The first 30 minutes of Zdeno Chara‘s return could not have been much shakier. On his fourth shift Thursday night, Chara committed a bad turnover in his own end that led to a great chance for Marian Hossa. Thankfully for Chara, Tuukka Rask bailed him out with a great toe save.
A few minutes later, Chara tried to cover for Dougie Hamilton after Hamilton misplayed a puck in the Bruins zone, but Chara wasn’t able to get position on Brandon Saad and wound up taking a hooking penalty. Chara then took another penalty 8:50 into the second when he shot the puck over the glass on a clearing attempt, giving Chicago an extended 5-on-3.
It wasn’t the start Chara would have liked, but it shouldn’t have been surprising either. After all, this was Chara’s first game in nearly two months, and it came against arguably the best team in the NHL. A little rust while getting up to game speed should have been expected.
“It was exciting to be playing a game, that’s for sure,” Chara said. “There’s no secret that I felt the absence of missing a good chunk of time. I’m not going to make excuses. Just you have those games that you have to break in.”
And rest assured, as the game went on Chara broke in. After that second penalty, he was a noticeably positive force for the Bruins. He was reading plays better and winning pucks, and he looked calmer with the puck on his stick.
As he usually does, Chara made plays that helped the Bruins spend more time in the offensive zone than their own zone. He ended up playing 24:11 in the game (second on the Bruins behind only Hamilton) and finished with a 65-percent Corsi-for rating (tied with Zach Trotman for tops among Bruins defensemen). And he did it while playing his usual tough minutes against the opponent’s top lines.
“As the game went on I felt better and better,” Chara said. “But yeah, it’s something that you can’t just read plays just by practicing. You’ve just got to play the games.”
Chara will only continue to get better as he gets more game action under his belt, but if his progression from the start of Thursday’s game to the end of it was any indication, it won’t be long at all until he’s in top form.
Chara in top form doesn’t solve all the Bruins’ issues — like the fact that they only have two dependable lines right now, for instance. But it does make a huge difference on the back end.
It gives the B’s a true top pairing (Chara-Hamilton) that can match up against all the league’s best lines again. It allows Dennis Seidenberg and Torey Krug to play easier minutes that should help them shake some of their early-season struggles. And it creates a healthy competition between Trotman, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski and Joe Morrow for the fifth and sixth spots.
“It was very important for us I think,” Krug said of Chara’s return. “Obviously he does what he does on the ice, but in the locker room, on the bench, he speaks a lot and he communicates very well, so it was a big emotional lift for our team.”