Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

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Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

WILMINGTON, Mass. Whether its two games or two-plus weeks, the Bruins are going to feel the absence of Zdeno Chara while he recovers from the lower body injury suffered when his left knee buckled in Columbus last weekend.It's only natural there will be a goliath-sized hole in Boston's lineup while their giant is missing. If you don't believe me then just watch the game film from the first round of last year's playoffs when Chara missed Game 2 with severe dehydration and the Bruins entire team looked like their strength had been sapped.

There is certainly both good news and bad news about the Charainjury, and how it will affect the reigning Stanley Cup champs in the middle of their seasonal battle. First, the obvious: The Bruins are going to miss their most indispensable player. Chara is arguably the most irreplaceable force of nature in the entire NHL, and nobody else comes close to matching his size, strength, skill and intimidation package in that 6-foot-9 frame. He seems as invulnerable as Ivan Drago on most nights, so it's a shock to everybody's system when No. 33 can't suit up. Rather than saying "If he dies, he dies" or "I must break you", Chara went through the odd sensation of suffering an injury that will keep him out of the lineup.It didn't keep Chara from working out off the ice on Monday, but it will keep him out of the lineup."You can't put a timetable on how you feel," said Chara. "It's in a stage where we can't talk about anything more than 24 hours ahead. Sometimes you could be themost fit guy in the league and you're still going to get hurt.It's just the way it isin the league with the speed and physical level."

Theres a reason the Bruins are 4-5-3 in the 12 games theyve played without Chara over the last five seasons. The Slovakian blueliner and Tim Thomas are the two most important cogs in the Black and Gold machine, and now the Bs will be without one-half of that duo for an unspecified amount of time.

Chara himself addressed the media on Monday and indicated he hasnt been ruled out of any games this week aside from Tuesday nights game against the Los Angeles Kings, but this isnt a situation where the franchise defenseman will get rushed back to play.

He is better today than he was yesterday, so thats good news, said coach Claude Julien. Hes improved, and the way our group is looking at it right now is that hes a day-to-day. Hes obviously doubtful for Tuesday, but after that thats what day-to-day is all about.

His endurance is good, obviously, and hes a big, strong individual. It takes a lot to get him injured and get him to miss games. Hes played through pain here, hes a pretty reliable player and its not too often you see him out of our lineup.

So the Bruins will be without their best penalty killer a fact made plainly obvious when the Buffalo Sabres scores a pair of power-play goals while Chara was sitting in the penalty box last month and their greatest power-play weapon. The 34-year-old defenseman was actually pacing to have his best NHL season: He was on track to approach 60 points and 25 power-play points over the course of a full season and his sizzling slap shot was creating offense on the man advantage in a dominant way.

Thats above and beyond the 24:48 of ice time that Chara was averaging and the shutdown form he continually shows against the league's best offensive playmakers. The Bruins can run Dennis Seidenberg, Johnny Boychuk, Andrew Ference and Co. as much as theyd like, but theyre not going to recreate the intimidating presence that makes Chara rate as the most difficult player to play against each year when the NHLPA polls of the NHLs best are released.

We dont believe in changing our game because one guy is out. We play our game the same way, said Julien. We need some guys to step up and fill in some of the minutes that hed take during a game. Thats about as far as well go with an injury.

When you lose a key player its a big void. But other teams, including us, have dealt with that in the past. Theres nothing you can do about it. To say he leaves a big void doesnt mean that we cant fill it. What we feel right is that we have enough guys that will come in and do the job, and one thing we wont do is come out and say we didnt win this game because Zdeno isnt in the lineup.

But if the most conservative estimates are true and Chara misses at least the next three games and possibly the next five games leading into Christmas with his injury, then the Bruins might have caught a break at the right time. The injury occurred with the Bs in the middle of a stretch where they play six games over 21 days, and get a long-ish break leading into the Christmas holiday.

So the Bs wont actually play that many games without Chara, and therefore cant lose much ground at all even if they cant stop anybody defensively without their Tower of Power. Steve Kampfer will obviously fill in during Charas absence as the spare defenseman, but the Bs will most likely go with a five-man defenseman rotation depending on the game situations.

Dennis Seidenberg is already playing nearly as many minutes as Chara, so it wont be a steadier diet of minutes for the German defenseman. If anything, Adam McQuaid might be the recipient of more minutes given his sizestrength combo, and the Bs belief the young defenseman could have a bright future as a shutdown defenseman.

Zee is missing, so it leaves a big void. It means we all have to step up. He plays big minutes and he plays against the other teams best line, said Seidenberg. We just have to do a good job and shut them down.

We just have to do the same job on the ice and stop them from scoring. Its just that a huge piece of us will be missing. The matchups will be a little different on the ice, but I dont see anything else really changing about the way we play.

It should be an interesting next week or two as the Bruins get a glimpse of what life would be like without their titanic defenseman, but it could also be a painful one if Charas fellow defensemen corps cant make up for his absence.

Its a tall task both literally and figuratively for Boston without their giant, and that chore starts Tuesday night against the Kings.

Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

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Czarnik 'playing bigger' while looking to secure job with Bruins

It’s not difficult to see why Austin Czarnik might have been a little overlooked headed into this Bruins training camp when forecasting favorites among the forwards to win a roster spot on the big club. After all he’s only 5-foot-9 and 167-pounds coming off just one very solid season at the AHL level for the Providence Bruins, and there are bigger, stronger forwards candidates that maybe rank a bit higher on the prospect list than him.

