Bruins hope to find a way for Corvo to fit in

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Bruins hope to find a way for Corvo to fit in

WILMINGTON, Mass. The Bruins had the sixth-best defense in the NHL this season and move into the Stanley Cup playoffs viewing it as one of their team strengths.

But the old hockey axiom goes that any defense is only as strong as their weakest link, and it looks like the Bruins will be exposing their weak link when the playoffs begin.

An injury to Adam McQuaid has created an opening among their six starting defensemen, and it appears that Joe Corvo will be getting the call as a bottom-pairing defenseman with Greg Zanon to start the postseason.

It appears Corvo will essentially be playing the Tomas Kaberle role from last years playoffs where the Bruins will limit the puck-mover to short shifts and power play ice time.

But theres only so much hiding one can do with a defenseman playing upwards of 12 minutes per game. Its also pretty clear in Claude Juliens comments about the defensemen corps, in general, that his faith in Corvo as a responsible defensive player isnt at all-time high. Julien ticked off the name of every other defenseman when listing their acumen inside their own zone, but left Corvo conspicuously absent.

Weve been through it before. We almost have to be careful that if Chara and Seidenberg are so good that we make sure the other ones are as well. We have a lot of confidence in our guys, said Julien. Johnny Boychuk is a guy thats got a lot of experiences playing against top lines, and Andrew Ference has had a great year for us.

Whether its Adam McQuaid, Greg Zanon or Mike Mottau everybody has proved that theyre capable of playing shutdown hockey, you know?

What about Corvo, who earned the nickname Uh-oh Corvo during his rocky D-zone days playing with the Ottawa Senators?

With Joe were smart enough to put him in areas where hes going to succeed, said Julien. He is a good player when we put him in those situations, so its us knowing our team and who to put out there against whom. Our guys have done a great job. We have trust in our whole D-corps and its up to us to find the right times to put them out there.

Its been a rough year for Corvo with the Bruins. His four goals scored havent been good enough to offset his defensive inadequacies.

His numbers arent awful with 25 points and a plus-10 for the season, but its less than his career norms. With his heavy shot and skating ability Corvo should have double-digit goals and upwards of 35 points in his sleep, but that never happened in Boston.

Corvo loses one-on-one fights for the puck in the battle areas inside the defensive zone, he gets caught up ice on bad decisions leaving his defensive partners hanging and he frequently leaves the front of the net.

That kind of play in the D-zone leads to a lack of trust from a defensive sticker for detail like Julien. Corvo has tried to improve, but he finished the season with three points and a minus-1 rating in his final 14 games. He also found himself as a healthy scratch as the Bruins found their stride in late March. And those two things didnt seem to be mutually exclusive.

Corvo's presence on the ice gives the Washington Capitals something to exploit. The Caps know just how shaky he can be after he was acquired by Washington in a trade during the 2009-10 season and finished with six points and a minus-4 in 18 games.

It's a few years later, but Corvo's issues struggles seem to have resurfaced. Its fair to say the more Corvo is forced to play in any of these games, the less chance Boston has to be successful.

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

Brady-Ryan marks rare case of NFL's top two quarterbacks meeting in Super Bowl

For all the flack that Matt Ryan got heading into this season, he’s been a damn good quarterback. Is his career on the same level as Tom Brady’s? Of course not, but this regular season saw him stand as Brady’s peer, making him an MVP favorite.

One of Ryan’s biggest challengers for that hardware is the same man who stands in the way of him winning his first Super Bowl. Though he missed the first four games of the season due to suspension, Brady finished second in the league in passing yards per game and threw just two picks in 12 games while tossing 28 touchdowns.  

So Super Bowl LI will pin the quarterback with the best numbers overall (Ryan finished two touchdowns behind Aaron Rodgers for the league lead but threw for 516 more yards and had a higher completion percentage) against the quarterback with the best touchdown/interception ratio ever for a single season. 

In other words, this is a Super Bowl that puts what one could argue are the season’s two best quarterbacks each other. That’s pretty rare. 

Going back the last 25 years, there are four candidates for such meetings: Manning vs. Brees in Super Bowl XLIV, Favre and Elway in Super Bowl XXXII (this one is a stretch), Favre and Bledsoe in Super Bowl XXXI and Kelly and Rypien in Super Bowl XXVI.. 

