Haggerty: Chara plays his game despite criticism

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Haggerty: Chara plays his game despite criticism

By JoeHaggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON There was an unmistakable round of applause 34 seconds into the game when Zdeno Chara hopped over the boards, and an even louder positive reaction from the crowd 10 seconds later when the Bs captain first touched the puck.

Both were reassuring gestures from the home crowd that they still appreciated their 6-foot-9 Slovakian Tower of Terror. The cheers were followed by a spontaneous Chara! Chara! Chara! chant that gained in volume and enthusiasm.

Chara responded to the crowd adulation with a pair of assists and his typically well-rounded 25:54 of ice time in a 4-3 overtime loss to the Buffalo Sabres, but there was a moment that held much more meaning to both Chara and his teammates.

I thought he handled himself well today, said Claude Julien. With everything thats going on it hasnt been easy on anybody. We keep mentioning that we understand what the other guy is going through, but our guy did not deliberately do anything.

"So when you dont do something deliberate and you understand some people are accusing you of it, its not easy to deal with. The way he handled himself tonight, he deserves a lot of credit.

There was a telling moment during the nights first shift, though, as Chara was being showered with love by the home crowd, that was so comfortingly typical of the punishingly physical player. Chara sped after Buffalo offensive playmaker Jason Pominville as he carried the puck toward the corner, and the Bs defenseman continued with the play after the Sabres forward quickly released the puck.

Hes not going to change the way he plays, said Johnny Boychuk. Hes a big man and hes our leader. We dont want to see him change his game. I would never want to see him change his game because I like seeing that physical play of his.

Chara finished his check with a flourish and belted Pominville exactly the same way he has in more than 900 games before last nights tilt. It's the way hell continue doling out intimidating body shots for many more years to come.

He wasnt disheartened or discouraged by the Montreal catcalls, the ridiculous threats of police prosecution for a hockey hit deemed clean on every single level, or the legions of hockey voices like Max Pacioretty, Steve Montador and Daniel Sedin recklessly intimating that Charas turnbuckle hit was by design.

Apparently Montador knows whats in Charas heart and mind (courtesy WEEI.com) despite serving as nothing more than a glorified punching bagSteve Butabi look-a-like during his two-month stint in Boston at the end of the 2008-09 season.

I dont see any reason to change my game or my style of play, said Chara. Im going to continue to play physical and play hard. Thats my game and I dont see any reason to change.

In Charas case, hes fortunate that both the league and the majority of his fellow NHLers dont want to change, either.

Chara put all the criticism aside and played a solid, wrinkle-free hockey game against a highly motivated Sabres group skating at a very high level. He was more than happy to simply talk about hockey again.

Thats obviously one of those things I love to do, said Chara. Playing hockey is obviously my most important thing in life. To be on the ice thats for sure the most important.

I very much appreciated the crowd ovation and Im very thankful for that. It feels for sure great to be home, and to get that support from the fans.

The play on the ice was highlighted by Charas involvement in the second and third goals of the night including a clever rush toward the cage on the right side that attracted Ryan Miller away from the crease and opened the net up for Mark Recchi on an easy put-back score.

But the day was about much more than a single game despite the playoff ramifications. It was more about Chara reconnecting with his game after very nearly having it taken away via suspension. Then it was about learning afterward that perhaps the Montreal firestorm was losing a little bit of its steam with Pacioretty unwilling to agree with any police charges, and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman essentially telling Air Canada -- which threatened to pull all its sponsorships -- to go pound sand if they werent happy with the league.

Chara knew the potential police investigation was far-fetched, but theres little doubt the Bruins defenseman wont be feeling all that safe and protected the next time he has to play at the crazed, frenzied Bell Centre a scenario that could very easily play out in the first round of the playoffs if Boston and Montreal face off against each other.

The towering All-Star defenseman hopes to gets a chance to square things away with Pacioretty sooner rather than later once hes ready to talk things over, and Chara can explain exactly what did or didnt happen during their violent crash.

Its just a nice gesture, said Chara when asked about Pacioretty throwing cold water on criminal charges for a hockey play gone wrong. Its something that for sure shouldnt go that far. Its something that is very unfortunate. I keep repeating that. I feel bad about it.

You dont want to see anybody get hurt and especially in that case, upper body and neck and head. We all feel bad. It doesnt matter, rivalry or not a rivalry, its something that we all want to see the guy recover. Im going to try to reach out with him and have a talk with him: either over the phone or to see him in person. But I totally understand and respect that now he probably needs time and space and to be around his closest family. Im sure when the time is right, Ill probably reach out and talk and somehow connect.

So now its clear that both Chara and Pacioretty have moved on from the turnbuckle incident, and picked up the pieces left in its wake. The Bs Captain is simply trying to lead his team toward the playoffs without any more distractions coming off three straight losses, and Pacioretty is starting the long road to recovery from a fractured neck and severe concussion stemming from the hellish collision.

