There was a chance, however slight you might think, Zdeno Chara fell on his face in Washington, D.C.
Granted, you’re not going to get rich betting against the future Hockey Hall of Famer, but the 43-year-old certainly bet on himself. He left the Bruins after 15 years in Boston when it became clear he wouldn’t receive the playing time he believed he deserved.
Instead, Chara took an equally uncomfortable path. He signed with the Capitals with no guarantees of playing time, knowing he’d likely spend at least most of the season by himself in D.C. with his family back in Boston amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
So far, so good.
Chara and the Capitals invade TD Garden on Wednesday night, and it will be the defenseman’s first game as a visitor in Boston since 2006.
The Caps come to Boston with a two-point lead over the Bruins in the NHL’s East division. Washington has won three straight and can really make a statement in a two-game set against the Bruins.
As for Chara, he’s proving he still has something left in the tank. Two weeks shy of his 44th birthday, Chara has played in all 21 games for the Capitals this season. His 19:24 of average ice time per game would be the lowest since his first full season in the league, but given his age, it’s still damn impressive. It’s the third-highest total on the team, and Chara is actually on pace to become the first player in more than 20 years to average at least 19 minutes per game at age 43 or older.
“I think from a role perspective from what we were expecting, I think it’s been exactly what we were lookign for,” Capitals head coach Peter Laviolette told reporters Tuesday. “His presence on the ice, his game, his presence on the team in the locker room, there’s been no surprises. I don’t think we’ve tried to push it in a different direction or have it be something it’s not.”
While Chara’s hockey contributions might be slightly surprising, what comes as no surprise is how quickly he’s assimilated himself to his new team. Chara completely overhauled the culture in Boston, establishing an attitude and outlook that remains even with him gone. While Washington didn’t sign him to do the same thing in D.C., he’s still making an impact on his new teammates in a variety of ways on and off the ice.
“When you see him walk around, when you see him in the gym, there’s just that feeling that he puts off, that vibe he puts off that just makes everyone around him want to get better,” Capitals forward Tom Wilson recently told The Washington Post. “He’s an amazing leader. … I’ve found myself getting better just being around him.”
For anyone who followed Chara’s 15-year run in Boston, that sounds about right.