Chara leads B's through adversity on and off ice

Chara leads B's through adversity on and off ice
December 18, 2013, 1:00 am
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BOSTON — As a team captain of the Boston Bruins, Zdeno Chara has learned when something needs to be said, and when something needs to be done on the ice. Sometimes it’s one, and sometimes it’s the other.

Sometimes Chara needs to lead with his words, and with his deeds as the team’s leader and franchise defenseman. The 6-foot-9 Slovakian did all of the above on Tuesday night in a sleepy affair against the Calgary Flames when he snapped in both of Boston’s goals in a 2-0 victory over the Flames at TD Garden.

Chara led the way offensively with the game-high five shots on goal and the two PP scores, but he did much more than. The B’s captain addressed the team about the need for everybody on the team to step up with six regular skaters out of the lineup due to injuries and suspensions.

“It’s just one of those things that [you do], but at the same time you don’t want to be putting too much pressure on the team when there is already enough with whatever we’re facing,” said Chara. “It’s my job to go by what I feel is right, and I have to obviously take that charge.

“We faced a lot of adversity with different things, but I’ve been saying that it doesn’t matter who is in the lineup. You have to respect the system and play to our full potential, and most of the road trip we did. It’s not always easy to be missing guys, but its part of the game. You have to have enough depth to fill those spots, and guys have to take advantage. [They need to] do whatever they can to earn that spot or help the team, and contribute in any way.”

It seems to have worked for big Zee and his B’s as the victory over the Flames gives Boston five wins in their last six games, and there hasn’t been a major drop-off in performance despite missing Chris Kelly, Shawn Thornton, Loui Eriksson, Adam McQuaid, Dougie Hamilton and Daniel Paille. That's partially because the young players called up from the AHL have been up to the task, and partially because the B’s best players aren’t taking "No" for an answer.

Jarome Iginla knows a thing or two about being a captain after doing it for 13 years for the Calgary Flames, and he still marvels at the example Chara sets on a nightly basis.

“It’s not even just this stretch [of games] I think [Chara] is such a consistent competitor. Every game he’s on. It definitely is contagious and we all see it and all want to follow him,” said Iginla. “He’s focused every game. Every game, every shift he’s ready and ready to go and plays as hard as he can.

“That’s something that we all try to follow. I think the young guys who have come have played well, and played with a lot of energy, and created chances and played very responsibly in their zone. They’ve had chances and gotten some goals. I think it says a lot for the depth and it can be a good thing for us, being able to deal with [these injuries] and play well.”

On the ice Chara was involved all night long while playing his 22:44 of ice time in the victorious effort. The B’s Tower of Defensive Power shut down Jiri Hudler and Sean Monahan early in the game when Calgary was starting to build some momentum, and then made a play to get the Bruins on the board.

It was a slick cross-ice pass from Krejci to Chara for the one-time shot that put Boston on the board in the second period, but it came after both Milan Lucic and Torey Krug made separate plays to keep the puck in the offensive zone during the extended power play. Later in the third period Chara created some breathing space with an insurance power play goal after shoveling the rebound of a Jarome Iginla shot past Calgary netminder Reto Berra.

It was Chara’s eighth and ninth goals of the season that pulled him in a tie with Ottawa defenseman Erik Karlsson for the league lead among blueliners, and his team-leading fifth and sixth power play goals of the year. Prior to Chara’s first goal, he’d taken a Matt Stajan stick to the right eye that chopped him down to his knees on the ice while he made certain his eyeballs were still in their sockets.

He got checked out on the bench, and then was back out there minutes later on the power play ready to do some offensive damage. Damage is exactly what the 36-year-old has done: Chara had career highs in goals (19) and power play goals (11) during the 2008-09 season, and he’s on a pace to either match or exceed both of those totals.

“Nobody shoots it harder than him and, so [it’s a good thing] if we can get him shots. But at the same time, in front of the net, nobody’s stronger than him so he’s a hard guy to push out of there,” said Iginla. “His reach is great so he’s a big presence in front of the net and good hands for ones that come around, as you saw tonight.

“We’ve seen him during the year pull [pucks] out of little areas and put nice goals in and be hard around the crease. But what sometimes doesn’t get recognized is the forecheck – we put him in and he’s big. As a D going back there they have to contend with [Chara] and big Looch coming back. So we tend to win a lot of dump-ins and battles because of those guys’ size and their strength. We’re lucky to have [Chara] on the PP for sure.”

Combine that increased offensive output with Chara once again finishing the range defensively, and the Bruins have one significant player that’s operating at his highest level of efficiency this season. He’s got three goals and four points in seven games along with a plus-3 rating, and has topped an average ice time beyond 25 minutes for the Black and Gold.

Even better it still feels like the Bruins out on the ice even if nearly half the team is made of replacement players from Providence.

“You go in that dressing room, it’s still the same. There are a few new faces, but our demeanor, our approach, nothing has changed," Julien said. "If you’ve watched us play lately, I don’t think we’ve changed our game. I haven’t told our guys we have to play better defensively – we have to really do that because we’re lacking some experience. All we do is go out there and play our game the way we feel we can play, no matter who’s in our lineup.”

Clearly guys like Patrice Bergeron, Milan Lucic, Jarome Iginla, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Dennis Seidenberg have heeded Chara’s call for greater consistency through adverse conditions, and have all stepped up their games as the Bruins simply keep on winning.

But as long as Chara is in the dressing room providing encouraging, challenging words and on the ice leading with his physical, hard-to-play-against style, it’s still going to feel like the Bruins no matter what other players are in the lineup.