Now that the players have moved on, perhaps its time for the fans, media, fellow players, police and NHL watchdogs to do exactly the same thing until the next big league emergency pops for a public roasting.

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

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Morning Skate: Do Caps have mental block come playoff time?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while thinking about and praying for the people of Manchester, England. It’s obviously an evil, cowardly act to bomb any public place, but to do it at a concert filled with women and children is the lowest of the low.

*The Capitals players are acknowledging that there’s some kind of mental block with the Stanley Cup playoffs. CSN Mid-Atlantic has all the details.

*It’s been a very odd postseason for the NHL where there are so many non-traditional teams still alive with the Nashville Predators in the Stanley Cup Fina, and the Ottawa Senators fighting for their lives in the Eastern Conference Final. On that note, there is a ton of disappointment at the empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre for Ottawa’s home games in the playoffs. It sounds like there are going to be empty seats tonight for a do-or-die Game 6 in Ottawa. That is an embarrassment for a Canadian city that’s supposed to pride itself on their love of hockey. Let’s hope the Senators fans have a last-minute surge to buy tickets and show some appreciation for a Senators team that’s given the Ottawa fans a totally unexpected ride through the postseason this spring. I mean, Erik Karlsson at the top of his game is worth the price of admission all by himself.  

*The Pittsburgh Penguins have the Senators on the ropes, and it’s been an impressive showing given that they’re doing it without Kris Letang.

*Pro Hockey Talk has the ownership for the St. Louis Blues giving their GM Doug Armstrong a vote of confidence.

*Another early exit from the playoffs is going to start making some players expendable on the New York Rangers roster.

*Here’s a good piece on how David Poile built the Nashville Predators, who have reached the Stanley Cup Final for the first time. Give credit where it’s due: He manned up and made a big move dealing away Shea Weber straight up for PK Subban. It’s really worked for Music City as they’ve stepped to the next level.

*Speaking of Nashville’s rise this spring in a wide open Western Conference, Pekka Rinne has silenced the critics he might have had by carrying his team to the Cup Final.

*For something completely different: Boston law enforcement is on high alert after the bombing of the Ariana Grande concert in the UK.

 

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Haggerty: Reports of Seidenberg's demise were greatly exaggerated

Hindsight is always 20/20, of course, but it appears the Bruins made a mistake buying out veteran defenseman Dennis Seidenberg from the final couple of years of his contract. 

Seidenberg just finished up a wildly successful stint with host Team Germany at the IIHF World Championships, where he was named Directorate Best Defenseman (the tournament’s best defenseman) after leading all D-men with a goal and eight points. This came after Seidenberg, at age 35, posted 5 goals and 22 points in 73 games for the Islanders, with whom he signed after being cut loose by the B's, while averaging a shade under 20 minutes per game.  Seidenberg also had an excellent World Cup of Hockey tournament for Team Europe last summer (where he was teamed once again with Zdeno Chara), thus managing to play at a high level from September all the way through May.

A faction of Bruins fans thought he was on the serious decline after the 2015-16 season and, clearly, the Bruins agreed, opting to buy him out with two more years still left on a sizable contract extension. (They owe him $2.16 million next season and then will be charged $1.16 million on their salary cap over the next two seasons.) But the B's could have used a durable, defensive warrior like Seidenberg in the playoffs, when they lost three of their top four defensemen against the Ottawa Senators. A rejuvenated Seidenberg, able to play both the left and right side, would have been a better option than Colin Miller.

The Bruins made a conscious decision to hand things over to younger defensemen like Miller, Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo and Joe Morrow in cutting ties with Seidenberg. But they also perhaps miscalculated how much Seidenberg still had left in the tank after his best season in at least three years. 

“Well, at the time we felt like [Seidenberg's] game had really dropped off to where we thought he couldn’t contribute, and we wanted to see if some younger players could come in and help us out,” Bruins president Cam Neely said at the end-of-the-season press conference earlier this month. “I’ve got to say he played well this year for Long Island. But at the time we thought it was the right move. You can’t envision us having three of our top four D’s get hurt [in the playoffs]. We went through a lot of D’s in the postseason. You can’t predict that.”

Neely is referring to the decision made after Seidenberg’s second straight minus season in Boston, when back injuries and a major knee injury had seemed to slow him down a bit. It seemed the only way to properly evaluate some of their other, younger defenseman was to cut Seidenberg loose, but one has to wonder if the Bruins would have possibly done it had they known he was still capable of playing like he did this season for the Islanders. 

Either way, the buyout of Seidenberg is an extremely legitimate second guess of Bruins management in a year where they did a lot of things right.