WILMINGTON – The message was sent when the Bruins didn’t call up any defensemen from Providence on Tuesday morning, but Zdeno Chara made it official Tuesday afternoon when he pronounced himself fit to play vs. the New York Islanders.
The Bruins captain missed Saturday night’s loss to the Ottawa Senators because of an undisclosed injury that also pushed him to cut his Monday practice time short. But the 6-foot-9 defenseman will be suiting up against the Isles on New Year’s Eve at TD Garden.
“If you look at it, it’s not always the case that you’re going to be 100 percent,” said Chara. “A lot of players go through that on every team, and that’s just the way it is. You have to battle through some aches and pains. It’s common in this sport, and every other sport.
“As long as you feel confident that you can help the team and play through it, then you have to play. Obviously we do miss some big guys (like the injured Dennis Seidenberg, who's out for the season), but that’s just the way it is. That’s how injuries go.”
Saturday in Ottawa was the first time Chara had missed a game since a lower body injury forced him to miss two games in 2011, and the B’s defenseman said he was aiming to return to the lineup as soon as possible. That urgency might be heightened with Seidenberggone, but everybody knows Chara hates missing out on games.
He’s missed less than 20 total games since signing with the Bruins prior to the 2006-07 season. The Bruins have voiced a desire to lower Chara’s ice time this season after watching his performance flag due to fatigue during the Stanley Cup Final, but coach Claude Julien has liked what he’s seen lately.
Chara is averaging 25:03 of ice time per game, and is on pace for 19 goals and 37 points after a sluggish start to the season.
“To be honest with you I think we made a mistake with that, because that’s all people are talking about right now,” said Julien when asked about his desire to rest Chara more this season. “We didn’t say he couldn’t handle [the workload], we just said we wanted to minimize. And we do that when we have everybody else.
“But he’s still a great athlete, and in great shape. He can handle the minutes. It’s not an issue. So I think we’re making a really big deal out of it. You just want to make sure that he’s not burned out at the end of the year. He never has been. Maybe last year in the Finals he was, but I don’t think it was because of the season. I think it was because of the long series, and the ice time we gave him through that caught up to him. It’s just a matter of managing his situation, and we have done that.”
Chara’s minutes have risen as the Bruins defense corps has suffered injuries all over the map, but the real concern will be the 36-year-old defenseman’s trip to Sochi for the Winter Olympics followed by a 17-game month of March for the Black and Gold. That may just be when it’s most important to manage the situation with Chara, and make sure he’s peaking when the Stanley Cup playoffs begin.