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What We Learned: Time for Zdeno Chara to rest

Ryan Lambert
Puck Daddy
Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask of Finland is congratulated by defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) of Slovakia after their 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in an NHL hockey game in Boston Thursday, March 13, 2014

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Boston Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask of Finland is congratulated by defenseman Zdeno Chara (33) of Slovakia after their 2-1 win over the Phoenix Coyotes in an NHL hockey game in Boston Thursday, March 13, 2014. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)

Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.

The acquisition of Andrej Meszaros from the Flyers at the trade deadline -- for a conditional third-round pick that will likely come in the late 80s or perhaps even early 90s, and therefore amounts to peanuts as far as the Bruins are concerned -- was designed to do one very specific thing for the Bruins: Give them flexibility on the blue line.

The season-ending injury to Dennis Seidenberg just two days after Christmas had many wondering about just how reasonably the team could continue to defend over the remainder of the season, and this was an issue that went largely unaddressed apart from the AHL call-up of the since-extended Kevan Miller.

By trading for Meszaros, Peter Chiarelli was effectively giving Claude Julien the ability to swap out a defenseman every once in a while. And do that he has, using Meszaros in spots to spell Dougie Hamilton twice and then Torey Krug once before returning him to the press box for Saturday's game against Carolina, which the Bruins predictably won by a wide margin, and outshot their opponents by a wider one.

The idea to scratch Hamilton and Krug both was apparently performance-related; but Hamilton really hadn't been so bad that one should have scratched him in favor of, say, Miller or Matt Bartkowski, but the Bruins are very much rolling these days anyhow. The Carolina win was their eighth in a row, and during that time they've capitalized on other teams' recent struggles significantly, stretching their lead in the division to 15 points through the conclusion of games on Saturday — i.e. all but assuring they're the top seed in it — and in the conference, which matters far less in the grand scheme, to three points, albeit with Pittsburgh holding a game in hand. During this run of success, they've outscored opponents 28-11 and outattempted them at even strength 399-326 (55 percent) despite score effects stating they should be playing more defensively. In short, they're playing hockey so revelatory that nothing can prevent them from running their opponents out of the building.

And given that as well as how strongly they've built this insurmountable divisional lead, one would think Meszaros, who has likewise been perfectly since coming to Boston, would be used a little more liberally to spell easily the biggest and perhaps the most important cog in this possession machine: Zdeno Chara.

You'll recall that one of the things lazier commentators pointed to in their frantic search for the reason the Bruins got pushed around in the final three games of the Stanley Cup Final was that Chara had been overused too often and was therefore tired (and also he had a pretty serious hip injury that limited his mobility and which Chicago exploited to perfection). He had, in fact, been used 25 minutes or more in a single game 27 times in the regular season and another 18 in the playoffs, including seven in which he went north of 30, and two on the wrong side of 40.

But there was a nugget of truth in that finger-pointing — if you want to call it that — insofar as Chara is now a 36-year-old man, and while still an elite defenseman, might not be able to run quite so long and far and fast as he once did. This is a concern which isn't exactly new, either. It's just that the Bruins haven't exactly done all in their power to give the guy what is a much-needed rest. Not lately, and not all season. In fact, he's already played more of his 63 games with 25 minutes or more this year (30) than he did in 82 last year, and only 11 of them came after the Seidenberg injury, which one might assume necessitated a little more use. The Bruins graciously gave him two days off to go be the Slovakian flag-bearer at the Olympics, and he missed one other game (on Jan. 1) with an undisclosed issue, and other than that he's been the same old warhorse. Then, y'know, he played 23:31 a night in the Olympics.

But sometimes, you gotta take even the trustiest of warriors off the front lines for a little while. With Meszaros now in the fold and the top spot in the division all but assured, it would behoove Julien to mix in a day of rest for Chara every several games the rest of the way. Fitness freak though he may be, maybe the extra time off afforded him by the addition of a new and healthy defenseman would do him more good than it would, say, Hamilton, who is 21 years old and who necessarily didn't play badly enough to warrant the two-game exile to the land of free popcorn and hot dogs.

The games the Bruins will play over the next month are largely meaningless. Many of them are also on the road. Many of them are also against teams which could best be categorized as “not very good.” Your Phoenixes and Washingtons and Torontos and Winnipegs and Buffaloes.

It's easy to see why the Bruins would, of course, not want to sit their captain and world-beating, star-destroying defenseman. He's really good, he gives them a really good chance to win most games. All that stuff. Yeah. But also the fact that even one game of the Bruins rolling a six-man D unit ofHamilton, Bartkowski, Meszaros, Krug, Miller, and Johnny Boychuk is enough to give a coach a season's worth of screaming night terrors. Chara's not playing this much at his age because Julien feels like doing it for fun. It's out of necessity to some extent.

But that necessity isn't quite so great now as it was, say, in December or January, when things in the division in particular were a lot more tenuous. The Bruins have won 17 of their last 23 games, and lost three more in overtime. That's points from 20 out of 23 and Chara has been a monster in just about all of them, except those two right before the Olympics. In those 21 games he played, he's 53.4 percent corsi at evens, against the toughest competition every night (and he's only been below water in six of those games, and north of 60 percent in seven).

