Haggerty: It's been a hard-knock life without Chara

Haggerty: It's been a hard-knock life without Chara
December 16, 2011, 6:54 am
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OTTAWA So maybe it wont be so easy without the NHLs toughest defenseman.

The Bruins did their level best to play their same hard, defensive style without 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara over the last two games. But its been more difficult than originally anticipated for a team whose bedrock has always been structure and defense.

The Bruins surrendered a gaudy total of 90 shots in deceivingly solid scoreboard wins over the Kings and Senators, and got progressively worse when it came to protecting the areas immediately in front of the net. Coach Claude Julien flatly admitted the Bruins were outplayed by the Senators despite escaping with a 5-2 victory.

That meant both the players and the coaching staff werent fully satisfied despite a pair of wins in back-to-back games, and that needs to change above and beyond all else. The key for the coaching staff: Convince the Bruins their defensive woes in the last few games can be traced to simply not paying enough attention to detail rather than missing some unique personnel.

We need to be better and cant allow that many shots while relying on our goalies to carry us, said Patrice Bergeron. Its been like that for the last three games. We need to tighten things up. We need to especially pay attention to the neutral zone and not let guys come with so much speed into our zone.

Theres a not-so-tacit admission that work needs to be done, or the slippage in play will eventually catch up with them. Chara may or may not play against the Philadelphia Flyers as he rehabs from a lower body injury, but the Bruins need to patch up the holes either way. The Bruins captain skated for the second straight day on Thursday afternoon and is making steady progress from his knee issue, but his questionable status means the Bs need to look inward for improvements.

We came out really sloppy against the Senators with a lot of turnovers and we were light on our sticks, and they were just out-battling us, said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. We picked it up a bit and played a so-so game, but overall they were a better team.

We need to be more focused in our defensive zone positionally, we need to battle harder and we need to make sure we win pucks in those gray areas.

The Bruins were rescued by the goaltending excellence of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas in those two lackluster efforts as they stopped 88 out of the 90 shots tossed at them. So the leagues best goaltending tandem both statistically and anecdotally has masked some of the current deficiencies. That isnt likely to happen Saturday afternoon against the Flyers, who are averaging an NHL-best 3.66 goals per game and have the kind of firepower that could expose a weakened Bs defensive crew.

The Flyers -- who regained the Eastern Conference lead by moving past the Bruins with a victory over the Canadiens Thursday night -- are missing Claude Giroux and Chris Pronger, both of whom have concussions. But they still have Jaromir Jagr, James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere and Kimmo Timonen, among others, and can make a team pay for defensive gaffes and neutral-zone indifference.

That sets the stage for both teams and their attempts to make a statement in the second meeting of the season after the Flyers crashed the banner-raising party on opening night in Boston.

Its gonna be a big game, admitted Bergeron. Were aware of the standings and we know its going to be tough.

The Senators were no offensive slouches, with the 10th-best goals-per-game average in the NHL, but the Kings sit dead last in offensive production with a team featuring some talented offensive performers. So Boston survived despite not putting forth its best brand of defense, and the shots-allowed totals need to come back down to a respectable level Saturday against the leagues iron.

If not, those holes and wrinkles in their defensive game will become full-blown issues when the Flyers crank up their speed and skill game in front of their home crowd.

That isnt very difficult to imagine, given some of the Boston low points in the FlyersBruins rivalry over the last few seasons, and given the uphill battle the Bs face if Chara is once again watching from the press box.