Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant

Haggerty: Bruins prepare for play without their giant
December 13, 2011, 7:10 am
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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.