Saturday night against the Blue Jackets, Boston’s captain Zdeno Chara went down awkwardly in a seemingly innocuous collision with Columbus’ Antoine Vermette late in the second period. After struggling to get off the ice, the Bruins’ hulking defenseman didn’t return for the remainder of the game.
With the trepidation almost palpable in Bruins’ nation, fans waited to hear the extent of the damage. Replays of the collision indicated that Chara’s knee seemed to bend unnaturally and many drew frightening long-term conclusions.
Assuaging some of those fears was the news Sunday that Chara would likely miss only three games this week (against Los Angeles, Ottawa and Philadelphia) and if the recovery went well, number 33 could return as early as the B’s December 19 matchup against the Habs.
Bullet successfully dodged.
Alternatively, the Bruins could give Chara additional time to recuperate, extending his absence past the Christmas break to their December 28 contest with the Coyotes – for five total games missed.
It’s relatively good news, all things considered.
For all the consideration that Tim Thomas gets as the Best Goaltender on the Planet TM, Zdeno Chara might be the most irreplaceable member of the Bruins. His skillset is so unique – and the Bruins don’t have a studly Tuukka Rask-like replacement for their 6’9” blueliner. Having him go down for any extended period of time would be nothing short of disastrous for the B’s. Losing Z for 3-5 games might seem tough but it’s nothing compared to the troubles they’d have without the Norris Trophy winner.
Certainly Dennis Seidenberg has evolved into decent #2. Johnny Boychuk, Joe Corvo, Adam McQuaid and Andy Ference are all more than capable in their own rights and make for a very solid corps that many teams would love to have. Still, you just can’t take the loss of a game-changer like Chara in-stride. Without their Captain, maintaining their customary defensive dominance will be a struggle.
Big Z has been a pillar of durability at the point for the defending champs. He’s only missed twelve games total in his career in the Black and Gold. In his last ten NHL seasons, he missed more than ten games only once (2005-06 … when he missed eleven) and he’s averaged 77.9 games per season in that stretch; not exactly Cal Ripken-like, but certainly impressive totals.
In the twelve games sans-Z since he came to Boston, the Bruins have only managed three victories. While the sample size isn’t particularly convincing – it’s definitely not an endorsement of the B’s ability to win without their leader. The Bruins exploits without their Slovakian Man-Yeti hybrid aren’t exactly confidence-inspiring.
Zdeno plays in all situations and in massive quantities. He leads Bruin skaters with nearly 25 minutes of icetime a game and jumps over the bench for prime power-play and penalty-kill time. Up one or down one with time running down, Coach Claude Julien always turns to the Captain. The big man owns the best plus-minus among NHL defenseman (and second-best overall to teammate Tyler Seguin) at +18.
Chara owns one of the highest Relative Corsis (on-ice net total shot differential relative to the off-ice differential) in the League at 19.2. According to a similar metric, (Relative Corsi Quality-of-Competition) he also plays the toughest minutes against the strongest opponents of any member of the B’s. His ability to negate attacking opportunities, deny shots, clog lanes and push opponents to the perimeter is without parallel. He’s the NHL’s premier shutdown defenseman and even without taking his offensive capabilities into account (6-13-19: second in goals, thirteenth in points among blueliners) he’s impossible to replace.
His ability to shut down top attackers is almost incomparable. Just look at what he’s done against Phil Kessel this season and in the past, against the Sedin twins in the Stanley Cup Final, against countless opponents who have earned his attention. Without him, the B’s will find opponents infinitely tougher to match up against. Their ownership of the NHL’s second-best goals allowed per game average is in jeopardy if he doesn’t return soon.
In his lineup spot, 23 year-old second-year defenseman Steven Kampfer will see his first action in almost a month. The mobile youngster won’t be asked to fill Chara’s shoes but hopefully can bring a dynamic puck-moving element the team has lacked this season. In five games thus far, Kampfer has one assist and averaged less than twelve minutes a night.
When the big guy goes down, everyone else has to step up. The Bruins will be without Zdeno Chara for a week and perhaps more. The Bruins’ margin of error just shrunk by 6’9”.