When a player in the National Hockey League injures his knee and people start mentioning MCL sprains and other related diagnoses, it is usually a pretty discouraging sign.
After suffering what looked to be a significant knee injury in a 5-3 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 10th, Chara returned to the Bruins' lineup a week later against the Flyers after missing just two games—both of which Boston was able to win in his absence.
It didn't cost the Bruins this time, but the most recent injury to their captain may have opened some eyes in Boston. Zdeno Chara's health is absolutely crucial to the success of the Boston Bruins.
When Chara was sidelined with his knee injury, the Bruins penciled young defenseman Steven Kampfer into the lineup in place of their captain. While Kampfer is a player that has shown promise with his exceptional skating ability and offensive flare, he doesn't suffice as the answer when it's Chara's spot he needs to fill.
Kampfer—as well as most of the other potential options the Bruins have within their system—works well as a replacement when a player like Andrew Ference or Joe Corvo is lost to injury. They are the same styles of players, the ones who rely on their speed and puck-moving ability rather than size and strength.
The Bruins don't have any replacement options with anywhere near the size or strength that Zdeno Chara has. If Chara goes down, the entire dynamic of the defense has to undergo an overhaul.
Last season, the Bruins overcame epic power play struggles to win their first championship in 39 years.
This season, in their efforts to defend their title, the power play has made big strides and is succeeding at a formidable rate. Zdeno Chara is the anchor of that power-play scheme.
Even though the Bruins have diversified their attack on the man advantage, feeding Chara for one-time bombs is still a huge asset on their top power-play unit. Without his monster slap shot, opposing penalty killers could collapse around the net and eliminate the doorstep chances that have opened up for the Bruins this season.
If Chara isn't healthy, the Bruins could see their power-play woes start to resurface once again.
Boston was able to win its two games last week without their captain pulling on the Bruins sweater. Still, they gave up over 40 shots in each of those contests and leaned on the shoulders of Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas to earn wins against Los Angeles and Ottawa, respectively.
It was clear that the B's were missing Chara in their defensive zone. At 6'9", Chara's reach and athleticism do wonders in limiting the space that opponents have in the dangerous areas of the ice. He minimizes the frequency with which an opponent can get to the front of the net, and even when the shots are coming in from the perimeter, he does a great job of blocking those pucks with his massive frame.
Without Chara in the lineup, the Bruins begin to depend on their goaltending more than they'd like. Just because they have the best goaltending duo in the NHL, it doesn't mean they can ask those net-minders to bail them out on a nightly basis.
It has become pretty commonplace to see elite stars in the NHL experience serious struggles against the Bruins' towering captain. Zdeno Chara has been nothing short of masterful when it comes to shutting down players like Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Steven Stamkos, and virtually anyone that looks to lead his team past the Bruins with his lethal skills.
The stars just seem to get frustrated at the fact that they cannot crack the code against Chara. Thanks to the Bruins coaching staff, he is put out there in situations that allow him to match up against those top offensive players on the other side. More often than not, it is Chara who wins those battles.
Without him in the lineup, the Bruins become a team susceptible to being beaten by a superstar. One guy—a very skilled guy, at that—can go out there and dance around all five players for a goal. With Chara on the ice, he ensures that a given superstar will only dance around a maximum of four players.
No one dances around Chara.
When it comes down to it, Zdeno Chara is simply too important for the Bruins to survive without him. For anyone who doubted anything from the decision to name him captain years ago up until the big contract he signed last season—Chara answered the critics, once and for all.
Whether he is logging insane amounts of ice time, stepping up and dropping the gloves, blasting home a power play goal, shutting down the opponents' top line, defending his goaltender, offering advice to young teammates or simply busting his tail to touch up an icing—there is nothing more valuable than the total package Chara brings to the table.
He is a leader in all of these ways—important from a physical, mental and emotional standpoint—and the Boston Bruins will be in big trouble if he isn't able to stay healthy.
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