangle at the deadline if it comes to that. That way, the Bruins could keep each of their fast-established regulars and lessen the risk of overstocking on game-ready defensemen.
But in stark contrast to the end of December and the thick of January, a trade is looking less like an obvious need in mid-February. If Miller and the various second-year NHL regulars have brooked growing pains of late, they have not let much of it surface on the scoresheet.
Barring pathological complacency, that means paving a potential blueprint for each of the three available veterans to link up with a protege and form three stable units for the rest of this ride. For now, that hinges first and foremost on McQuaid's outlook.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com.