Bruins

Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

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Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON Zdeno Chara prides himself on the reputation hes built, and the respect he's earned, during his decade-plus in the National Hockey League.

Its no overstatement to say that Monday was a big day for a big man.

After more than a month of scrutiny following his hit on Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre, which unfairly painted him to be some kind of fire-breathing monster, and the vague drama thats played out after a dehydration episode caused him to miss Game 2 against the Canadiens, its fair to say this has been the most challenging season of the 6-foot-9 defenseman's career. But he's fought through it all, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

Nor did the announcement on Monday that he was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy as this season's top defenseman.

We actually talked about it a few weeks ago, and he said to me that he didnt think he was going to be a Norris finalist, said Charas defense partner, Dennis Seidenberg. I said Youll see and that he would be up there again. Sure enough he was. I think rightfully so, since hes so dominant in his own end and always seems to chip in with some really timely offense. Its what a Norris defenseman is all about.

If it was me, it would be really gratifying because there was so much negative stuff written about him . . . He must really be happy about being recognized.

Being able to bask in the announcement that he's a finalist for the fourth time in his career was a nice respite for Chara. Teammates could hear the relaxed tone in his voice and see the spring in his step as he enjoyed one of the best days hes probably had in more than a month.

With accusations of intentional dirty hits, and foolish criminal investigations, swirling all around him in addition to normal playoff pressure, Chara has been in the market for some good news for a good long while.

He finally received it, and was appropriately appreciative.

Its obviously a big honor. Im very humbled and very thankful, especially when you consider how many guys have had good seasons and breakout seasons, said Chara. Im just thankful that the people that did vote recognized the definition of the Norris Trophy award.

Chara has captured one Norris Trophy in his career -- in 2008-09, amid Bostons run to the top spot in the Eastern Conference -- and will compete for this one with Detroit's six-time Norris winner Nik Lidstrom, and Nashville's Shea Weber. All three Norris Trophy finalists hold elite reputations within the NHL as franchise defensemen, and each of them would be an excellent candidate for a number of different reasons. Each also has black marks against him.

Lidstrom is a force of nature who's still going strong for the Wings at age 40, but he also had the first negative plusminus of his career. That may be the first sign that the Swedish defenseman is starting to slow down, though 62 points and 23:28 of ice time per night might indicate otherwise.

Weber has the shot, the skating, the leadership and the reputation while playing for an up-and-coming Predators squad. But the argument could be made he isnt even having his best season in the NHL.

Clearly we know who Claude Julien thinks should take home the hardware from Las Vegas this summer as the best defensive defensemen in the game.

Obviously Chara's a well-deserving player, said the Bruins' coach. There are a lot of reasons. I think everyone who knows him here knows he plays lots of minutes. He also always plays against other teams' top lines. Hes utilized as a shutdown 'D' against the top players on other teams. The plusminus stats at the end of the year plus-33 . . . I think that speaks for itself . . . and certainly offensively hes contributed as well.

"If youre talking about Norris and talking about a defenseman that brings a lot, hes certainly one of them. I dont think there are many players in this league who will raise their hand and say they really enjoy playing against him.

Even though hes played in something of a weakened physical state against the Canadiens and -- as noted by ex-Bruins coach and noted CBC analyst Don Cherry last week -- is not quite as ferocious as normal, Chara still remains the most irreplaceable piece of the Black-and-Gold puzzle. He finished the year with similar offensive numbers to his Norris Trophy campaign two years ago, leads the Bruins with eight power-play goals, is Bostons best penalty killer and lines up against the oppositions best lines while leading all NHL defensemen with a plus-33 this season.

That leaves Chara at a whopping plus-68 in his five seasons with the Bruins. The plus-33 matches the best season of his career, which he achieved as a 26-year-old playing for a stacked Ottawa Senators team in 2003-04.

Chara has been incredibly heartened by the recognition he received as a true defenseman, as he is by the movement away from simply handing Norris recognition to the defenseman who posted the biggest set of fantasy stats. That played out in Chara reaching the top three in voting rather than offensive specialists like Anaheims Lubomir Visnovsky or Phoenixs Keith Yandle a pair of high-powered offensive defenseman who didnt factor into the penalty kill or play against other teams top lines during their breakthrough campaigns.

In the minds of many, it's true hockey value on the ice rather than gaudy point totals and power-play specialties that hold meaning when it comes to finding the best blueliner in the NHL landscape.

