Zdeno Chara isn’t succeeding in a Tomas Holmstrom role on the Bruins’ power play

Sometimes a concept seems so clever, people have trouble letting go of it when it doesn’t really work very well. I can only speculate on the number of times I came up with a great idea (in my head) that ended up receiving shoulder shrugs, snickers or even eye-rolls.

Conceptually, putting 6-foot-9 behemoth defenseman Zdeno Chara in front of a goalie during the power play seems brilliant. Even some of the NHL’s sky-scraping goalies (such as Ben Bishop or Devan Dubnyk) wouldn’t be able to see with Chara in front, especially when they go to their butterfly styles.

So, yes, it sounds like a brilliant plan in theory. It might even work as a change of pace idea every now and then, just to keep opponents on their toes.

Yet it just doesn’t seem to work that well without a training camp’s worth of practice (or at least a regular season’s worth of tweaking). Casual observers might look at true masters of screening goalies – and scoring on deflections – and think that what Tomas Holmstrom, Ryan Smyth and other net front nuisances do is easy work. Perhaps it isn’t rocket science if you spend a ton of time perfecting the little nuances of that style, but it’s tough to ask a big, bruising defenseman to pick up that art in the middle of a challenging stretch of hockey.

Let’s not forget the factors outside of Chara’s control, either. By moving Chara from the point, the Bruins lose a historic slapper that broke the all-time All-Star Game record in the hardest shot competition (105.9 miles per hour). It’s not like the Bruins employ anyone else who could create havoc from the point in his place, either. Even when he wasn’t a whipping boy in his days running the Toronto Maple Leafs power play, Tomas Kaberle’s passing made him a weapon, not his shot. Dennis Seidenberg is a nice, versatile player but he doesn’t possess the kind of shot that keeps special teams coaches up at night.

Mark Spector elaborates on the problems that come with moving Chara from the point to Roberto Luongo’s grill.

Chara did spend some time tipping pucks after practice, but where Holmstrom has about an 85 per cent success rate in getting a stick on hard slap shots in one of those sessions, Chara redirected the puck about 40 per cent of the time — and his defencemen were floating in weak wristers.

(snip)

In Game 1 he did not show the ability to re-direct a point blast, nor was he quick to find a loose puck and jam it home. And, as Byfuglien perfected in those Vancouver-Chicago series, Chara never once found a way to crash into Luongo, or fall on the sprawled goalie as hard as possible at the end of the play.

Smyth doesn’t want to come across as criticizing Chara, who is doing his best to learn an element of the game that a guy like Detroit’s Holmstrom has worked years and years to perfect. But Smyth knows he wouldn’t have any more success trying to learn how to play defence at such a crucial point in the season.

“The old cliché is, practice makes perfect. It takes time,” Smyth said. “I (tip pucks) every game day, every morning skate. Like Holmstrom does. It takes time, and it takes practice.”

It’s not as if the Bruins are without options for the role, either. Milan Lucic is an obvious example of a big forward (listed at 6-4, 220 lbs.) who could be more adept at scoring dirty goals than Chara. Perhaps someone like Brad Marchand would work well too; he might have the right combination of skills to seal the deal and courage to take the abuse that comes from standing in front of the net.

You cannot blame head coach Claude Julien and his staff for trying something different to generate points from a stagnant man advantage. The problem with putting Chara in this role is that you’re taking away one of the few strengths you had (his blistering shot) for an idea that works better in our minds than it does on the ice. Julien might be wiser to go back to a simpler setup and make smaller changes to his power play units. (Tyler Seguin for Mark Recchi, anyone?)

For more analysis of Boston’s PP struggles, click here.

Halak and the Islanders defeat Penguins, move into wild card spot

Getty
Leave a comment

Quite a hockey game between the New York Islanders and Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

It offered plenty to enjoy — Phil Kessel‘s dominant but unfruitful shift in overtime, a combined 86 shots on goal between both teams, a showcase of skill from the likes of John Tavares and Sidney Crosby, and two strong goaltending performances from Jaroslav Halak and Marc-Andre Fleury.

