Top Shelf: Bruins try to cope without ‘irreplaceable’ Chara

Philadelphia, PA ( – Since Zdeno Chara joined the Boston
Bruins over eight years ago the club has rarely had to get by without their
star defenseman.

That’s all about to change.

Chara left Thursday’s game against the New York Islanders and he won’t be
coming back for at least a month. Considering how Boston fared without its
captain in the lineup for the majority of Thursday’s tilt, the B’s will be
counting the days until the heart and soul of the team is back on the ice.

Boston cruised to an Atlantic Division title last season while posting the
league’s best regular-season record, but things have not come so easily for
coach Claude Julien’s squad so far in 2014-15. The Bruins fell to 4-5-0 on the
season following Thursday’s 3-2 setback against the Islanders, and losing
Chara could wreak havoc on the team’s defensive depth.

Peter Chiarelli confirmed Friday that Chara will be out 4-to-6 weeks with a
tear in the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Boston’s general
manager took a positive stance regarding the recovery timetable, saying “I’d
rather have 4-to-6 weeks than 4-to-6 months.”

That’s one way to look at it but the fact is playing 4-to-6 weeks without
Chara is new territory for the Bruins, who have benefited greatly from their
top defenseman’s durability over the years.

Since leaving Ottawa to sign with Boston in the summer of 2006, the 6-foot-9
Slovakian has skated in 611 of 631 regular-season games. None of his absences
have been for more than a few games at a time, but Chara is likely to miss
somewhere between 11-18 tilts after getting injured while delivering a check
on Isles forward John Tavares.

After banging knees in the collision with Tavares, Chara tried to play through
the pain briefly in the first period, but the 37-year-old was shut down during
the first intermission.

Boston flunked its first test without Chara, giving up two goals in the first
10 minutes of the second period to allow New York to grab a 3-1 lead. The
Bruins played well after that, but the damage was already done. Granted, the
Bruins were forced to play the remainder of the game with only five
blueliners, but still, Boston is going to need a better effort going forward
if they plan to effectively cope with Chara’s loss.

“I know he’s a tough guy to replace — he’s irreplaceable — but as a unit,
everyone can do a little extra to fill in for what he does,” said Bruins
forward Milan Lucic. “Maybe it was wearing on us a little bit mentally in the
second period there. But you saw in the third, when we decide to play, we can
still play.”

Lucic is right about Chara being “irreplaceable.” The tallest player ever to
skate in the NHL, Chara is one of the most unique talents to ever play the
sport. There is no replacing Chara’s size, or his slapshot, which has been
clocked as the hardest ever on multiple occasions, but the Bruins could miss
his intangible qualities even more.

While Chiarelli and Julien preach team defense from the front office and
bench, Chara is the guy who makes sure his teammates stick to the program on
the ice. Boston’s identity as a physically imposing club that is tough to
score against begins with the captain and trickles down through the rest of
the club. Without Chara’s leadership to lean on, it could be a difficult
several weeks for the Bruins and No. 1 goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Making matters worse, Boston’s depth at the back end was already in question
before Chara went down. Chiarelli dealt Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders prior
to the season in favor of salary cap space and Kevan Miller was lost to a
dislocated shoulder last week. Through nine games this season Boston is
allowing 2.56 goals per game, nearly a half-goal more per game than the club’s
2013-14 showing of 2.08 GPG.

Julien expects to lean heavily on defensemen Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug and
Dennis Seidenberg in Chara’s absence. The team also recalled untested
blueliners Joe Morrow and Zach Trotman from its American Hockey League
affiliate in Providence. Trotman broke into the NHL with two games last
season, while Morrow, a former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in
2011, has yet to play at the top level.

The best news regarding Chara’s injury is that his PCL tear isn’t expected to
require surgery. Still, surgery or not, the Bruins have to be concerned how
Chara will bounce back from a knee injury at this stage of his career. During
Boston’s second-round loss to a speedy Montreal club in the 2014 playoffs,
there was talk about Chara’s loss of mobility over the years. One would assume
suffering a knee tear in his late 30s, isn’t going to make Chara more mobile
when he is able to return.

As Lucic relayed after Thursday’s loss, there is simply no replacing a guy
like Chara. Unfortunately, Boston now has to try to get by without him whether
they like it or not.