The Bruins offered Zdeno Chara an “integrated role” that may have included being a healthy scratch at times. Chara felt like he had “more to offer” and signed with the Capitals instead.
While nothing was guaranteed in Washington in terms of playing time, the Capitals’ season-opener on Thursday made it pretty clear that the Capitals also believe Chara has quite a bit to offer them.
The 43-year-old defenseman was a plus-2 and played 20:16 in Washington’s 6-4 win over the Sabres, putting him third on the team in ice time. 18:13 of that time on ice came at five-on-five, which tied him for second on the team there and goes against any notion that Chara is just a penalty kill specialist at this point.
There was no easing in, either. Chara got the tough defensive zone shifts against the opponent’s top line that Bruins fans have seen him get for so many years. Chara and new D partner Nick Jensen led the Capitals in defensive zone starts and played more minutes against Buffalo’s Taylor Hall-Jack Eichel-Tage Thompson line than anyone else on the team, with half of Chara’s five-on-five minutes coming against them.
And Chara won the matchup, as the Capitals outshot the Sabres 5-1 and outscored them 1-0 while Chara and Eichel were both on the ice. If you’re the Capitals and new coach Peter Laviolette, you have to be thrilled that in Game 1, Chara showed he is still capable of handling those kinds of minutes and that kind of matchup.
Now, how did the Bruins defense do in their first game without Chara? To put it succinctly: Pretty good overall, but with some hiccups along the way.
Matt Grzelcyk was the biggest bright spot not just on the left side, but on the defense as a whole. He played 24:07 (a few minutes more than coach Bruce Cassidy would prefer), dominated at five-on-five, and looked pretty comfortable quarterbacking a top power-play unit that scored twice, including assisting on the second goal.
While the Devils don’t have a top line on the level of Buffalo’s, it was Grzelcyk and D partner Brandon Carlo who saw the bulk of the shifts against the Egor Sharangovich-Jack Hughes-Kyle Palmieri trio and decisively won that matchup to the tune of a 13-3 advantage in shot attempts and 7-1 advantage in shots on goal.
Jakub Zboril also put forth an encouraging effort in just his third NHL game, playing 19:14 and helping the Bruins to a 16-10 shot attempts edge and 10-2 shots on goal edge while he was on the ice at five-on-five. He also saw some time on both the penalty kill and the second power-play unit.
Jeremy Lauzon was a little bit more of a mixed bag. He was on the ice and involved in both Devils goals. On the first, he got caught too far wide and too far up ice and was unable to get back in time after a brutal Sean Kuraly turnover led to a breakaway. On the second, he lost a battle down low that allowed the Devils to keep offensive zone possession and score a bit of a fluky pinball goal a few seconds later. He had trouble keeping up with the Devils' speed to the outside on a couple other occasions, as well.
Where Lauzon excelled, though, was on the penalty kill, as he took over Chara’s role as the No. 1 penalty killer, leading the Bruins with 5:15 of shorthanded time on ice and helping that unit go a perfect five-for-five on the kill.
It’s only one game for both Chara and the Bruins, and these comparisons and check-ins will surely continue all season, but both acquitted themselves pretty well on opening night.