Chara (leg) likely to miss time
This week, the Bruins will learn what life is like without arguably their most important player.
Because of a leg injury, Zdeno Chara likely will not be available for games against Los Angeles, Ottawa, and Philadelphia, according to a source with knowledge of the diagnosis. If Chara’s recovery goes well, the captain could return against Montreal at TD Garden Dec. 19. The Bruins could also choose to keep Chara out of uniform until after Christmas to give his injury more time to heal. They resume play after the holiday break Dec. 28 against Phoenix.
Chara suffered the injury during a power play in the second period of Saturday night’s 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena. Chara skated off the ice, then walked to the dressing room without assistance.
After the game, Chara was walking without noticeable discomfort. He was examined by team doctors yesterday in Boston.
Given the expected duration of Chara’s absence, the captain could have suffered a knee sprain, which usually requires two weeks of recovery.
Since 2006-07, Chara’s first season in Boston, the Bruins have been built around the No. 1 defenseman and goalie Tim Thomas. Thomas helped Chara win the Norris Trophy in 2009. In turn, Chara’s shutdown presence was a significant factor in Thomas’s pair of Vezina Trophies. And last season, Thomas and Chara led the Bruins to the Stanley Cup.
If Thomas were to suffer an injury, the Bruins could turn to Tuukka Rask and expect adequate, if not excellent, goaltending. The Bruins do not have a reasonable stand-in for Chara, who is coach Claude Julien’s first man over the boards for all situations: five-on-five, power play, penalty kill.
Through 28 games, Chara has six goals and 13 assists while averaging 24:48 of ice time. He leads the Bruins with four power-play goals. Chara and partner Johnny Boychuk have been responsible for matching up against opposing top forwards, most recently Rick Nash and Jeff Carter on Saturday.
Starting tomorrow against Los Angeles, the Bruins will need Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, and Andrew Ference to assume greater shutdown responsibilities. Anze Kopitar, the Kings’ No. 1 center, leads the team with 10 goals and 18 assists in 29 games.
On Saturday, Seidenberg led all players with 26:20 of ice time. Boychuk was second on the team with 22:40, while Ference submitted a 22:03 workload.
Steven Kampfer, who hasn’t played since Nov. 17 against Columbus, will dress as the sixth defenseman tomorrow. He has one assist in five games this season while averaging 11:48 of ice time. Chara’s absence will also require one of the team’s four right-shot defensemen to switch to the left side.
Offensively, Ference and Joe Corvo will assume more power-play responsibilities. Ference replaced Chara at the point on the No. 1 power-play unit against the Blue Jackets. Corvo pumped in two strikes on Saturday, including the game-winner on the power play. The Bruins could also move Patrice Bergeron to the point on the man-advantage.
“Hopefully he doesn’t miss too many games, right?’’ said Rask after Saturday’s win. “I don’t know what happened. I got pushed away from my seat there on the bench and he ran away. Obviously, you don’t want to be missing your captain for that many games.’’
Chara didn’t miss any regular-season games last season because of injury. Julien scratched Chara for the regular-season finale to give him a breather heading into the playoffs. In the first round against Montreal, Chara was unavailable for Game 2 because of a virus.
Pulling his weight
During a six-game stretch in late October and early November, Benoit Pouliot was in suit and tie, banished to the press box as the 13th forward. Most recently, Pouliot replaced Brad Marchand on the No. 2 power-play unit.
Clearly, Pouliot is doing many things right.
“Feels great,’’ Pouliot said of the increased workload. “It’s something I’ve always wanted. Now with the coach, I feel like he’s not too scared about putting me out there in different situations. I try to do the job as much as I can. Sometimes it’s a little more defensively. Sometimes it’s a little more offense with the speed and the forecheck. I can’t complain at all.’’
Saturday night marked Pouliot’s 13th straight game in uniform. He has found a home on the No. 3 line alongside Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley, as an even-strength skater. Because the coaching staff leans on Kelly and Peverley for penalty-killing duties, Pouliot finds himself on the bench for more shifts than he’d like.
To reward Pouliot and to feed him extra shifts, Julien inserted him on the power play. Prior to Corvo’s winning power-play goal, Pouliot gained net-front position on defensemen Marc Methot and James Wisniewski. Goalie Curtis Sanford had to fight through Pouliot’s screen and couldn’t get on a bead on Corvo’s point shot.
Pouliot might not have Marchand’s stick skills and tenacity around the net. But Pouliot has a bigger frame that can be hard to shove out of the way when he’s committed to playing physically.
“I thought he was skating well,’’ Julien said. “I decided to put him on the power play. He’s another guy that can do the job. That was his opportunity to go out there and take somebody’s spot. He did a great job of responding.’’
Some time off
The Bruins were given yesterday off. Julien noted on Saturday that his players looked tired following five games in eight nights. They will practice today at Ristuccia Arena, and travel to Ottawa after tomorrow’s game. They will remain in Canada’s capital for practices Thursday and Friday before traveling to Philadelphia for Saturday’s matinee against the Flyers . . . On Friday, the Bruins will practice at the Canadian International Hockey Academy in Rockland, Ontario, approximately 30 minutes east of Ottawa. The CIH Academy is a hockey-focused boarding school for grades 9-12.