BOSTON - Zdeno Chara played a season-high 31:27 of ice time Tuesday night in the 2-1 victory over the New York Rangers while stepping up in a large way with Dennis Seidenberg down and out in the first period, and it’s expected that Big Zee will log another yeoman effort against the St. Louis Blues with four young defenseman in Boston’s lineup on Thursday night.
In fact, the B’s captain’s minutes are up from 24:03 of ice time in 12 games in October games and Chara is up to 26:08 in nine games in November.
He’s got three points and is a minus-2 in November, and Chara will be turning 37 this season after pretty clearly running out of gas last year in the Stanley Cup Final against the Blackhawks.
The Bruins went into the season hoping to find pockets where they could build in some rest for their 6-foot-9 franchise defenseman, and hope that can leave him fresh when it matters most: the playoffs. There’s also the simple fact of hockey life that Chara will be trucking back and forth to Russia for the Winter Olympics in February, and won’t be getting much rest when he’s greeted with a scheduled 17 games for the B’s during the month of March.
Despite all of this, Claude Julien said he wasn’t concerned about the increased workload for Chara with regulars like Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid out of the lineup.
“I think sometimes we have a tendency to maybe make too much out of it. We talked about reducing his ice time, not because he can’t take it, but because we think in the long run over the course of a season,” said Julien. “But for him to play some big minutes every once and a while, [it’s] not an issue at all.
“Like that game in New York, he felt great. He even said afterwards, ‘I had no issues with that…I felt great.’ We know that. But we’re thinking further than the moment when we talked about that. He can certainly log a lot of minutes, and he’s in great shape. He’s not at a point where it affects him. He’s very capable of getting those kinds of minutes. If he needs those minutes tonight, he’s going to get them again.”
Never mind some of the uncharacteristic mental mistakes seen from Chara late in games, and what appears to be a difficulty bouncing back in the game after logging one of those big ice time games.
In the short term, that could be fine for both the Bruins and for their captain as they deal with the hills and valleys of an 82-game season.
Still, every 30-plus minute game for Chara in the regular season takes them further away from the rested, fully-charged shutdown defenseman that Boston will be expecting come playoff time.