Bruins

Chara showing off his offensive abilities

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Chara showing off his offensive abilities

BOSTON Dont look now, but Zdeno Chara is playing the role of best defensemen in the NHL again.

It can sometimes be overlooked because the 6-foot-9 blueliner has been a larger-than-life character since arriving in Boston five years ago. But the Norris Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion has turned up his play during the month of November as the Bruins have emerged with Johnny Drama-style victories in 11 of their last 12 games and vaulted back into first place in the Northeast Division.

Chara was again one of the best players on the ice while blasting a power play goal and firing a team-high six shots on net in 26:17 of ice time in Bostons 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night at TD Garden.

Not only has he been the consistent Tower of Power on defense his absence was never more obvious than when the Buffalo Sabres potted a pair of power play goals earlier this week while Chara was serving out his five minute penalty for fighting but hes been spurring the Black and Gold offense to boot.

In 12 games during the month of November Chara has 12 points (3 goals and 9 assists) along with a plus-12.

There's a reason he's one of the best, if not the best, defenseman in the league. He does a lot, said Chris Kelly. He plays penalty kill, he plays power play, he's on last minute if we're down a goal and hes on last minute if were up by a goal. Obviously every team would take him in a heartbeat and I think we're extremely lucky to have him.

Chara is averaging more than 25 minutes a game during the 12 games in November, and the big defenseman is putting up 3.67 shots per game while filling the net with slap shots fired from between the two face-off dots, which has also created offensive chances for his forwards hunting out rebounds in front of the net.

Charas big contribution on Saturday was the power play bomb from the right point position that halved the Jets lead in the first period. The goal arrived with less than four minutes to go in the first period and allowed the Bruins to gather a little steam headed into the first intermission.

With the momentum seized away from Winnipeg, Chris Kellys two-goal heroics in the second period put Boston in position to win.

Charas goal was huge, coming in two-one, said Johnny Boychuk. Its way better than two-nothing and gave us a little boost for the second and it did, and we came out, and that did the job.

Chara even played the role of victim in the second period with the game tied and less than seven minutes to go in the middle 20 minutes: Alex Burmistrov slammed Chara into the corner from behind with no regard for his safety or well-being. The hit on the B's captain drew a boarding penalty and sent the slippery Russian winger to the penalty box.

The B's surge only continued from there.

Perhaps it was a little more difficult to get up for Saturdays game given how slowly the Bruins approached things out of the starting gate, but the win showed how much things have changed for Boston post-Cup. Where once the Bruins might have struggled to find motivation against a middling team like Winnipeg, now Chara and Co. have whats needed to snap out of an underachieving funk.

In the first we were not maybe as sharp as we should have been, said Chara. Maybe that was the case when we were playing our third game in the fourth night.

If you dont have your legs you have to move the puck and thats what we were focusing on . . . moving the puck. Its about making simple plays and putting a lot of pressure on them especially in the offensive zone. We were much better in the second and I thought the third was our best. It was really nice that we bounced back the second twenty and got the lead.

The leadership and defensive intangibles of Big 'Z' are always going to be easy topics of discussion, but Charas offensive output over the last three weeks shows the kind of consistency and high-end production that make him one of the greatest defensemen in the league among the NHLs elite.

Hes been playing like it since November started and his team needed him most.

Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

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Bruins get a needed boost from young players in win over Sharks

Here’s what we learned from the Bruins' 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks at the SAP Center on Saturday night, which gave Boston four of a possible six points in its California road swing.
 
1) The kids stepped up at a great time for the Bruins. Boston needed some young players to step up and fill in for the injured veterans up front, and they got it on Saturday night. Jake DeBrusk was the main playmaker on both goals in the first period, and the Bruins got goals from rookies DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik and Danton Heinen. It was Cehlarik’s first NHL goal and the 10th point of the season for Heinen, who continues to show signs that he is going to be a productive, reliable winger  even though he didn’t start the season at the NHL level. DeBrusk finished with a goal and an assist and twice used his speed and aggressiveness taking the puck to the net to create scoring chances: On the first goal it was Cehlarik who finished the loose puck after DeBrusk’s net drive created a rebound, and on the second it was DeBrusk simply beating reigning Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns to a race for the puck and then snapping it up and over San Jose backup goalie Aaron Dell. Cehlarik became the sixth Bruins rookie to score the first goal of his NHL career with Boston this season, and it all shows tangible results of the youth movement they were fully embracing this season. There will be peaks and valleys with so many young players in the lineup, but Saturday night turned out to be one of those high-water marks.

