Tuesday night, the Boston Bruins jumped out to a 2-1 first period lead over the St. Louis Blues at TD Garden but could not maintain that lead and the Blues departed Boston with a 4-2 win.
Perhaps, a larger loss looms for the Bruins as veteran defenseman, and team captain, Zdeno Chara left the contest after playing one shift in the second period.
Chara saw a total of 9:04 Time On Ice on the evening. He skated 11 shifts, during which, he put one shot on goal, dished out three hits, and blocked one shot.
Immediately following the game, Boston coach Claude Julien had no update on Chara’s status.
“No, I’ve got nothing on him yet,” Julien said.
Without Chara in the lineup, the Bruins were forced to go with five defensemen for the remainder of the contest.
It was no coincidence that St. Louis was able to take advantage of the situation, scoring three goals in Chara’s absence.
Julien believed that for the most part, the defense adjusted to the challenge of playing without its leader.
“I just think that in the second period, with five D’s (defensemen), we got caught in our own end at times for long periods of time, and then we had some guys that were out there tired, and some of those guys were obviously D’s,” Julien observed. “So it cost us a few goals there, and I think that’s where there was a big difference in the game because overall I thought our first period was good. I thought our third period we did a lot of good things, and again, it’s probably you wish you had better finish on those opportunities. We’re not scoring as much as we should on the kind of quality opportunities we’re getting right now, and that’s coming back to hurt us a little bit. So, I’m not going to criticize the effort. I think overall, we competed against a pretty good hockey club, but at the end of the day, we needed to find that extra goal or those extra couple of goals. But some of those guys on the back end, I thought, did a great job of being challenged at playing more. Joe Morrow (19:24 time on ice) was one of those guys, and Brandon Carlo (20:01) had to step up there, and that’s the first time he’s played without his partner. It just goes to show how important Zee (Chara) is to our hockey club and to Brandon.”
Carlo, a rookie defender, was a minus-3 without his veteran partner.
“I struggled a little bit in the second (period) for sure,” Carlo said. “Definitely some responsibility on me for those goals but I think regardless, I got to play my game and play the right way regardless of who is across from me. Definitely, a little more responsibility on myself to get in better positions and keep those ones (St. Louis goals) out of the net.”
Bruins forward David Backes, who wore the captain’s C for five of his ten seasons with the Blues, knows how Boston may need to respond to the possibility of losing Chara for an extended period of time.
“We’ve got to be smarter when we’re down a man like that, especially a big part of the team like he (Chara) is,” Backes explained. “Hopefully it’s very temporary and he’ll be back in short order, but if not, we’ve got to have different guys pick up the slack and move forward. He’s obviously an awesome player, but we’re going to have injuries to guys and we need to spread the wealth and all shoulder a little bit more load and find ways to win games.”
Boston’s Torey Krug described how Chara’s injury impacted the team during the loss.
“Well, you have a guy (Chara) that you can throw out in any situation and know what you’ll get out of him,” said Krug. “So, it’s tough when a guy like that goes down. But, like anything, we have confidence in the rest of the group to step up. But, it’s definitely a tough one to swallow when a guy that logs a lot of minutes for you goes down early.”
“I mean, he’s a warrior so he’s going to play with whatever (injury) he can. So, if he leaves the game, he’s not feeling too comfortable out there. He’s our captain, our leader, and he plays in all situations. So, when he leaves, it’s noticeable. I thought our guys did a decent job of stepping up but they (St. Louis) scored a couple goals right after he left and that obviously played a part in the game.”
Should Chara miss more time, Krug observed that Boston’s defensemen will need to adjust to their leader’s absence by playing more minutes, which is exactly what they did against St. Louis as Krug led all Bruins skaters with 24:44 time on ice followed by John-Michael Liles (21:52) and Carlo.
“Well, you just simplify things,” Krug said. “I know that, as a group, you kind of have to attack the minutes. It’s a big hole and I think you just simplify your game. You don’t try to do something you don’t normally do and you don’t try to be something that you’re not. I’m not all of a sudden going to become a shutdown defenseman. I just have to be myself and the same goes for the rest of the group in their roles. So, it’s definitely tough when you lose a player like that.”
If there was any doubt as to what Zdeno Chara means to the Boston Bruins, those doubts were dispelled after losing the 39-year-old blue liner for almost an entire two-thirds of the game. He is still a world-class defenseman.
Statistically, Chara is eighth in the NHL with a plus-12 (fifth-best among the League’s rearguards) and 40th among defensemen in time on ice per game with 22:41 but his true value lies in being the leader of a team that is looking to return to the glory days of not too long ago.
Chara has also become a mentor to a defensive group that is young and not as experienced as other blueline corps around the League. One need to only look to the rise to prominence the 19-year-old Carlo has enjoyed as Chara’s defense partner to understand just how much the captain means to the youngster.
The extent of Chara’s injury remains to be seen but if it is a long-term one then Bruins general manager Don Sweeney will need to begin shopping in earnest in order to deliver a gift to his club in the form of a veteran defenseman before Christmas arrives, but beware, the price will be a steep one.
Update: On November 23rd, the Boston Bruins issued the following statement at 10:45 am:
BOSTON, MA – Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced today, November 23, that defenseman Zdeno Chara suffered a lower-body injury in the second period of the team’s game vs. St. Louis on Tuesday, November 22, and will not travel with the team to Ottawa.
The Bruins will provide a further update on Friday, November 25 prior to their game against the Calgary Flames.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.