Why it took time for Bruins captain Zdeno Chara to return to form

Matt Kalman
February 27, 2019 - 1:19 pm

Maybe you’ve noticed.

Or maybe you’re so determined to look at the negative side of everything you’ve ignored Zdeno Chara’s return to form as one of the best shutdown defenders in the NHL.

Admittedly it was a slow progression from where Chara was when he returned after missing 19 games because of an MCL tear to where he is now.

As it turned out, what was described publicly by the Bruins as just an “injury to his left MCL” was actually a tear that fell somewhere between a second- or third-degree tear, with third degree being the most severe type of tear, Chara explained to WEEI.com this week.

So you have to understand that Chara not only had to rest and rehabilitate for five weeks between games, but had to get used to the knee being healthy and still healing a bit after he returned to the lineup Dec. 27.

For a couple weeks attacking players were taking advantage of Chara by dumping the puck behind him or through his legs, knowing they’d be able to get past him before he could turn. A couple members of the Philadelphia Flyers were even overheard talking about that as a key piece of their strategy.

That strategy has gone by the wayside for opponents. And as Chara proved against San Jose’s Evander Kane on Tuesday, fighting isn’t an issue either.

“Oh definitely, when you have injury, you know, you kind of – I don’t want to be saying the word scared –  but you’re very much aware of your injury and then it’s just a matter of … everything needs to settle,” Chara told WEEI.com. “One thing, if you feel better on the bike, you’re lifting weights and all that stuff, but when it comes down to pivoting and doing all that kind of rotating stuff, you have to have be kind of always thinking about it and it takes a while. They usually say it’s four, five, six weeks to be back skating, but then it takes probably another two, three weeks, four weeks sometimes, to absolutely feel that it’s healed properly to perform at a really high level. So I think that there is no secret when I first came back, first of all you were dealing with missing six weeks of not playing, so you’re trying to get in as far as timing and get back to playing.

“But then also you’re dealing with kind of your own issue with that injury that it’s maybe not quite 100 percent healed and it’s kind of like needing a little bit more attention, a little bit more time. … But that time’s going to be during the playing now. So, yeah, it’s one of those that I felt the last three, four weeks I felt much, much better than obviously my first three, four weeks when I came back.

“Because it’s just the nature of it. It takes time. No matter what you do on the ice, practicing, or off the ice in treatments or strengthening, just the mechanics just needs to kind of settle it and just get used to it again that ‘OK, it’s just been injured and needs some time.’”

Chara, 41, holds himself to a high standard. His struggles in the early part of his return caused coach Bruce Cassidy to keep him away from the Calgary Flames’ No. 1 line on Jan. 3 and switch up the defense pairs a couple times over the course of January so that Chara had defensive-minded Brandon Carlo to his right instead of the more offensively aggressive Charlie McAvoy.

But Chara and McAvoy seem attached at the hip again, and opposing top lines are being stifled again. Chara’s revitalization is a product of his hard work and downright Zen-like attitude that kept him from getting frustrated.

“I mean these things happen. Those MCLs happen all the time,” Chara said. “It’s just one of those ligaments that for skating it’s so crucial and you need it so much, that if it’s not completely healed and kind of like you don’t have that strength in that MCL, you’re going to feel that kind of little bit of weakness or kind of like a slower kickback when you pull the leg or try to push off and bring it back. So it’s just the nature of it.”

The nature of it was unfortunate because it kept Chara out of the Bruins’ lineup for more than a month. But the timing was right because now Chara’s ready to handle all the difficult defensive assignments during the stretch run and into the playoffs.

“It was kind of a bigger tear than we expected and luckily, looking at the review, it could’ve been much, much worse for the whole knee,” he said.

It’s time to start noticing that Chara is again the Bruins’ No. 1 shutdown defender.

 

 

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