Zdeno Chara ; Roberto Luongo

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.

Scrivens and slumping Habs face daunting task against McDavid and suddenly high-flying Oilers

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Connor McDavid is kind of good.

In the two games since his return to the Edmonton Oilers, he’s kind of — just kind of — had an impact. Five points in two games — that counts as an impact, right? Oh, and did you see this goal in his return earlier this week?

Since McDavid’s highly anticipated return Tuesday against Columbus, the Oilers have outscored the opposition 12-3 in two games. Small sample size? Yes. Against teams currently not in playoff positions? Yes.

But that’s still very impressive and with him in the lineup, there appears to be a sense of optimism in Edmonton.

Enter the free-falling Montreal Canadiens. Enter goalie Ben Scrivens, who only made his debut for the Habs at the end of December and will face his old team, the Oilers, on Saturday.

In four games with the Habs, Scrivens has been scored on 15 times.

The Habs, without Carey Price, have been in a tumble down the Eastern Conference standings for a long time now. And, really, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight.

Now, the Habs and Scrivens are tasked with facing McDavid and the suddenly high-flying Oilers.

And Canadiens fans probably aren’t the cheeriest right now, as their team has gone from on the verge of NHL history in October to becoming an afterthought in the playoff picture in February.

No pressure.

“Unfortunately, it seems like my whole career has been playing behind teams that don’t have that confidence, except for my time in L.A.,” Scrivens told reporters.

“It’s a challenge as a goalie but all you can do is worry about your job. I can’t go out there and start trying to break pucks out and do anything I’m not supposed to be doing. My job is to try and stop pucks and try and stop as many as I can.”

With the way McDavid and the Oilers have been scoring since the break and his return, it appears that will be a monumental task for Scrivens.

And with the Habs in a 1-8-1 slide in the past 10 games, the timing probably couldn’t get any worse.

 

Stars put Spezza on injured reserve, recall Faksa from AHL Texas

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Sitting three points out of top spot in the Central Division and on the eve of an important divisional clash on home ice with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Dallas Stars have placed center Jason Spezza on injured reserve retroactive to Thursday, the club announced on Friday.

Spezza, 32, was injured during Thursday’s game against the Colorado Avalanche. The Stars can move back to within a point of Chicago for the division lead with a regulation win on Saturday.

In 52 games this season, Spezza has 18 goals and 40 points, which ties him with Patrick Sharp for fourth on the team in total points.

With Spezza out, the Stars recalled 22-year-old forward Radek Faksa from the Texas Stars in the AHL.

Faksa has 15 goals and 26 points in 28 games this season with Texas. In 18 games with the NHL Stars, he has one goal and three points.

Hitch’s recipe for more goals is a pretty simple one

Ken Hitchcock, David Backes, Dmitrij Jaskin, Paul Stastny, Patrik Berglund
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Ken Hitchcock wants the Blues to spend more time attacking and less time defending.

Because hockey isn’t rocket science, that’s why.

“To score and win games in the National Hockey League…you have to spend as much time in the offensive zone as you can,” Hitchcock told the Post-Dispatch.

“When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, you’re forechecking more. When you’re occupying the offensive zone more, the goalie has to make saves. They’re having to defend more. And the opposing team takes penalties on you. So they’re all connected. … What I want to see from us is staying on the puck for longer stretches.”

According to the stats, the Blues have not been spending as much time in the offensive zone as we’re used to seeing from them. In fact, in their last 20 games, they rank in the bottom third of the league in score-adjusted Corsi. That compares to their first 20 games when they were in the top third.

The result is fewer shots, and more importantly, fewer goals. The Blues have fallen all the way to 25th in offense, averaging just 2.37 goals per game. Last year, they finished fifth (2.91).

Yes, some of that may be due to the absence of Jaden Schwartz, and he should be back soon. But there’s a reason people are watching GM Doug Armstrong as the Feb. 29 trade deadline approaches. This team could probably use another piece up front.

The Blues host Minnesota Saturday.

St. Louis has scored just five goals in its last five games.

Goalie nods: Lindback ‘really excited’ for first start in almost three weeks

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Tonight in Anaheim, Anders Lindback will make his first start for the Arizona Coyotes since Jan. 16.

The Coyotes have been riding rookie Louis Domingue since just before Christmas, but Domingue has allowed five goals in each of his last three starts, including last night’s 5-4 loss to Chicago.

Lindback’s last appearance came Tuesday in relief, when he allowed one goal on 10 shots in a 6-2 loss to the Kings.

Lindback was in goal for one of Arizona’s three victories this season over Anaheim, stopping 33 of 36 shots in a 4-3 overtime win on Nov. 9. However, his .896 save percentage ranks among the lowest in the league.

Frederik Andersen is expected to start for the Ducks.

Elsewhere…

— No word yet on a Penguins starter in Tampa, but Ben Bishop will go for the Bolts.

Cam Ward will start for the Hurricanes in Winnipeg, where Connor Hellebuyck is expected for the increasingly desperate Jets.

— Joonas Korpisalo was solid last night in Vancouver, but the Blue Jackets have not announced their starter for tonight’s game in Calgary. Karri Ramo will be in goal for the Flames.