Bruins’ Zdeno Chara Still Legitimate Top-Pairing Defenseman

WILMINGTON, Mass. — Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara missed practice Monday, but he returned to the ice Tuesday and is expected to play when Boston begins a regular season-ending three-game road trip Wednesday night against the Washington Capitals.

“I would imagine if he’s practicing, he should be able to play,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said. “He’s on the ice, so it’s a good sign.”

Chara blocked a shot with his lower left leg in the third period of Saturday’s game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He was in a pretty good amount of pain on the bench but didn’t miss a shift. Chara said Tuesday that his lower left felt good after skating with his teammates.

“We all block shots, we all do whatever it takes to win and that situation, obviously, I decided to make a play by blocking,” Chara said. “That was it. I continued to play and we won the game, that’s the positive part.

“It feels good. I practiced today. We had a good practice, worked on a few things and getting ready for Washington.”

Chara missed 19 games when he tore a ligament in his knee as a result of a hit on New York Islanders forward John Tavares on Oct. 23. He returned Dec. 11 against the Chicago Blackhawks and, as expected, it took him some time to get acclimated to the speed and pace of the game.

“It’s never easy to come back from a major injury,” Chara said. “It took me a while, it was pretty obvious. I played nine games when it happened and I came back when everyone was in midseason form, almost. I was just getting into it. It was pretty obvious when I came back that I missed a big chunk of games and it was noticeable that my game wasn’t where everybody else’s was.

“But I feel the more I play it was getting more comfortable and better and better. Now we’re finishing the season and we need that, we need everyone on top of their game and I’m trying to always increase my play.”

Chara hasn’t made as much of an impact offensively compared to previous seasons. Since Feb. 1, he has tallied seven points in 29 games. That said, Chara has driven puck possession during that same span with a solid 53.1 Corsi For percentage at even strength while facing the toughest competition (team-leading 1.414 Corsi Relative Quality of Competition) of any Bruins defenseman through the entire season, which includes starting just 29.1 percent of his 5v5 shifts in the attacking zone.

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The following usage chart from War on Ice — with results from Feb. 1 through April 7 — helps show how valuable Chara is to the Boston blue line.


Has Chara played at a Norris Trophy-level this season? No, and injury is the main reason for that, but he’s still a legitimate top pairing defenseman and one of the major reasons why the Bruins spend more time attacking the opponent’s net than defending their own net when he’s on the ice.

If the Bruins clinch a playoff spot by earning a few points from their final three regular-season games, they will need Chara as close to full strength as possible to make a deep postseason run.

When asked if he’s where he needs to be entering the playoffs, the Bruins’ captain said “it’s close.” That’s encouraging for a Bruins team that is playing well and close to having a full roster (Dougie Hamilton is the only player out with an injury) with the most important games of the campaign still on the horizon.

Thumbnail photo via Sergei Belski/USA TODAY Sports Images

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