Its something I take a lot of pride in, said Chara. Im very competitive when it comes to defending top lines and playing against top lines. I know its not an easy job, but I really get up for it every night. You cant think that its just you. Its the five guys that are on the ice with you and the 25 guys that are on the team helping you. But its a big motivation for me to face such skill and great players.

It will be back to the riotous Bell Centre, and the grind of the playoffs, on Tuesday for Chara and the rest of the Bruins. But Monday was perhaps what the doctor ordered for the big fella.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Miller, Krejci game-time decisions tonight; O'Gara called up

Miller, Krejci game-time decisions tonight; O'Gara called up

BRIGHTON, Mass – It wouldn’t be a Bruins game this season if there weren’t some health question marks entering a game night, so the B’s will once again have a few players up in the air for the lineup tonight against the Buffalo Sabres.

http://www.nbcsports.com/boston/bruins/bruins-goalie-decisions-may-become-tougher-you-might-think?int

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David Krejci (back) and Kevan Miller (upper body) were both on the ice prior to morning skate and Krejci participated in the optional practice, along with Patrice Bergeron and a handful of others on Saturday morning at Warrior Ice Arena. Krejci and Miller were termed game-time decisions based on the way things went this morning and Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy could have more lineup juggling in front of him based on those players.

Krejci said he was taking things “day-by-day”, but didn’t think it was going to be a long-term injury even if he misses the game.

“We’ll kind of take it day-by-day and we’ll see. I feel better than two days ago, so I guess we’ll be taking it day-by-day,” said Krejci. “I got hit in the last game and that forced me to leave the game. It’s a brand new injury and it just happened the other day. So that’s what it is.

“I don’t think it’s an injury that would be long term. It’s just one of these things that happens [during the games]. I wouldn’t lie to you if it was something that was a week or two weeks. We’ll just see how I feel later tonight. Injuries happen to every team. Hopefully, this is it for us here early in the season, and down the stretch, we’ll be healthy pushing for the playoffs.”

First the definite situations for the Black and Gold: Bergeron will play for the second game in a row and Paul Postma will be in the lineup, with Adam McQuaid shelved for the next couple of months with a broken leg. Beyond that, the Bruins could swing Miller from the left side to the right side if he plays, Charlie McAvoy could be added to the penalty kill and David Backes could end up playing some center if Matt Beleskey draws back into the lineup.

“We’ll probably move people around. [David] Backes, [Tim] Schaller has played some center over the years and obviously [Patrice] Bergeron looks like he’s going to play,” said Cassidy. “I think we’ll be okay. We sat out a forward the [Thursday vs. the Canucks], so we’ll move people around.

“Kevan will be a game-time decision, so we had a discussion about that and we’ll look into that as well. [Krejci] got hit in the lower back the other night, tried to finish and it’s one of those ones where at puck drop we’ll know.”

Robbie O’Gara popped on the Bruins roster on their team website early on Saturday afternoon, so the Yale alum will get the call if Miller can’t answer the bell on Saturday night. Another piece of good news: Noel Acciari skated with the injured players ahead of the morning skate and appears to be progressing slowly from his broken finger.  

Anything, it seems, is possible for these banged-up B’s as another body drops with each passing game or practice. Here are the projected line combos and D-pairings vs. the Sabres based on an optional morning skate:

Marchand-Bergeron-Bjork

DeBrusk-Krejci-Pastrnak

Schaller-Nash-Backes

Beleskey-Kuraly-Agostino

 
Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

O’Gara/Miller-Postma

 
Khudobin

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

Bruins goalie decisions may become tougher than you might think

BRIGHTON, Mass – The good news for Tuukka Rask on Friday is that there was no dark, quiet room required for the Bruins goaltender when he reported to the Warrior Ice Arena practice facility for treatment for his concussion.

Instead, the Bruins goalie got going on the concussion protocol after getting steam-rolled by Anders Bjork at practice on Wednesday morning and started the road back to recovery from his first concussion suffered at the NHL level. In the further good news department, Bruins backup netminder Anton Khudobin stepped up in Rask’s absence and stopped 26-of-29 shots in a winning effort over the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday night.

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So now Khudobin has twice as many wins as Rask in half as many starts in the opening two weeks of the season. That’s certainly good for the Russian backup that stumbled out of the starting gate last season but has really fortified his spot early this year with a strong training camp followed by a .928 save percentage and 2.16 goals against average this year.  

“I’ve been there before. I’ve played many games in a row before in the AHL and the NHL, so it’s the same routine. It’s just harder to be honest when you’re playing one game every two weeks or something,” said Khudobin. “I’ll talk to Goalie Bob about what I did good or bad, get ready for practice, stretch it out and warm it up, go get it at practice and get ready for the games.”

