Zdeno Chara injured as Bruins lose to Blues

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The big question mark for the Boston Bruins this season was always going be their defense.

It was their biggest weakness last season, and after doing little to address the position over the summer it was almost certain to be an area of concern once again. Those concerns had to grow a little on Tuesday night when defenseman Zdeno Chara — still their best player on the blue line — had to leave their 4-2 loss to the St. Louis Blues early in the second period with an undisclosed injury. He did not return.

Bruins coach Claude Julien said after the game that he had no update on Chara’s status.

Whatever the injury is, his absence seemed to be the turning point in the game.

After former Blues captain David Backes gave his new team an early 1-0 lead, the Blues were able to rally with three goals in the second period, including two just two minutes apart.

Paul Stastny‘s goal, which came shortly after Robert Bortuzzo scored his first of the season to tie the game at two, goes in the books as the game-winner.

For as thin as the Bruins defense looks on paper, their goals against numbers this season have been among the best in the league thanks in large part to starting goaltender Tuukka Rask returning to the elite level the Bruins have been used to seeing him at in recent years. Entering play on Tuesday he had an 11-2-0 record to go with a .946 save percentage. Without him in the lineup the Bruins are 0-5-0 while their backup goaltenders have a combined save percentage below .860.

No matter who the goalie is, it is a defense that needs some work and losing Chara, even if he is not quite as dominant as he was a few years ago, would certainly be a big problem.

The Blues, meanwhile, have now won four games in a row.

Inconsistency was the story of their season through the first month, but after getting blown out in Columbus a little more than a week ago they are starting to resemble the team they were expected to be when the season began. Jake Allen had to make 39 saves on Tuesday, which is probably more than Ken Hitchcock wants to see, but most of that work came in the third period as the Blues were trying to hold off a push from the Bruins in their comeback attempt.

Jori Lehtera scored two goals for St. Louis, including one in the first period that was upheld after the Bruins challenged for potential goaltender interference.

The Blues are back in action on Wednesday night in Washington.

WATCH LIVE: St. Louis Blues at Boston Bruins

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 22: David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his goal against the St. Louis Blues with teammates Ryan Spooner #51, Patrice Bergeron #37 and David Krejci #46 during the third period at TD Garden on November 22, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Rich Gagnon/Getty Images)
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After appearing in 727 regular season games with the St. Louis Blues, David Backes will face his former team on Tuesday night for the first time after signing a five-year contract with the Boston Bruins in free agency this past summer.

Backes and the Bruins will be looking to continue their recent strong play when they host the Blues live on NBCSN at 7  p.m. ET.

The Bruins come into the game having won eight of their past 11 games thanks in large part to an incredible start to the season for goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Backes has seven points in 13 games for the Bruins so far this season.

The Blues, meanwhile, are looking to extend their current winning streak to four games and gain some ground on the first place Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division.

You can catch all of the action on NBCN or on live stream.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE.

Preview for Blues vs. Bruins

 

Report: Vatrano (foot) could return to Bruins lineup before Christmas

BOSTON, MA - NOVEMBER 17:  Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on November 17, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Sharks defeat the Bruins 5-4.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Frank Vatrano has yet to suit up for the Boston Bruins this season, but he took another step this week toward changing that.

He reportedly skated on Tuesday for the first time since undergoing surgery to repair torn ligaments in his foot after he suffered an injury during offseason training.

He was initially expected to miss at least three months as a result of the injury, but there could be a light approaching quicker than anyone thought on the horizon.

From CSNNE:

Given he’s resumed skating, it’s likely that Vatrano is a few weeks away from being able to rejoin practicing with the team and could be looking at a 2 ½ month return to game action from injury rather than the three month timetable initially set out for him. In essence, Vatrano might be able to return prior to Christmas when it was initially assumed he’d be out for the 2016 portion of the 2016-17 regular season.

This is promising news for the Bruins, who are among the bottom third of the league when it comes to scoring, with 2.44 goals-for per game.

Vatrano has been a prolific scorer at the American Hockey League level, with 36 goals in 36 games last season in Providence. That’s a ridiculous rate and he has shown glimpses that his prowess could carry over to the NHL.

The 22-year-old forward had eight goals in 39 games in Boston last season, which included a hat trick in December against the Penguins.

Related: Looking to make the leap: Frank Vatrano

NHL on NBCSN: Bruins’ Backes takes on Blues for the first time since leaving in free agency

BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 20:  David Backes #42 of the Boston Bruins skates against New Jersey Devils during the third period at TD Garden on October 20, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Devils 2-1.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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NBCSN will continue its coverage of the 2016-17 campaign tonight when the Boston Bruins host the St. Louis Blues at 7:00 p.m. ET. If you want to watch the game online, you can do so here.

You can also check out the full NBCSN hockey schedule by clicking here

Prior to this season, David Backes had played every NHL game of his career with the St. Louis Blues, but in pro sports, things are bound to change.

That’s exactly what happened this off-season when Backes hit free agency on July 1st. He signed a long-term deal with the Boston Bruins, which put an end to his 10-year stint as a Blue.