But the 23-year-old Czarnik put together an excellent training camp last fall before finishing with 20 goals and 61 points for the P-Bruins last season, and now he’s doing the exact same thing again this time around.

“Yeah, I feel more comfortable. I think we could have been a lot better in a lot of areas. Overall I think everyone is just happy to be back on the ice,” said Czarnik, who along with Frank Vatrano was one of the real starts of camp last season. “You know that type of mentality and you know mistakes are going to happen, and you’ve just got to move forward from it so everyone’s happy to be back.”

The former Miami University star is clearly happy to be back, and it’s showing on the ice with each chance he gets to show his tenacity, withering fore-check and his willingness to crash the net despite his smallish stature.

Czarnik was one of the most dangerous forwards on the ice for the Black and Gold in their preseason opener, and collected a key assist on Boston’s first goal of the game when he pushed a puck through the neutral zone before setting up on odd man rush for Jimmy Hayes and Jake DeBrusk.

This time around Czarnik scored the game’s only goal on a nifty rush during four-on-four play through the offensive zone by Ryan Spooner, who drew in the defense and dished to Czarnik for a wide open tap-in chance.

So it’s a couple of big plays in each of the first two preseason games that led to goals, and a genuinely excellent level of play throughout both contests. It’s something the Bruins coaching staff has taken note of along with his skating speed and hardnosed mentality, and now they have to figure if it fits in with their other NHL pieces.

“We were just talking about it. Everybody has that same feeling. He’s playing well. He moves well. He’s on the puck. He competes, and that’s the thing you’re looking for really,” said Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco. “Like right now, we know there’s going to be mistakes made by a lot of our players, especially the younger ones.

“We’re looking to see who’s got that competitive, you know, that competitive fire. [We’re looking for] who’s going to go out there and who can compete at a high level. I know he’s not big in stature, but he plays bigger than he is. He’s had two pretty good games so far.”

Czarnik had a couple of good games early in B’s camp last year before flat-lining a bit at the end when the NHL jobs were seriously on the line, and the 23-year-old wants that story to change endings this time around. It remains to be seen where he’s going to fit as yet another center among Boston’s group of training camp players this month, but Czarnik might just force the Bruins to make a tough decision if he keeps playing at his current high level.   

Talking Points: Veteran Red Wings torch Bruins

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Talking Points: Veteran Red Wings torch Bruins

GOLD STAR: Take your pick: Steve Ott, Drew Miller and Luke Glendening torched the Bruins with veteran savvy and toughness against a very young defensemen unit trying to survive in the second preseason game. Ott and Glendening each scored a goal and finished with three points, and Miller finished with a goal and two points while all three forwards had a plus-3 rating for the night. All of their goals came off winning battles, crashing the net and taking advantage of defensive miscues. The goals provided a good lesson to the young kids that have a ways to go before they’re NHL ready at this point in their careers. It certainly must have been a kick to the stones to many Bruins fans when “Brave” Steve Ott was named the No. 1 Star of the game after it was all over, but that was certainly appropriate.

BLACK EYE: Adam McQuaid was the most experienced defensemen out on the ice for the Bruins on Wednesday night, and it was a rough night for him with so many young guys around him on the back end. McQuaid finished a minus-2 in 17:41 with a couple of hits and got a little better as the game was going on, but was on ice for two of the first three goals allowed to Detroit in a really lackluster middle section of the game. In general, it was about more than just one player, though. There were blown assignments in the D-zone and some really noticeable lost battles leading to scoring chances for a Red Wings group that aggressively took it to the Bruins. This is a game that will leave the Bruins coaches with plenty of video material moving forward.

TURNING POINT: The real slippage came early in the game when the Bruins failed to score on some good power play chances for Peter Mueller and Matt Beleskey, and then allowed two goals within 19 seconds of each other in the first period. The first goal was a PP one for the Red Wings with Ryan Spooner whistled for a face-off infraction, and the second was simply the Bruins falling asleep at the wheel just seconds after the first goal was scored. Lost battles led to a bang-bang play in front with Steve Ott scoring as Malcolm Subban was turned around looking for the puck, and the B’s were reeling headed into the first intermission. Only a Subban shoulder save kept it from being 3-0 at the end of the first, and that was something the B’s never seemed to rebound from.

HONORABLE MENTION: Austin Czarnik scored the B’s only goal off a nice play from Ryan Spooner driving toward the net, and continues to put together another strong training camp after doing the same thing last season. Czarnik finished with the goal, three shots on net and six shot attempts in 17:38 of ice time, and battled back from a rough start to go 6-for-12 in the face-off circle while centering an extremely young line with Sean Kuraly and Zach Senyshyn. While Czarnik might not have been a big name when talking about an open roster spot with the Bruins a couple of weeks ago, he’s pushed toward making himself a part the conversation with his heart-filled, high effort energetic performances for the Black and Gold.

BY THE NUMBERS: 4-for-16 was the final tally for Ryan Spooner in the face-off circle as he continues to be a work-in-progress on the draw.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “Maybe I was a little bit shocked first going out there. The speed of the game is noticeably faster, but I think as time went on I got more comfortable out there. Hopefully I can build off that moving forward.” – Bruins rookie D-man Matt Grzelcyk on his first NHL preseason game being a bit of a big wakeup call.