Tom Brady gets all the credit in New England for being an ageless wonder, but how about a little love for Zdeno Chara?
Chara, who’s actually older than Brady, might not be rewriting his sports record book the way Brady is, but the Boston Bruins captain continues to show flashes of brilliance, two months shy of his 41st birthday.
Chara is logging big minutes in his 20th NHL campaign, serving as a cornerstone for a young B’s team that’s among the league’s best this season. His impact was clear again Wednesday night in Boston’s 4-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens — specifically his work on a 5-on-3 penalty kill midway through the second period.
The Bruins held a 2-1 lead at that point, and a Canadiens goal could have dramatically swung the game’s momentum. With his team down two defensemen in the penalty box, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy leaned on the 6-foot-9 captain, as Chara logged an absurd 4-minute, 18-second shift around the penalty kills.
Ridiculous. It looks downright silly as illustrated by the Bruins’ shift chart for the game.
Chara “relishes” that role, according to Cassidy, who also explained how Chara’s dependability in those situations allows the Bruins roster flexibility as it pertains to defensemen.
“It is invaluable to us,” Cassidy said. “If you look at our PK all year it has been in the top five, maybe slipped out to seven or eight. (Chara) is the biggest reason on it — and the goaltender has to make the saves — and that’s not being disrespectful to (Patrice Bergeron), who does a great job, or (Riley) Nash, but (Chara) sees a lion’s share of it, and he sets the tone on it.”
And quite frankly, why wouldn’t the Bruins lean on Chara in the 5-on-3? His size and reach make him invaluable, as it’s almost like he neutralizes the two-man advantage to some extent.
For instance, during the power play Wednesday night, Chara was stationed in front of the net. With his size and reach, not only was able to patrol the front of the net, but he also was able to (somewhat easily) take away anything to Tuukka Rask’s left. As you can see below, Chara dumped Brendan Gallagher in front, but he also was close enough to Max Pacioretty to be able to take that option away, too.
Even when Pacioretty went to the slot, Chara barely had to move to take away the opportunity to block the shot.
Ultimately, Alex Galchenyuk worked his way down the right side and got a shot off, but since Chara had the front of the net covered, Rask had a wide-open look at the shot and maked the easy save.
Oh, and then obviously, Chara cleared this puck.
Even Mike Milbury remarked on NBC Sports’ broadcast that Montreal needed to get a better opportunity on the 5-on-3 than a shot from the half wall, but that’s easier said than done with Chara out there.
The Bruins now have killed 83.1 percent of their penalties this season, putting them in a virtual tie for sixth in the NHL. No Bruins player has logged more shorthanded time than Chara, whose 161 minutes and 15 seconds of shorthanded time is more than 35 minutes greater than the second-closest Bruin. Only Toronto’s Ron Hainsey has logged more penalty-kill time than Chara in the entire NHL, and he’s done so in three more games.
It’s not just shorthanded time, either. Chara leads the Bruins with 23:21 of ice time per game, which still ranks him in the top 30 of the NHL. And that’s despite ranking 109th in shifts per game, meaning when Chara’s on the ice, he’s out there for a long time, as we saw Wednesday.
At this point in his career, Chara isn’t the same franchise-changing, dominant D-man he once was. But as he proved Wednesday night, he’s still the Bruins’ most reliable defenseman, and it’s still not even close.
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