Tonight, he’ll take on his former team for the first time since joining his new squad.

The 32-year-old played over 700 games with St. Louis and he knows almost every player on their current roster, so you can just imagine how emotional tonight’s game will be for him.

“I’m just hoping I shoot at the right goalie,” Backes said, per NHL.com.

“It’s an opportunity to play against a lot of good friends. I know probably everybody on that roster except one guy in a very close-knit way. It’s going to be emotional, but I plan to just be in the moment and soak it all in and compete my butt off and try to help my team win the game, and let the rest be written as it may.”

He’s off to an OK start in 2016-17. The veteran forward has picked up three goals and four assists in 13 games, but he has just three points in his last eight contests since returning from an elbow injury.

For those who are wondering, the Bruins travel to St. Louis on Jan. 10.

Life after Backes has been up and down for the Blues.

They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak and now sit in second place in the Central Division with a 10-6-3 record. But things haven’t always looked so good for them this year.

They suffered an 8-4 loss in Columbus earlier this month and they dropped five of their first seven games in November (2-4-1).

To be fair, Backes’ departure isn’t the only reason for their inconsistency. They also lost guys like Brian Elliott and Troy Brouwer, and they’ve dealt with a number of injuries.

The biggest issue for them is that they’ve struggled mightily on the road. The Blues are 8-1-2 at home, but just 2-5-1 away from the Scottrade Center.

“We won road games at the start of the year on last year’s energy and we’ve got to go create our own new energy,” head coach Ken Hitchcock said, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’ve got to play better than we’ve played. We have to manage every part of our game better: our discipline, our puck play, our puck management. We’ve got to trust our work and not try to hit home runs like we’ve been doing on the road. We’ve had some great efforts, but then we’ve imploded.”

Devils, Oilers, Bruins among the most improved possession teams

DALLAS, TX - NOVEMBER 15:  Damon Severson #28 of the New Jersey Devils celebrates a goal against the Dallas Stars during the first period at American Airlines Center on November 15, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Using data from Puck On Net, here are the differences in score-adjusted Corsi from this season to last:

1. New Jersey +4.6
2. Edmonton +4.4
3. Boston +4.1
4. Colorado +3.7
5. Minnesota +3.2
6. Florida +2.7
7. Philadelphia +2.3
8. Washington +2.2
9. Carolina +1.5
10. San Jose +1.2
11. Columbus +1.2
12. Calgary +1.2
13. St. Louis +1.2
14. New York Rangers +1.1
15. Vancouver +1.1
16. Buffalo +0.9
17. Toronto +0.7
18. Ottawa -0.1
19. Montreal -0.2
20. Chicago -0.4
21. Arizona -1.9
22. Tampa Bay -2.3
23. Nashville -2.8
24. Pittsburgh -2.9
25. Winnipeg -3.6
26. Los Angeles -3.7
27. New York Islanders -3.8
28. Anaheim -5.2
29. Detroit -5.5
30. Dallas -5.6

Notes:

— We use score-adjusted Corsi because it has greater predictive power than simply looking at the standings. It’s not a perfect measure and doesn’t pretend to be. But generally speaking, teams that own the puck are going to be more successful than teams that don’t.

— The surprising New Jersey Devils are the most improved, and their record (9-5-3) reflects it. Ditto for the second-most improved team, the Edmonton Oilers (10-8-1), who have a chance to make the playoffs for the first time since 2006. The third-most improved team, the Boston Bruins (11-7-0), actually have the highest score-adjusted Corsi (54.0) in the NHL, and not many predicted that. Next on the list is Colorado (8-9-0), which still has a ways to go but seems to be making progress under new coach Jared Bednar. The fifth-most improved team, the Minnesota Wild (9-7-1), also has a new coach in Bruce Boudreau.

— At the bottom of the list is the Dallas Stars (7-7-5), who’ve had to deal with all sorts of injuries early on. But they also bid adieu to a couple of veteran defensemen, Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski, so you have to wonder if that’s had an effect, too. The Detroit Red Wings (8-10-1) have had injuries, but losing Pavel Datsyuk to the KHL was always going to be a challenge. Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks (9-7-3) don’t seem to be thriving under new/old coach Randy Carlyle, and the New York Islanders (5-8-4) have been one of the NHL’s most disappointing teams. As for the Los Angeles Kings (10-9-1), they’ve been hammered by injuries and remain one of the top possession teams, so for now we’ll give them a pass on their decline.

— It’s still quite early in the season, so teams have lots of time to improve. The Pittsburgh Penguins last season are the perfect example. They went from a score-adjusted Corsi of 49.9 in their first 41 games to 56.2 in their last 41 games. It took a new coach to do it, but still.

Click here to see how all 30 teams rank overall.

The top five
Boston — 54.0
Washington — 53.7
St. Louis — 53.3
Los Angeles — 53.0
San Jose — 53.0

The bottom five
Arizona — 44.6
NY Islanders — 45.7
Detroit — 46.2
Ottawa — 46.9
Dallas — 46.9