Zdeno Chara is one of the most recognizable players in the NHL and coming in at 6-foot-9, 256 pounds, there is no doubt why this is the case.
In addition to being the largest man ever to play in the NHL, Chara is also recognized as having the fastest slap shot among NHL players. His record 108.8 mph slap shot has opposing goalies, and their masks (see Henrik Lundqvist), hoping they won’t have to see Chara on the blue-line winding up during a power-play. If this preseason is any indication, they should be careful what they wish for.
It’s a move many Boston Bruins fans have been calling for, ever since the injury to Marc Savard left the Bruins power-play looking about as effective as John Scott during a shootout. This preseason the Bruins have rotated Chara down from the blue line to the front of the net in an attempt to bolster a much-maligned man advantage. The move paid off in their last preseason game as Chara scored one of his two goals on the night stationed in front of the net during the Bruins power-play. Judging from the success that has come with Chara in front of the net it seems hard to believe the team won’t continue to use him down low.
The advantage of having Chara parked in front of the net on the power-play were no more evident than in last year’s playoffs. In game 7 of last year’s first round playoff matchup against the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Bruins capped off one of the greatest comebacks in postseason history, scoring three straight goals in the third period with Zdeno blocking the view of Toronto goalie James Reimer on the tying goal.
With Chara in front of the net, the Bruins will have better chances at getting pucks past opposing goaltenders. And if you’re worried the Bruins captain may not be comfortable playing down low, in an interview following the last preseason game Chara said, “Wherever the coaching staff decides to use me, I’m fine with that. Right now, we’re trying different looks on the power play and one of them is in front. And 5-on-3 I was back on the point.” So any question about Chara’s willingness to play in front were answered.
It is worthy to note that there are a few downsides to having their best defenseman in front of the net. For one, losing the threat of the fastest slap shot in the league could be cause for concern. Also, Chara is routinely among the top players in the NHL in minutes played and is counted on as a tone setter for the physical Bruins defense. Adding to his already huge workload could wear him down later in the season. Furthermore, as Bruins fans saw first hand with Gregory Campbell, finding yourself in the path of an oncoming slap shot can cause serious injury. The question that needs to be answered however, is whether or not the advantages of having Chara play in front of the net outweigh the negatives.
If you’re still trying to find the answer, let me help you: the answer is yes. The Bruins power-play over the last few years has been awful and that’s putting it nicely. Beginning in the ’09-’10 season, the Bruins have finished 23rd, 20th, 15th, and 26th in the league respectively in power-play percentage. The team needs to try different formations out on the man advantage other than having the forwards pass the puck around the perimeter of the umbrella, ultimately ending with a slap shot from Chara clanking off high glass behind the goalie. Having a 6-foot-9 wall obstructing the view of the other team’s goalie will surely help one of the worst power-plays in the league.
The good news for fans is the power-play has looked better this preseason, in large part (they don’t call him “Big Z” for nothing) because Chara has moved from the point to the front of the net on the power-play. Only time will tell if the team continues to send Chara in front of the goalie, but if they do, look for the team to finish much higher than 26th in the league in power-play percentage.