Wife’s sleeping, baby’s sleeping … so it’s time to break down the Bruins’ weekend split in Prague.
•Zdeno Chara knows how to celebrate a contract extension. Sure, he looked a step behind after a quick start in the opener. The whole team looked like it had used up all its energy in the game’s first five minutes. But he fired seven shots in the second-game win, was joining the play every chance he had and was a physical force in the Bruins’ end.
If this is the new, super-motivated Chara that’s going to make an all-out campaign for the Norris for 82 games this season, the Bruins are going to benefit at both ends of the rink.
As for the contract, there’s an obvious risk involved in giving anyone a seven-year deal. But for what Chara brings to the team, the annual cap hit of a little less than $7 million is reasonable, even if he wears down in the second half of the deal. The Bruins still have plenty of flexibility under the cap for next year and beyond, even when you factor in Patrice Bergeron’s new deal. As long as the Bruins continue to draft and sign young prospects and hit on a couple them, they’ll be fine.
For those against the Chara deal, close your eyes and picture the Bruins next fall without him. After all, at least 10 teams would’ve lined up to sign him for a similar contract. Do the Bruins replace him by signing Tomas Kaberle or Andrei Markov? Do they trade for Sheldon Souray? Ugh. The Bruins without Zdeno Chara return to being a laughingstock and general manager Peter Chiarelli’s credibility goes right out the window. By doing this deal, Chiarelli gives himself a fighting chance to survive on the job long enough to see how it plays out. If Chara is skating opposite Drew Doughty next season, Chiarelli’s polishing up his resume.
•You have to love the way the team bounced back after the letdown in Game One. Obviously, it helped that head coach Claude Julien juggled his lineup and even sat out Daniel Paille after a lackluster season-opener by the veteran winger. Paille was such an important player last season on the PK and even at even strength (playing up in the lineup often). Julien’s usually so loyal to his vets, but now he has showed he’s really willing to scratch guys that don’t perform their task to the best of their ability. It’s no coincidence Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler were throwing their weight around Sunday.
•The overreacting mathematicians in the audience are projecting a triple-digit goal total for Nathan Horton — somewhat tongue in cheek — after his three goals in two games. No doubt, he has looked like the real deal and a guy that can make David Krejci into a No. 1 center. Horton came just shy of the third NHL hat trick of his career. Other than those two games, he has only scored three goals in a two-game span two other times.
I don’t want to put a wet blanket over the downright giddy winger, but I’ll start doing his goal-production projections after 20, 25 games. Let’s see if he can keep it up and prove those that have doubted his focus and interest wrong.
•I cannot overlook how Gregory Campbell — the “throw-in” in the Horton deal — looked this weekend. He made the best of a bad situation by trying to fire up the team with a fight on Saturday. He turned things around after a 4-for-14 faceoff game Saturday with 8-for-10 Sunday. And, most important, he was able to combine with Shawn Thornton and Brad Marchand Sunday to give the Bruins the only type of fourth line they can succeed with — one that forechecks with fury, keeps teams hemmed into their own end and limits its mistakes. Could Campbell become the “Mike Lowell” of the Horton deal? Not to the extent that Lowell re-emerged as a star in a Red Sox uniform, but a young, energetic fourth-line center that comes relatively cheap under the cap is a key ingredient in any championship-caliber club.
•I’m not too concerned with the no fewer than four golden scoring chances Phoenix had while on the penalty kill. Sure, the Coyotes scored just three shorthanded goals all of last year with mostly the same cast. But they have excellent defensive forwards in Vernon Fiddler and newly signed Eric Belanger, and they were obviously taking advantage of a timid Boston power play with some aggressive pursuit of the puck. Boston’s point men are going to have to work to build up some better chemistry this week.
•Can everyone stop reacting to every giveaway by a defenseman the way you treat an interception in football. Over the course of 60 minutes of high-paced, high-level hockey, every defenseman is going to put the puck on the wrong stick a couple times. Now there are unforced errors and forced ones. If a guy is just coughing it up with no opponents near him, that’s one thing. But unless you’re going to laud a guy every time he makes a crisp first pass, you can’t fry a guy every time his pass is an inch off. Remember, if a team has its third pair out there, there should be some onus on the forwards to help out more as well.
The Bruins will return to the ice for practice Wednesday after two days off.