BOSTON -- It’s been a trying first month of the 2013-14 season for Zdeno Chara.
He’s been a little more mortal than usual in the defensive zone, and he appears to still be fighting some early season sluggishness following last year’s deep run into the playoffs.
Despite Saturday night’s strong game, Chara still has that unsightly minus-1 rating next to his name.
But the Bruins captain is still a game-changing force for good in the majority of games for the Black and Gold, and he was exactly that in the Bruins’ 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden on Saturday.
Chara topped all skaters with 28:04 of ice time, snapped home a first period power-play goal and played a key role in a Bruins penalty kill that successfully strangled the life out of Toronto’s best offensive players. Coming off a win over the Florida Panthers where Chara was also solid, B’s head coach Claude Julien is beginning to see the pilot being lit for his 36-year-old defenseman intimidator.
“I told him, even last game, that I thought he was really good in the penalty kill," Julien said. "We wanted our left D to really stand up in the neutral zone, and he did the best job by far and really took away what we call the slash play – where the guy cuts through the middle, gets a pass and carries it with speed -- so he was able to slow him down that way last game. He did a great job of standing him up, he did a great job at getting pucks down the other end and he did that again tonight. He won battles and when he got the puck, the pucks were shot all the way down the other end. He’s good there.
“Obviously, the power play continues. To me he’s always been good, but he continues to be good on the power play in front where he takes a lot of space and he keeps a lot of the other team’s guys busy. When he’s around the net, he’s getting more and more comfortable at either screening or opening up to get into position to either tip or shoot a puck in. I thought he was a really good player or us tonight, which is one of the players that was probably a game changer.”
Penalties in the third period to David Krejci and Carl Soderberg while the Bruins were holding a slim one-goal lead really tested Boston’s penalty-kill unit, and it appeared Chara had plenty of gas in the tank to make sure those Toronto PP chances didn’t go anywhere.
“We were really desperate to kill that [last] one," Chara said. "It’s a few minutes left in the game, and [there was a] possibility of them pulling the goalie, making it six on four. But I don’t think they would do that until they get set up with whatever they wanted to set up in the zone in full position of the puck.
“But just because we were aggressive and jumping on those pucks, they were not able to get that zone and establish that puck possession. It’s something that we talked about, and before the kill when they took the timeout that we have to be aggressive. We cannot just sit back leisurely. Things don’t go your way if you just wait and give the other team time [to score.”
Clearly the 98.5 the Sports Hub radio team thought so as well, awarding Chara with the No. 1 Star in victory while leaving Patrice Bergeron off the list despite scoring two of Boston’s three goals in the win over Toronto. Now it will be up to Chara to sustain it Monday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which has been a challenge this season when the 6-foot-9 captain empties the tank with a big chunk of ice time for a Bruins team that badly needs him.