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.
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.