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Bruins playing it safe with Chara, hope to see dividends later

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Bruins playing it safe with Chara, hope to see dividends later

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.  

Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

Bruins look for another turning point with rugged trip ahead

When the Bruins take the ice against the Vancouver Canucks on Saturday night deep in the outer reaches of Western Canada, there will be a couple of things at play. One will be the start of a long sprint to the end of the regular season with 27 games in a scant 52 days with no more long breaks to catch their collective breath.

The worst of the worst will be 16 games in March, which could be the thing that ultimately knocks the Black and Gold down a peg after they’ve managed to play through everything else this season.

Trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning by just a couple of points for the NHL’s top spot, the Bruins know the schedule itself will be one of their biggest challenges of the season.

“We’re certainly aware of our schedule the rest of the way, and we know that it’s going to be a challenge. There aren’t too many more days off and we’re pretty much playing every other day,” said Patrice Bergeron. “So some of it will be about getting the proper rest and making sure we’re doing everything to be ready to play. But this has also been a group that’s done a really good job of handling other things that have been thrown at us whether it’s injuries or something else. This is just another challenge to take on.”

But the other, smaller picture is of the five-game trip through Canada with a final stop in Buffalo next Sunday. The Bruins will play those five games in ten days in their longest trip of the regular season. They hope to conjure up some of the same mojo that kicked off their three-month winning binge way back in mid-November. It was then that the Bruins righted the ship on a trip through California and won games in Los Angeles and San Jose that kicked off a four-game winning streak that helped change the season.

The Bruins are much more comfortable now with a giant cushion for a playoff spot and a legitimate chance to overtake the Lightning, but Bruce Cassidy is hoping to see the same kind of hunger in this particular long stretch away from home.

“This is much more about what we are and what we look like, but having said that the [California trip] was the beginning of us [turning things around]. It had us gutting out some wins in typically tough places to play like L.A. and San Jose. [Anton] Khudobin was in net and we were relying on some call-up guys, but that was really when our D-corps really stiffened up,” said Cassidy. “It kind of got us back to our heads above water, and from there we kind of took off. But now this is a different group in a different position, and we’re pushing to be in a different position.

“I think you can say Tuukka [Rask] won us all these games or [Brad] Marchand or [Patrice] Bergeron. Our best players have been our best players, but our support players have been very good, especially on those nights when we’ve needed to lean on them a little more when they’ve able to shut down [the Bergeron Line]. I think our support players deserve a lot of credit for that.”

The Bruins clearly hope this mammoth trip can be another seasonal turning point that pushes them in a direction toward a strong, decisive finish to the marathon of a regular season.

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Report: Jake DeBrusk must be included in any deal for Ryan McDonagh

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Report: Jake DeBrusk must be included in any deal for Ryan McDonagh

While Bruins fans might have high hopes that their team is going to be able to land a veteran, proven No. 1 defenseman like Ryan McDonagh in exchange for a song, a bag pucks and a third round pick, that isn’t going to happen. 

The New York Rangers would want Bruins rookie left winger Jake DeBrusk included in any potential deal for McDonagh, according to Edmonton hockey insider Jim Matheson. The report flies in the face of speculation they might be willing to accept unproven prospects like Trent Frederic or Jack Studnicka. The expectation is that the Rangers would be looking for proven, young NHL assets if they were to part ways with a 28-year-old McDonagh, who is signed through next season. It’s certainly within the realm of possibility they’d be looking for DeBrusk, Brandon Carlo and a draft pick for a frontline D-man signed through next season. 

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The 21-year-old DeBrusk has 11 goals and 29 points in 51 games for the Bruins, and has done a really nice job as the hard-working, skilled left winger alongside David Krejci for the balance of his rookie season in the NHL. DeBrusk hasn’t exactly been brilliant in his first season, but he’s shown the kind of skills and leadership qualities to be a very good and productive player for the Bruins for a good, long time. 

Clearly McDonagh would be a good fit for the Bruins as a player that would fortify their top-4 on the back end and potentially form a great pairing with 20-year-old Charlie McAvoy. The veteran Blueshirts defenseman would also give the Bruins a high-caliber veteran ready to take over the head of Boston’s D-corps when 40-year-old Zdeno Chara eventually calls it a career. 

But the sense around McDonagh and the Rangers is that Jeff Gorton wouldn’t pull the trigger with him unless he gets an offer he can’t refuse from Boston, Tampa, or any other interested suitors. The Rangers are under no real pressure to move McDonagh right now, and could certainly get a similar, if slightly lesser, haul in June if they opted to trade the defenseman around NHL Draft weekend.

The bottom line for the Bruins remains the same: Don Sweeney should tread carefully when it comes to significantly altering the DNA of a Bruins hockey club that’s threatening for the President’s Trophy this season, and has been the best team in the NHL over the last three months. Removing multiple players like DeBrusk or Carlo from their current group could be the kind of alterations that change the Bruins chemistry for the worse, and that would be a shame after what the Bruins have built up over the course of this season. 

The bottom line is this: Sweeney and the Bruins are in a great spot right now with a high-performing team and a wealth of good prospects, but this is when the decisions start getting really difficult with the wrong moves coming with significant consequences. 

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