Chara Isn't Just a 6-Foot-9 Frame
BOSTON, MA - You don't always see it, but when it appears, it's mesmerizing.
The big man, 6-foot-9 captain Zdeno Chara, weaving through the defense, backhand, deke to the forehand, backhand, top shelf.
We saw it in 2012-13, with a pirouette highlight reel goal against Florida. And we saw it Saturday night, to cap off a 4-1 win over Detroit at TD Garden, giving the Bruins a 2-0-0 start to their 2013-14 season.
And we may be seeing more of that this season, with Chara in his newly frequented position down low on the power play.
"Not too many challenges when you look at what he’s doing, right?" Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien told media postgame, of having his strongest weapon on defense taking on the forward role during the man-advantage.
Not all power play formations have Chara in that spot, but when they get set up, he owns the front of the net, making it tough on opposing goaltenders like Jimmy Howard.
"They won in every statistic tonight, every battle," Howard said, before giving his thoughts on trying to see around the Bruins' captain.
"It’s not easy when there’s someone that’s 6-foot-9 standing in front of you. It’s something that you’ve got to figure out, and find a way to try and find the puck. But it’s extremely difficult with him in front."
But 'Big Zee' is not just that big body, and that's not the only reason he's in front; he's crafty.
"We talked about that when we first put him there; he’s not just a guy that screens the goaltender," said Julien. "That’s one of his assets, but I talked about how good he was at retrieving pucks. I think you saw that tonight. "
"Not only that – he retrieves them and he puts them in areas where we get control of the puck again. So he’s a smart player up front there."
"The ability that he had to score that goal, he hit the post before, then a nice move again for a goal. He brings a lot more than what people see when they look at a 6’9” player – 'Well they’re just going to put him in front, he’s just going to stand there.' Well he does a lot more than that."
"I’m just trying to work hard and getting to those battles and trying to win them, basically, just work hard," Chara simply said postgame, never one to glorify himself, even if it is with a silky smooth goal showing his soft hands.
In fact, when he scored in a similar fashion last season in Florida, he was surprised when reporters were requesting to speak with him postgame.
"It doesn’t mean that you a man advantage, everything is just going to happen for you," said Chara. "You just have to work really hard and like I said, you have to try to win those battles and races for the pucks and do your best to always score a goal and create something, some scoring chances or shots, or whatever it takes."
And chances are, when you have the defenseman trying to work hard to win a battle, he's going to come out on the winning side.
"Yeah, I think I talked to Krech about it. He was like, ‘What should I do with the puck?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know just give it to Zee and throw it in the corner for him,'" Torey Krug recalled - with a smirk on his face - postgame. "He’s going to win the battle nine out of ten times so it’s nice having him on our side."
Krug had been the benefactor of a Chara power-play screen at 9:11 into the first period, when he lasered in his first NHL regular season goal (he scored his first four NHL-worthy goals within his first five playoff games in 2013).
"It’s a big part of it," Julien said, of Krug's importance on the man-advantage. "You heard me mention before, Zdeno was on the point because we felt we didn’t have a ton of other options, but now we do. And you’ve added a [Dougie] Hamilton to your group, you’ve added a Krug and the mobility has increased back there."
"So that allows us to move him into a position that we thought he’d be better suited for us."
Henrik Zetterberg tied it up, 1-1, before the end of the opening frame, but the Bruins would go on to add the eventual game-winner from Brad Marchand and a karma-worthy one-timer from Jordan Caron, both in the second period and both their first of the regular season.
Chara's power-play tally sealed the 4-1 victory that keeps the Bruins undefeated.
With a constantly strong penalty kill from year to year - and one that killed two 5-on-3's and added two shorthanded goals - in their season opening win on October 3, the B's have worked tirelessly to get their special teams counterparts up to speed.
The Bruins had wanted a better showing from their power play, and better entries into the zone. That got that and more tonight.
"I love watching the power play," smiled Chris Kelly, one of the Bruins' top penalty killers that has helped keep that aspect of special teams so dominant.
"Especially when they’re clicking. That was two huge goals for us tonight, and it ended up being the difference. They’re moving the puck around well and they’re all working the penalty kill," he added, knowing the experience of the other side.
"And that’s a major thing when you’ve got a power play that goes out there, and out-works the other team’s penalty kill."
"We have a good setup. We’re excited about what we can do this year and we have to continue working on it," said Krug. "It’s not just going to continue. To have success like that we have to continue to work on it and keep doing those little things."
The setup, for now, will have Chara as the cornerstone.
"I think, at first, when I introduced it to him, he was okay with it. But I think there was some thinking going on in there and saying, 'Well I’m not quite sure how I’m going to do there,' but he was certainly willing to try it," said Julien, of his Captain in the net-front position.
"After what he’s seen in the preseason and now in some of these games, I think he’s starting to enjoy it."
"Just trying to do my job. Doesn’t matter what position," remarked Chara. "If it’s up front, on the blueline, or whatever it may be."
Whatever it may be, it's working.