What happened to the Boston Bruins defense towers, Captain Zdeno Chara and his shutdown defensive disciple Brandon Carlo?
Following the Bruins’ 3-2 loss in Game 2 to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night, Bruins fans focused on the lightning rod that is Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask. Flapping his gums about the fanless atmosphere and the lack of juice it provided, the sometimes Fabulous Finn served up an arsenal of ammunition to the vast number of distractors who are openly rooting for the Vezina Trophy finalist to fail.
Rask not only fanned the flames for those who look to roast him, but he also put himself on the spit and placed an apple in his mouth for good measure. While the wailing will continue until he hangs up his black and gold jersey for good, Rask not getting turned on by playing in front of a rink full of tarps instead of rowdy fans, ranks pretty low on the list of problems facing the Boston Bruins.
No, the real issues lie in the spotty team defense in front of him.
The most alarming issues are the apparent calcification of future first-ballot Hall of Famer Zdeno Chara and the disappearance of the shutdown defender Brandon Carlo. Through the first two games of the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy tried to limit the exposure of his 43-year-old captain.
Cassidy reduced the minutes of the formerly most-feared defenseman in hockey to that of a bottom-pairing blueliner. Chara has largely been relegated to a penalty-killing specialist. There is not much more the B’s bench boss can do when it comes to the prideful former Norris Trophy winner’s current level of play.
Cassidy gave an honest assessment of Chara’s game in the playoffs so far but was sure not to single him out either.
“He’s not exactly where he wants to be, like a lot of guys,” Cassidy said. “…Zee will always give you that. He’s working out, he’s a machine. I think he missed maybe one day because his test result didn’t come back on time. This guy is a dedicated guy. He knows he needs to put the work in, and he did on the ice again today. I thought he was better yesterday, and it’s progressively gotten better each game.”
The NHL continues to be a faster league every year. With young and lean players in the playoffs who had five months of rest, ‘Big Zee’ has struggled to keep up. Cassidy acknowledged Chara’s lack of speed but also made sure to show the value he still has to the Bruins.
Cassidy gave a lengthy answer elder statesman. Here is the full text:
“There’s a lot of speed in the game right now because everyone is fresh, but those bigger bodies, as you know over the years, come in handy as the playoffs go along and the pace slows down a little bit. The inside ice becomes tougher to get to and the will to get there … and that’s where (Zdeno Chara) becomes a force.”
We know that. He’s still a great penalty killer. I thought he moved the puck a little quicker against a quick forecheck the other night that you know is one of their hallmarks of their team. Carolina gets behind you and gets on you, so Zee’s game is progressing. He’s giving us what he’s got.
We have to make sure we don’t put him in spots where he has to play too many minutes. I think we’ve done a good job with that. It would be nice to have a lead for a longer period of time. That’s when he plays his best.
We haven’t done much of that unfortunately in that scenario of our game. We have to get better so guys like the fourth line, guys like Zee and Carlo that are great defenders and hard to get inside, they shine more in those circumstances (and) not when you’re playing from behind. So, it’s a bit of a factor here as well.
I anticipate that he’ll even get better tomorrow – be ready to go. Look, Svechnikov had a good day yesterday against us. So, we have to make sure we have a big body on him tomorrow. I don’t know–they’ll have last change–if they’ll get Svechnikov away from (Chara). But that’s a good matchup for Zee, and hopefully, he’s up for it.”
What should be even more concerning is the regression that has taken place during the return to play from the 23-year-old Carlo. After signing a two-year bridge deal last summer, which is worth an average of $2.85 million, the 6-foot-5 D-man seemed poised to pick up a good portion of the slack created by Chara’s steady decline. His play in the regular season before the pandemic only reinforced that assumption.
What happened in the four-month COVID-19 stoppage that has made Carlo a shell of himself, only Carlo can answer.
While it might be a boon to talk radio ratings and page clicks when it comes to ‘Tuukka being Tuukka,’ the real issues facing Cassidy’s club are more deep-seated than his goaltender jonesing for crowd noise to lift his spirits. The cure for what currently ails the Bruins must come from the blueline.
And that has to begin with Zdeno Chara and Brandon Carlo, two towering defensemen who are on opposites ends of their respective careers.