BRIGHTON, Mass – It’s not your imagination if you feel like you haven’t seen 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara much this preseason.
After all, it’s awfully difficult to miss the massive D-man out on the ice, and some of the Bruins' sloppy D-zone mistakes in Detroit and Philly probably wouldn’t have happened if Ol' No. 33 was out there.
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Chara, 40, has played just a single preseason game - a home victory over the Flyers last week - and the Bruins captain isn’t expected to be making the trip to Chicago for the preseason finale on Saturday night. Instead, the Bruins will save their bullets for the regular season with Chara, who looked in midseason form while clocking 23 minutes of ice time in his only appearance against Philadelphia. It sounds like Bruins are playing it safe after already losing their only other natural left-shot defenseman when Torey Krug went down more than a week ago with a fractured jaw.
All the Bruins have behind Chara and Krug are relatively inexperienced left-side D’s Matt Grzelcyk, Rob O’Gara, Jeremy Lauzon and Jakub Zboril, so having both players down at once would be something approaching disastrous.
“I don’t think Zee needs it to be honest with you. He’s been around a long time and he’ll get his work in at practice,” said Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy. “It might be a little more measurable down the road, so there’s always an advantage with a little less wear and tear. You never know where could be an injury. Right now with our left shot ‘D’ that would be a big concern [playing Chara in Chicago].
“What if some freak thing happened and we basically lose our only left-shot ‘D’ with Torey already out of the lineup? It’s a blessing in that sense [that Chara can be rested].”
Chara also missed some time in the middle of the preseason schedule with an illness, but in a roundabout way, it could benefit the oldest player in the league to save his legs for the regular season. There’s no way of knowing how much it will benefit Chara, but it certainly won’t be as much of a challenge as last season when he played deep into the World Cup of Hockey tournament with Team Europe.
Instead, Chara appears destined for another season paired with Brandon Carlo in a shutdown role and the Bruins would gladly take a repeat of the 10 goals, 29 points, plus-18 rating and 75 games played from last season.
“Everybody is looking forward to the season beginning,” said Chara, who is making final preparations for his 19th full season in the NHL. “It’s up to the coaching staff. Obviously, I’m feeling much better. If they feel I need to play then I’ll be ready to play, and if they feel like they need to look at other options, combinations or pairings then it’s up to them to decide.
“These preseason games are good preparation, but at the same time I think everybody is anxious for the real games and to get going with the season.”
Given how much care and precaution that the Bruins are handling Chara with given their delicate situation on the back end, management and the coaching staff seem just as anxious as the players to get things going with the real games. Perhaps it will pay dividends when the Bruins need the best out of their 40-year-old in big moments such as when he averaged an astounding 28:46 of ice time in the playoff series vs. Ottawa last spring.