As far as I'm concerned, he's once again as legitimate a Norris Trophy candidate as anyone in the league, and he's taken the Bruins a lot farther than they probably should have gone defensively given the way in which injuries have hit their blue line. As such, it's pretty clear he's earned a game or three off. The Bruins can afford it now. They won't be able to say the same when the playoffs start.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Shots were 38-20 but the Ducks beat the Kings anyway. Wins are the ultimate stat.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins' opponents now seem to be targeting defensemen. Johnny Boychuk went into the boards with his feet taking the brunt of the punishment, missed a little while, came back into the game, and immediately took a slap shot off the foot. That's hockey. Boychuk on the incident: “You can’t really do anything but laugh. You get it on the same side and it hurts so bad that you just have to laugh at it.”

Buffalo Sabres: “The Sabres haven't been much to see of late either.” Uh well, it depends how you define “of late.” The last two seasons? You got it.

Calgary Flames: The Flames entered the third period with Phoenix on Saturday looking at a 2-2 tie. Then they took six penalties and lost 3-2. That's to be expected.

Carolina Hurricanes: Cam Ward gave up five goals on 41 shots, and lost for the eighth time in the last 11 games in which he's played. That's not very good at all. He has an .893 save percentage this season, and is now down to .909 for his career.

Chicago Blackhawks: Joel Quenneville went into Sunday maaaaaaaad the his team. They knew it, too.

Colorado Avalanche: Really interesting look at why the Avs are dead meat in the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Ryan Johansen made everyone upset with this shootout winner but after a long deliberation they allowed it to count. Initially it looked like Darcy Kuemper touched it but he in fact did not.

Dallas Stars: Kari Lehtonen is closer to coming back and that's bad news for anyone the Stars play down the stretch here. They've been pretty damn good of late.

Detroit Red Wings: The Red Wings would really like to keep that playoff streak of theirs alive. You don't say.

Edmonton Oilers: It's now just about time for Oilers fans to turn their sights to drafting really high once again. At least this time they're looking at a defenseman. You have to wonder how much they regret taking Nail Yakupov instead of Ryan Murray when they had the chance. The idea of a Ryan Murray-Aaron Ekblad top pairing for the next decade seems like it would be a nice one.

Florida Panthers: Sure it's funny that the Canucks and Panthers played each other so soon after that big trade, but it would have been funnier if it had been in Vancouver. Luongo's going to ride into that town with palm leaves thrown down before him by disgruntled Canucks fans.

Los Angeles Kings: “Controversy aside.” Yes the refs disallowed a clear goal in a one-goal game. So, I don't know how you separate out the controversy from the result.

Minnesota Wild: The Wild sure do like losing in the shootout lately. They've played in three over their last four games, and lost all of them. Moreover, the most recent one was the first time this year a team built a 2-0 shootout lead and still lost in it.

Montreal Canadiens: The vision by PK Subban on this pass to David Desharnais for the game-tying goal, in this situation, is wonderful. Three assists for Subban in the game. What a player.

Nashville Predators, America's Favorite Hockey Team: The Predators haven't won at home since the end of February, and that was five games ago. Losing to St. Louis anywhere, though, isn't necessarily the worst thing to happen. They beat everyone.

New Jersey Devils: Man am I gonna miss ol' Double-J.

New York Islanders: “When the New York Islanders’ lead was cut in half in the opening minute of the third period, the sense of impending doom began wafting through Nassau Coliseum.” Good thing they were playing the Sabres. They won 4-1 in the end.

New York Rangers: A week after getting his 300th win, which is a milestone in and of itself, Henrik Lundqvist has now picked up his 301st victory. This is important because it ties Mike Richter's franchise record.

Ottawa Senators: Oh, Clarke. No, buddy. Don't.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are fascinated by the idea of this playoff format. Scott Hartnell says “it's leveled the playing field for all teams” which I don't think is all that true but okay sure.

Phoenix Coyotes: It's actually kind of surprising to me that Shane Doan only has 350 career goals, quite frankly. Dude's been around for-ev-er.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Chris Kunitz still dealing with a lower body injury, James Neal with a concussion. As referenced above, the conference title might not be available to them any more thanks to the Bruins' run here. Problems at the wrong time, for sure.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks are just 3 for 46 on the power play since the start of February. Seems like that's too good a team to go 6.5 percent up a man for that long. They'll have like three games in a row of going 2 for 4 and sort it all out soon.

St. Louis Blues: The Blues went 5-0 against the Preds this season, and had a ton of fans in Nashville to help them get there. It's the first time sweeping a team they played five or more times in a season since they went 8-0 against the Kings in 1969-70. They're a good team it seems like.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Ben Bishop just set the franchise record by winning his 31st game of the season. And, y'know, they have 15 games left.

Toronto Maple Leafs: MLSE wants to upgrade BMO Field, where Toronto FC plays, so that it can host a Winter Classic. Finally, the Leafs will get that Winter Classic they've long deserved but they've never played in one somehow unless you count that one they just played which I do not.

Vancouver Canucks: Markus Naslund may or may not be coming back to Vancouver, in a front-office capacity. Mike Gillis said he'd reach out, but Naslund's not ready to commit to anything for reasons you probably understand.

Washington Capitals: Don't hold your breath.

Winnipeg Jets: Ondrej Pavelec and Chris Thorburn both missed last night's game with Dallas and will miss the next one as well. I'm not sure how much this actually hurts the Jets.

Play of the Weekend

Just like they drew it up.

Gold Star Award

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Shout out to Shannon Szabados for making her pro debut in the SPHL on Saturday.

Minus of the Weekend

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Get over it.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Eric Sachs” would love to bring the prodigal son back to New Jersey.

]to nj: david clarkson and nazem kadri
to toronto: michael rider, steve gionta, 30th overall[


I know when I'm being lied to. It's like when I look at myself in the mirror and say, “It's going to be okay.”

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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