Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination


Chara's load lightened by Norris nomination

By Joe Haggerty

BOSTON Zdeno Chara prides himself on the reputation hes built, and the respect he's earned, during his decade-plus in the National Hockey League.

Its no overstatement to say that Monday was a big day for a big man.

After more than a month of scrutiny following his hit on Max Pacioretty at the Bell Centre, which unfairly painted him to be some kind of fire-breathing monster, and the vague drama thats played out after a dehydration episode caused him to miss Game 2 against the Canadiens, its fair to say this has been the most challenging season of the 6-foot-9 defenseman's career. But he's fought through it all, and it hasn't gone unnoticed by his teammates.

Nor did the announcement on Monday that he was one of three finalists for the Norris Trophy as this season's top defenseman.

We actually talked about it a few weeks ago, and he said to me that he didnt think he was going to be a Norris finalist, said Charas defense partner, Dennis Seidenberg. I said Youll see and that he would be up there again. Sure enough he was. I think rightfully so, since hes so dominant in his own end and always seems to chip in with some really timely offense. Its what a Norris defenseman is all about.

If it was me, it would be really gratifying because there was so much negative stuff written about him . . . He must really be happy about being recognized.

Being able to bask in the announcement that he's a finalist for the fourth time in his career was a nice respite for Chara. Teammates could hear the relaxed tone in his voice and see the spring in his step as he enjoyed one of the best days hes probably had in more than a month.

With accusations of intentional dirty hits, and foolish criminal investigations, swirling all around him in addition to normal playoff pressure, Chara has been in the market for some good news for a good long while.

He finally received it, and was appropriately appreciative.

Its obviously a big honor. Im very humbled and very thankful, especially when you consider how many guys have had good seasons and breakout seasons, said Chara. Im just thankful that the people that did vote recognized the definition of the Norris Trophy award.

Chara has captured one Norris Trophy in his career -- in 2008-09, amid Bostons run to the top spot in the Eastern Conference -- and will compete for this one with Detroit's six-time Norris winner Nik Lidstrom, and Nashville's Shea Weber. All three Norris Trophy finalists hold elite reputations within the NHL as franchise defensemen, and each of them would be an excellent candidate for a number of different reasons. Each also has black marks against him.

Lidstrom is a force of nature who's still going strong for the Wings at age 40, but he also had the first negative plusminus of his career. That may be the first sign that the Swedish defenseman is starting to slow down, though 62 points and 23:28 of ice time per night might indicate otherwise.

Weber has the shot, the skating, the leadership and the reputation while playing for an up-and-coming Predators squad. But the argument could be made he isnt even having his best season in the NHL.

Clearly we know who Claude Julien thinks should take home the hardware from Las Vegas this summer as the best defensive defensemen in the game.

Obviously Chara's a well-deserving player, said the Bruins' coach. There are a lot of reasons. I think everyone who knows him here knows he plays lots of minutes. He also always plays against other teams' top lines. Hes utilized as a shutdown 'D' against the top players on other teams. The plusminus stats at the end of the year plus-33 . . . I think that speaks for itself . . . and certainly offensively hes contributed as well.

"If youre talking about Norris and talking about a defenseman that brings a lot, hes certainly one of them. I dont think there are many players in this league who will raise their hand and say they really enjoy playing against him.

Even though hes played in something of a weakened physical state against the Canadiens and -- as noted by ex-Bruins coach and noted CBC analyst Don Cherry last week -- is not quite as ferocious as normal, Chara still remains the most irreplaceable piece of the Black-and-Gold puzzle. He finished the year with similar offensive numbers to his Norris Trophy campaign two years ago, leads the Bruins with eight power-play goals, is Bostons best penalty killer and lines up against the oppositions best lines while leading all NHL defensemen with a plus-33 this season.

That leaves Chara at a whopping plus-68 in his five seasons with the Bruins. The plus-33 matches the best season of his career, which he achieved as a 26-year-old playing for a stacked Ottawa Senators team in 2003-04.

Chara has been incredibly heartened by the recognition he received as a true defenseman, as he is by the movement away from simply handing Norris recognition to the defenseman who posted the biggest set of fantasy stats. That played out in Chara reaching the top three in voting rather than offensive specialists like Anaheims Lubomir Visnovsky or Phoenixs Keith Yandle a pair of high-powered offensive defenseman who didnt factor into the penalty kill or play against other teams top lines during their breakthrough campaigns.

In the minds of many, it's true hockey value on the ice rather than gaudy point totals and power-play specialties that hold meaning when it comes to finding the best blueliner in the NHL landscape.

