Some Bruins fans lament that 41-year-old Zdeno Chara isn’t quite what he used to be as a shutdown defenseman in the twilight of his Hall of Fame career.
Well, they’re about to find out exactly how valuable he still is after he was sent home from their lengthy Western trip just one game into the four-game sojourn that will lead up to Thanksgiving. The 6-foot-9 captain was sent back to Boston on Thursday after suffering what looked like a left knee injury in the loss to the Colorado Avalanche and he’s going to be re-evaluated by Bruins doctors while the team still has three games to go in Dallas, Arizona and Detroit.
So, the Bruins will be without Chara for at least the next three games and probably longer if there’s a sprain or worse to the big D-man’s knee. They got a picture into life without Big Zee when a 3-1 lead was erased by five consecutive Avs goals without Chara on the ice and three-power play goals allowed in the final 40 minutes as they attempted to stem the defensive bleeding.
- MORE HAGGERTY - Chara injury could mean a world of hurt for Bruins
Certainly, Chara's skating has slowed a bit and isn't as much of a factor in the overall offense and on the power play these days. There won’t be any more Norris Trophies or All-Star berths likely in his future, but he’s still the best, most intimidating defensive stopper in the league who uses equal parts size, strength, toughness and a tremendously long reach with his stick to frustrate even the best opponents.
He’s also the most valuable penalty killer who's been the backbone of a consistently effective PK for the Black and Gold.
The Chara injury forced rookie Jeremy Lauzon into almost three minutes of PK time and pushed small puck-movers Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk into power-play time as well. That’s where the trouble begins for the Bruins.
Now, it will force rookie Jakub Zboril into the lineup for the Bruins and has pushed minor league D-man Connor Clifton into his first call-up to the Bruins from the AHL. It’s unlikely that any of the injured Bruins D-men will be able to return for tonight’s game against the high-powered Dallas Stars, so that would leave Brandon Carlo, Kevan Miller, Chara, Urho Vaakanainen and Charlie McAvoy out of the lineup.
Check out the defensive pairings from the morning skate in Dallas:
#NHLBruins morning rushes:— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) November 16, 2018
Marchand - Bergeron - Pastrnak
Nordstrom - Krejci - DeBrusk
Heinen - JFK - Bjork
Acciari - Kuraly - Backes
Krug - Clifton
Lauzon - Grzelcyk
Zboril - Kampfer
Clearly, that’s a lot of young, puck-moving talent missing. That’s been reflected in an inconsistent Bruins offense, but the missing bodies also feature the iron of Boston’s defense and penalty kill.
Chara is the beating heart of all of that for the Black and Gold.
The Bruins are having enough issues right now ranked 24th in the NHL in the penalty kill while closing out just 76.3 percent of the power plays that they face, but they’ve been strong defensively in allowing only 2.61 goals per game. That could all change starting tonight in Dallas with no Chara and with a rag-tag group of blueliners full of rookies, power-play specialists and AHL call-ups expected to stop the NHL’s best offensive players.
Some Bruins fans have been looking forward to the day when the Bruins can move past a 41-year-old who's perhaps slowed down just a little bit. They also might come to regret that notion after watching the Bruins struggle through life without Chara until they get their big defensive stopper back.
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