Why haven’t the two best quarterbacks squared off in the Super Bowl more often? Because Brady and Peyton Manning played their entire careers in the same conference, silly. It’s taken other players entering their echelon to even set up such a scenario, and that’s why Brees’ Saints beating Manning’s Colts serves as the only example during Manning or Brady’s career. 

The strong performances of those who dominated the regular season have often carried over into their Super Bowl meetings, but not always. Drew Bledsoe and Jim Kelly (both throwing two touchdowns and four picks in Super Bowl losses) are examples of the wheels falling off in the final game. 

Here’s a breakdown of past occurrences. Note that all four of them saw the winning team score at least 30 points, something the Pats have done just once in Brady's four Super Bowl wins: 

Super Bowl XLIV: Brees vs. Manning

Brees led NFL with 34 touchdowns in regular season; Manning finished tied for second with 33

Final score: Saints 31, Colts 17

Brees: 32/39, 288 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Manning: 31/45, 333 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT

Brees completed a postseason in which he had no turnovers and did so in a nearly exactly average game for him that season, as e averaged 292.5 yards, 2.26 touchdowns and less than one interception per game in the regular season. The two quarterbacks also combined for just one sack. 
 
Super Bowl XXXII: Favre vs. Elway

Favre led NFL with 35 TDs in regular season, Elway finished second in TD/interception ratio

Final score: Broncos 31, Packers 24

Favre: 25/42, 256 yards, 3 TD, 1 INT, fumble lost 
Elway: 12/22, 123 yards, 0 TD, 1 INT

Again, this is the forced one because Jeff George (3,917 passing yards, 29 touchdowns, nine interceptions) had the better regular season than Elway (3,635 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, 11 picks). Elway may have been the winning quarterback, but he didn’t have anything to do with the win. Terrell Davis carried the Broncos, playing through a migraine and rushing for 157 yards with three touchdowns en route to Super Bowl MVP honors. 

Super Bowl XXXI: Favre vs. Bledsoe

Favre led NFL with 39 TDs, Bledsoe third with 27

Final Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21

Favre: 14/27, 246 yards, 2 TD, 0 INT
Bledsoe: 25/48, 253 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT

Both quarterbacks took five sacks in this game. For Bledsoe, it was the most he took all season. The game was the third four-pick performance of his NFL career. 

Super Bowl XXVI: Kelly vs. Rypien

Kelly led NFL with 33 TDs, Rypien second with 28

Final score: Redskins 37, Bills 24

Rypien: 18/33, 292 yards, 2 TD, INT
Kelly: 28/58, 275 yards, 2 TD, 4 INT, fumble lost

Turns out five turnovers (and being sacked four times) is not a recipe for winning the Super Bowl. Kelly’s 58 passes thrown set a Super Bowl record.
 

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Dimitroff, Pioli the first Belichick defectors to lead new team to Super Bowl

Working for the Patriots makes you attractive to other teams. Many have left, but Thomas Dimitroff and Scott Pioli are finally showing that major success can be attained in the process. 

Dimitroff and Pioli have built a team in Atlanta that will play for the franchise’s first Super Bowl title on Feb. 5. While many have been hired away from Bill Belichick's Patriots to lead other organizations, Dimitroff is the first of the defectors to get to the Super Bowl on his own. Adding an old friend in Pioli has played a part in that. 

Dimitroff served as New England’s director of college scouting from 2003 through 2007 before becoming Atlanta’s general manager in 2008. He hired Pioli in 2014 as an assistant GM after the longtime Patriots director and vice president of player personnel had a messy stint as the Chiefs’ GM. 

Executives and coaches (even Field Yates; yes, the fair-haired boy from the television) leaving the Patriots for better positions with other organizations has been common, but with the new positions have often come diminished success compared to New England. 

Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Bill O’Brien, Charlie Weis (in his brief return to the NFL in 2010) and Josh McDaniels make up the list of coordinators who have left winning with the Patriots to experience a dropoff without Brady and Belichick. John Robinson (Titans), Jason Licht (Buccaneers) and Bob Quinn (Lions) currently serve as GMs elsewhere, while former Pats secondary coach Joe Collier works with Dimitroff and Pioli as the Falcons’ director of pro personnel. 

It’s only fitting that Dimitroff and Pioli will have to go through Belichick in order to secure a title on their own. Winning without Belichick has proven hard enough for his former colleagues; winning against him will be even harder.