WILMINGTON — In case you haven’t noticed, Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has been struggling since he returned from a tear in his knee after seven weeks.
In 12 games, he has no goals, five assists and a plus-4 rating. But the numbers don’t tell his story. Since Chara’s return everyone with eyes has seen him struggle to retrieve the puck. He has been losing battles that in the past he would’ve easily won with brute strength. His decision making has also been questionable at best, especially when determining when to pinch. Often he’s gotten rid of the puck too quick for fear of taking a hit.
Luckily, in a Bruins’ dressing room awash in denial — which they’re claiming is confidence in the face of three straight losses, including a total no-show against Carolina on Sunday — Chara isn’t reaching for excuses. He was willing to admit his shortcomings Monday after practice at Ristuccia Arena.
“It’s not there,” Chara said. “Myself, pretty rare that it’s not where I want it to be. So I’ll keep working on it and keep making those adjustments and I’ll be there. It’s just taking a little longer. But that’s not an excuse. You know I just need to get back to my game as quick as possible.”
The Bruins aren’t used to sitting in 10th place in the Eastern Conference on Jan. 5. Typically they’re battling for first place around this time of year. However, they’re not discouraged by their predicament. Coach Claude Julien is even looking on the bright side because he thinks the best of Chara, and in turn the entire team, awaits in the weeks ahead.
“We haven’t had a lot of tough situations that have lasted this long. To be honest with you, we’ve had hard stretches every year where we have to fight through some struggles there. But eventually it turned around,” Julien said. “And I think right now with the way everything’s gone, it just seems like it’s been prolonged much longer than we’ve been used to. Again, we still have some guys, we can look at Zdeno. I still feel he’s one of the best defenders in the League. Yet he’s coming off major [injury]. But you can’t tell me he’s 100 percent after being off for two months and having to make some adjustment there with his equipment because of that injury. So you’re seeing some flaws. It’s not his fault. It’s not because he’s not trying. I think it’s just a matter of, those are the challenges that are realities that we have to kind of try and work through and work with and make things better. Sometimes simplifying certain things about our game as a whole, and making ourselves the best we can in the area of our strength.”
Simplifying things will definitely help the Bruins. The next time you see Chara go deep into the offensive zone with the puck during a penalty kill like he did Sunday should be when he’s retired and playing in an alumni game. It’s time for Chara to improve his game and maybe help bring the best out of his teammates. The captain wouldn’t reveal if anyone has made any rousing speeches to attempt to get the Bruins out of their rut. Still, it’s obvious something motivational has been going on behind closed doors.
“Well, I think that everybody’s responsible to get ready for the games, play his position and obviously there are going to be some breakdowns, there is going to be mistakes made. It’s a game of mistakes,” Chara said. “But at a certain point you have to obviously be vocal and address those repeated mistakes.”