2)  At their healthiest, the Bruins can be a fast-skating, skilled team that will be equal parts offense and defense in a hard-working style that features pace and creativity in the offensive zone. The Bruins aren't healthy right now, obviously, and aren’t going to find success that way as attested by the fact that they hadn’t won two games in a row this season until Saturday night in San Jose. With a number of players already out of the lineup, Torey Krug now injured as well and Tuukka Rask taking an extended rest in favor of a red-hot Anton Khudobin, the Bruins are actually playing a very different brand of hockey right now. With Rask not playing -- and not allowing the types of bad or soft goals he's given up so far this year -- they can play a little more conservatively and try to make a two- or three-goal output in a game actually stick as the game-winning margin. Just check the box score,  as the Bruins blocked a whopping 30 shots and conversely the Sharks blocked just 12. Zdeno Chara, Kevan Miller and Robbie O’Gara all had blocked shots in the final few minutes, and Brandon Carlo stepped in front of a wide-open chance for Burns in the third period off a clean offensive zone faceoff win for the Sharks. Those are all gritty, tough plays in the D-zone that you don’t always see, and it perhaps comes a little more naturally when the Bruins are making the clear choice to feature their defense and goaltending right now. It may not be sustainable once Anton Khudobin inevitably cools off a little bit, but for now it’s pretty darn effective.


 
3)  After watching him stop 36 of 37 shots for the win on Saturday night, the Bruins need to see this thing through with Khudobin until he loses a game. Khudobin is 5-0-2 with this season, with a .949 save percentage in three appearances in November. He's playing the best he's played in the last couple of years. Right now Khudobin is actually leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage for the season, and that really contrasts to Rask's .897 save percentage. Certainly part of it is about the Bruins selling out defensively in front of him and blocking 30 shots in the win while knowing they didn’t have to play again until Wednesday night. But it’s also about the Bruins backup goaltender playing himself into a position where the B’s should ride him until he cools down a little bit, and give Rask some more time to figure out what is slowing him down between the pipes right now.
 
PLUS
-- DeBrusk made a couple of big plays in the first period that led to goals for the Bruins, and he finished with a goal, two points, a plus-2 and a team-high four shots on net in 15:49 of ice time. He has a goal and three points in three games since being a healthy scratch last weekend against Toronto.
 
--Khudobin made 16 saves in the first period when the Bruins were outshot 17-5 and it certainly seemed like they were going to get run out of the building. Instead Khudobin stood tall.
 
-- Heinen finished with two goals and three points on the three-game trip and iced the game for the Bruins with a backdoor strike in the third period after Kevan Miller had dashed up the right side of the ice to create the chance. Heinen is pushing up near the Bruins team leaders in some offensive categories and looks like he belongs in the NHL this season.
 
MINUS
-- Burns was burnt on each of the Bruins' two first-period goals, he actually missed the net with 12 of his 16 shot attempts, and he had seven giveaways in a pretty sloppy game managing the puck. Burns hasn’t had a great season to date, and Saturday night was a good example of things not going well for him this year.
 
-- Paul Postma finished with just eight minutes of ice time in the win, and was part of the poor defensive coverage on the Sharks goal by Joonas Donskoi in the first period that ended up getting overturned on video review. Postma didn’t show much else after that only playing a handful of minutes over the remainder of the game, and based on his early performance looks like he’s only going to be a seventh defensemen in Boston.
 
-- Here’s a hearty boo to the 10:30 pm West Coast starts on Saturday night that only the diehards, or those getting paid, are going to closely watch on the weekend leading up to Thanksgiving. Congrats to you if you were one of the lucky ones that decided to stay up and watch a game that didn’t end until after 1 a.m. in the East.  

Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

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Morning Skate: Payroll mess at the heart of Bruins' problems

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while battening down the hatches for Thanksgiving week.
 
-- When longtime Bruins follower Clark Booth opines about the Black and Gold, I tend to listen. And he's not happy with the Bruins' salary cap situation at this point in time. It should be noted that this was written before they won the last two games. But some of those truths still remain self-evident when it comes to the B’s.

-- Kevin Bieksa will never stop talking about former teammate Rick Rypien, or about the factors that ultimately led to his tragic passing.
 
-- Alex Ovechkin is truly living up to the “Russian Machine Never Breaks” mantra these days, which led to the creation of an entire blog about the Capitals.
 
-- This Saturday Night Live skit with Chance the Rapper playing a clueless hockey reporter was funny, even to people that have been covering the league for 20 years and still struggle to pronounce a name like Brady Skjei.
 
-- The good, the bad and the ugly courtesy of FOH (Friend of Haggs) Mitch Melnick from last night’s Montreal blowout loss to the Maple Leafs that probably could have just been called the ugly, the ugly and the ugly.
 
-- It’s 20 games into the season, and the Buffalo Sabres media are wondering what’s wrong with their team, and star Jack Eichel.
 
-- For something completely different: It sounds like some of the NFL rank-and-file players want to know why Roger Goodell deserves $50 million and a lifetime private plane.