BOSTON Dont look now, but Zdeno Chara is playing the role of best defensemen in the NHL again.
It can sometimes be overlooked because the 6-foot-9 blueliner has been a larger-than-life character since arriving in Boston five years ago. But the Norris Trophy winner and Stanley Cup champion has turned up his play during the month of November as the Bruins have emerged with Johnny Drama-style victories in 11 of their last 12 games and vaulted back into first place in the Northeast Division.
Chara was again one of the best players on the ice while blasting a power play goal and firing a team-high six shots on net in 26:17 of ice time in Bostons 4-2 victory over the Winnipeg Jets Saturday night at TD Garden.
Not only has he been the consistent Tower of Power on defense his absence was never more obvious than when the Buffalo Sabres potted a pair of power play goals earlier this week while Chara was serving out his five minute penalty for fighting but hes been spurring the Black and Gold offense to boot.
In 12 games during the month of November Chara has 12 points (3 goals and 9 assists) along with a plus-12.
There's a reason he's one of the best, if not the best, defenseman in the league. He does a lot, said Chris Kelly. He plays penalty kill, he plays power play, he's on last minute if we're down a goal and hes on last minute if were up by a goal. Obviously every team would take him in a heartbeat and I think we're extremely lucky to have him.
Chara is averaging more than 25 minutes a game during the 12 games in November, and the big defenseman is putting up 3.67 shots per game while filling the net with slap shots fired from between the two face-off dots, which has also created offensive chances for his forwards hunting out rebounds in front of the net.
Charas big contribution on Saturday was the power play bomb from the right point position that halved the Jets lead in the first period. The goal arrived with less than four minutes to go in the first period and allowed the Bruins to gather a little steam headed into the first intermission.
With the momentum seized away from Winnipeg, Chris Kellys two-goal heroics in the second period put Boston in position to win.
Charas goal was huge, coming in two-one, said Johnny Boychuk. Its way better than two-nothing and gave us a little boost for the second and it did, and we came out, and that did the job.
Chara even played the role of victim in the second period with the game tied and less than seven minutes to go in the middle 20 minutes: Alex Burmistrov slammed Chara into the corner from behind with no regard for his safety or well-being. The hit on the B's captain drew a boarding penalty and sent the slippery Russian winger to the penalty box.
The B's surge only continued from there.
Perhaps it was a little more difficult to get up for Saturdays game given how slowly the Bruins approached things out of the starting gate, but the win showed how much things have changed for Boston post-Cup. Where once the Bruins might have struggled to find motivation against a middling team like Winnipeg, now Chara and Co. have whats needed to snap out of an underachieving funk.
In the first we were not maybe as sharp as we should have been, said Chara. Maybe that was the case when we were playing our third game in the fourth night.
If you dont have your legs you have to move the puck and thats what we were focusing on . . . moving the puck. Its about making simple plays and putting a lot of pressure on them especially in the offensive zone. We were much better in the second and I thought the third was our best. It was really nice that we bounced back the second twenty and got the lead.
The leadership and defensive intangibles of Big 'Z' are always going to be easy topics of discussion, but Charas offensive output over the last three weeks shows the kind of consistency and high-end production that make him one of the greatest defensemen in the league among the NHLs elite.
Hes been playing like it since November started and his team needed him most.