That’s in stark contrast to Rask, who has a pair of losses to the worst team in the NHL last season, the Colorado Avalanche, and a defeat out in Las Vegas where he was out-dueled by Bruins castoff Malcolm Subban. The defense hasn’t been particularly good in front of him in those games and the team only scored a total of four goals in Rask’s three losses, but the All-Star netminder was also far from sharp with an .882 save percentage to start the season.

The home loss to Colorado, in particular, was a poor performance from Rask where he buried his team with an early deficit once a couple of soft goals by him in the first period. Compounding the lack of quality play from Rask was his odd choice to cease talking about team performance with the media following the loss to the Golden Knights.

“I just try to go out there and give us a chance to win every night. That’s what I’m focused on. I’m not going to comment anymore on team play that much,” said Rask after the Sunday loss in Vegas. “We can just talk about goaltending. That’s just the way it is. Sorry.”

It certainly sounded and felt like Rask was directed to only talk about his own play by somebody higher up in the Bruins organization, and it was that kind of a development rather than the Bruins goalie passive-aggressively dissing his teammates. But that kind of directive from the organization would also speak to some pre-existing friction between Rask and his teammates where past criticism has perhaps rubbed some of them the wrong way.

It felt that way when Rask and David Krejci spoke about things in a tense dressing room in Las Vegas following last weekend’s loss, and it felt that way late last season when the Finnish goalie stayed home in Boston while watching Khudobin win one of the biggest games of the season in Brooklyn against the Islanders. At times in the past, something hasn’t always felt quite right about the dynamic between Rask and the rest of the Bruins, and it’s not a particularly good sign that both parties seemed to already be headed down that path just five games into this season.

All of this makes for some very interesting timing with the Anders Bjork collision into Rask that knocked him for a loop, and has now opened the door wide for Khudobin to start a few games in a row. Should Khudobin play well and continue to backstop a winning hockey team playing hard in front of him, it will make for a much tougher goalie decision than some might anticipate. Rask is clearly the better goaltender in terms of talent, upside, resume and accomplishments over the last eight years, but the question becomes how much is that offset by the Bruins team potentially playing a better brand of hockey with Khudobin between the pipes.

Maybe it’s because Khudobin is the backup and the Bruins are trying to play tighter defense in front of him, but it’s hard to argue the fact that Boston seems to play a smarter, stronger game when the backup gets the call.  

“That’s what I’m there for, but at the same time, I wasn’t thinking, 'Oh maybe [Rask] is going to get hurt and he’s not going to play [the next few games].' I’m not thinking that way, definitely,” said Khudobin. “I was just focusing on my practice. Whatever coach is going to tell me after the practice, then I will keep moving from that point.”

The best-case scenario for the Bruins is that Khudobin plays good, strong, winning hockey in Rask’s absence and that in turn lights a fire under the No. 1 goaltender after he looked fairly laissez-faire in his first few games this season. That’s what everybody saw out of Rask late last season when he was called out by the Bruins coaching staff and challenged by a red-hot Khudobin pushing for some big game starts.

Perhaps that is exactly the kind of collective kick to the hockey pants that’s needed for Rask to start carrying the Bruins team once he gets healthy again.

A deeper question, however, would involve asking how much longer the Bruins want to hitch their wagons to a $7 million a year goalie that needs to mentally recharge his batteries from time to time, and who begins to wilt performance-wise if he makes more than 55-60 start in an NHL season. Members of the Rask Fan Club will point to his career .922 save percentage, but it's been three years since he's been able to consistently reach that level of performance. 

The older Rask, 30, gets, the more baggage is getting added on with a performance level that’s dropped from his Vezina Trophy-winning days. Some of that is clearly about the defense getting a makeover in front of him, but it’s also about Rask just not always being as consistently good when Boston needs him most in the big games.

Khudobin certainly wouldn’t be the long-term answer for the Bruins, and the jury is out on whether or not Zane McIntyre has a future in the NHL as a goalie. So there’s no long-term solution if they suddenly decided to go away from Rask for any reason. But if this humble hockey writer was coaching the Bruins and Khudobin goes on a winning tear over the next few weeks? A healthy Rask wouldn’t automatically be handed his No. 1 workload upon his return, and it would be a couple of goalies splitting time to decide who wants it more.  

That kind of situation might not be up to goaltender controversy standards at this early point in the season, but there’s nothing wrong with making Rask grind for it a little when he does come back after breezing through some early season losses. 

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