The Islanders and their fans probably aren’t hung up on style points at this juncture of the season. They just care about wins and points in the standings, and those are exactly what New York accomplished with a 4-3 shootout win in Pittsburgh.

Anthony Beauvillier and Tavares scored for the Islanders in the shootout. Halak made 37 stops, including a game-saver in overtime off Matt Cullen. Halak trapped the puck, which was right on the goal line, between his legs on a chance from in front. The play was reviewed but no goal.

The win gives the Islanders 82 points, which is the same total as the struggling Boston Bruins.

However, the Islanders, with one game in hand on the Bruins, take over the final wild card spot in the East for now.

Video: Friday night fights between Bolts and Red Wings

Leave a comment

Not much offense — actually, just one goal midway through the second period as of the writing of this post — between the Detroit Red Wings and Tampa Bay Lightning on Friday.

But there has definitely been some animosity between the two clubs.

Tempers flared late in the first period, with Adam Erne and Andreas Athanasiou getting involved in a spirited scrap — and Athanasiou unsuccessful in his attempt at the take-down.

The bad blood continued in the second period with Greg McKegg and Anthony Mantha getting involved in a fight, and Mantha — given the instigator — landing a couple of shots with McKegg on the ice.

 

NHL, MLB player unions support U.S. women hockey players’ boycott

Getty
1 Comment

Unions representing NHL and Major League Baseball players are backing U.S. Women’s National Hockey team players’ decision to boycott next week’s world championships because of a wage dispute.

The NHL Players’ Association posted a note on its Twitter account on Friday saying it supports the U.S. players while panning USA Hockey’s bid to stock the team with replacements. The NHLPA says the decision to go with replacement players “would only serve to make relations, now and in the future, much worse.”

Earlier in the day, the MLB Players Association encouraged all women hockey players to stand united behind their national team colleagues.

Read more: USA Hockey says it will not offer living wage, as dispute with women’s national team continues

The Twitter messages were posted a day after USA Hockey announced it would begin gauging interest of replacement players to compete at the tournament, which opens next Friday in Plymouth, Michigan.

Players are seeking a four-year contract that includes payments outside the six-month Olympic period.

Brock Boeser Watch is officially on in Vancouver

Getty
Leave a comment

It’s been a bleak season for the Vancouver Canucks.

Perhaps developments Friday evening can provide some optimism for fans of a team that can’t score, has trouble defending and has been decimated by injury.

Brock Boeser’s sophomore college season came to an end Friday, as North Dakota lost 4-3 to Boston University in double overtime. The Canucks selected Boeser 23rd overall in the 2015 draft with the hopes the talented right winger would one day become a central figure in that team’s scoring attack.

In his first season at North Dakota, Boeser scored 27 goals and 60 points in 42 games. His overall production dropped in his sophomore year — he had wrist surgery in December — but he still averaged more than a point per game in 31 contests, with 16 goals.

With North Dakota’s campaign finished, the Canucks can now work to get Boeser under contract and perhaps get him into some NHL games to close out what has been a disappointing season in Vancouver.

In that case, the Canucks would burn the first year of his entry-level contract.

The Canucks, officially eliminated from playoff contention, have nine games remaining on their schedule.

More from The Province:

Giving the fans something to get excited about in another season gone south seems as vital as giving Boeser a crash course on what to expect next season.

The Canucks are willing to burn a year of his entry-level deal because playing one game at age 20 would do that. But it seems worth the price for an organization in transition, even if Boeser would become a restricted free agent after two seasons and be in line for a big pay day should his production match predictions of effectiveness.

The Canucks are in Minnesota on Saturday and Winnipeg on Sunday.

It seemed, several weeks ago, that North Dakota’s hockey program was preparing for Boeser to turn pro after his second year ended.

Related: Trading Burrows and Hansen represents significant ‘shift’ for Canucks