Its something I take a lot of pride in, said Chara. Im very competitive when it comes to defending top lines and playing against top lines. I know its not an easy job, but I really get up for it every night. You cant think that its just you. Its the five guys that are on the ice with you and the 25 guys that are on the team helping you. But its a big motivation for me to face such skill and great players.

It will be back to the riotous Bell Centre, and the grind of the playoffs, on Tuesday for Chara and the rest of the Bruins. But Monday was perhaps what the doctor ordered for the big fella.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

O'Gara sent to Providence, but could return any time


O'Gara sent to Providence, but could return any time

BOSTON – The writing was on the wall once Rob O’Gara was scratched in the last couple of games, and he was finally sent down to Providence on Tuesday. The move was made to clear room for Adam McQuaid to rejoin the B’s lineup, and help the Bruins continue improving from their 15th rank among team defenses in the NHL this season.

The 23-year-old O’Gara was a plus-1 rating in three games to start the season, and played very well in 16:01 of ice time while winning physical battles, adequately moving the puck and generally showing that he’s got a future in the NHL. With veteran defenders returning and little margin for error on a B’s back end already featuring 19-year-old Brandon Carlo, it was too much to attempt carrying two rookies on an NHL defensemen corps for a long stretch of time.

So now O’Gara will go to Providence where he’ll play bigger minutes, play in all situations and stay ready for the next time Boston needs him.

“He’s good. I think he makes good passes when he has time. I think we want him to work on maybe being under pressure, and being a little stronger on his feet and being able to make better plays,” said Claude Julien. “But he’s really close. When I say he’s real close I think you could see him back here at any time. I have no issues with Rob O’Gara.

“I think as a young player he has to play, so when we can play [him again] I have no issues with him in our lineup. If he doesn’t get [the playing time] here then we’ve got to get it for him somewhere else.”

While O’Gara is going to Providence for some more AHL development at this point in time, there’s a tacit acknowledgement from the Bruins that the big, hard-working defenseman is definitely going to be a valued part of their future.

Still looking for first point, Heinen stays patient


Still looking for first point, Heinen stays patient

BRIGHTON, Mass. -- It may be strictly due to injuries or because Ryan Spooner is being moved back to third line center full-time, but Danton Heinen is going to get another top-six look on the wing. The 21-year-old Bruins prospect will be skating on the left wing with David Krejci and Matt Beleskey in Tuesday night’s game against the Minnesota Wild after serving as a healthy scratch last weekend against the Montreal Canadiens.

Heinen has only two shots on goal in the four games leading up to the scratch, and has been quiet offensively after leading the Bruins in goal-scoring during the preseason. Clearly there’s an adjustment to be made there, and it looked like the playmaking rookie winger was starting to develop a little more confidence trying to make plays while skating with Krejci and David Backes in last week’s win over the New Jersey Devils.

Heinen actually looked reminiscent of Krejci on a couple of plays, pulling back the puck after entering the zone and catching a trailing B’s teammate with a perfectly executed lead pass on the offensive rush. That effort plus a trip to the ninth floor press box last weekend seemed to reinforce just how much time he has to make plays, and that should be a benefit for both Heinen and his linemates.

Sometimes getting that first NHL point is the hardest part when a player breaks into the league, and it’s been that way for the young winger through his first four games.

“[Krejci] is such a good player, and I just try to complement him any way I can,” said Heinen. “You never want to be up in the press box, but it gives you a different perspective on the game. It’s a different angle. From up there it looks like you’ve got way more time. I definitely think I can be more patient with the puck, and make some smarter plays.”

Heinen started to do that in his best NHL game to date prior to being scratched against New Jersey, and it resulted in greater offensive possession and a couple of potential scoring plays getting created for the B’s second line. Unfortunately it didn’t lead to actual goals, and Heinen knows that’s what needs to happen through him if a player like him, with an offense-minded reputation from his University of Denver days, is going to stick top-6 in Boston.

“You can’t rely on the [top] guys every night,” said Heinen, who watched the Habs beat the Bruins on Saturday night while essentially shutting down Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak. “When we’ve been out there we’ve kind of been getting some chances, but we’ve got to bear down.

“[Krejci] likes to play with the puck a lot, so you just get him the puck, go in hard on the forecheck and try to get open because he’s a good distributor.”

It sounds like a simple plan that might be a very good thing for young Heinen, who needs to start breaking through offensively if he wants to stick around in Boston for the long haul.