The Boston Bruins earned their first win in three games since returning from the two-week Olympic break with an impressive win over the New York Rangers. It was impressive because they were able to explode for six goals against one of the premier goalies in the NHL, Henrik Lundqvist. However, despite their offensive explosion, Boston once again had multiple defensive breakdowns in the game, leading to several one-on-one chances for Rangers players against Tuukka Rask. Fortunately for the Bruins, Rask was able survive the onslaught of shots by New York, stopping 39 of the 42 shots he faced.
Having looked as bad as they have on defense, it would be logical that the first solution to come to mind is to lean on the team’s best defensive player, captain Zdeno Chara. The problem however is that Chara is a big reason the team is uncharacteristically allowing an average of four goals a game in their last three games.
Chara has never been mistaken for having blazing speed, but his excellent decision making and his ability to cover so much space with his massive wingspan makes up for his lack of quickness. In his last three games however, poor decision making has made Chara’s lack of make-up speed glaring. Perhaps the most conspicuous case of this came in their last game against the Rangers when Chara tried to make a no-look, spinning pass that led to a scoring chance by New York. Poor decisions like that have made it abundantly clear that “big Z”, needs a big rest.
Going into the Olympic break, it was always a concern that the 36-year-old Chara would be worn down after playing a lot for Slovakia in Sochi and being his country’s flag bearer during the opening ceremony of the Olympics. That fear has become a reality, as Chara has clearly not been playing his normal shutdown defense.
If the Bruins expect to make another deep playoff run, they need Chara to be at his best, and the only way to ensure that, is having him be a healthy scratch in a couple of games down the stretch. There are less extreme measures the team could take, such as giving him less time on the power-play and letting him skip a few practices, but with such a busy schedule in the month of March that will not be enough. The team needs to give him entire games off.
The Bruins are six-points ahead of the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division, with three games in hand, so they do have some wiggle room when it comes to the top spot in their division. So while it is nice to be playing well down the stretch, the breathing room Boston has over the second place Canadiens should allow them to be alright if they do lose a couple of games because Chara is missing in the lineup.
It basically comes down to this; having a fully rested Chara in the playoffs is far more important than winning as many games as they can in the regular season. Do not be surprised if coach Claude Julien gives Chara less playing time and even gives him a night or two off in the Bruins remaining 22-games.