The 22nd Winter Olympics kick off in Sochi, Russia on Thursday which means hockey fans across North America are preparing for an extended break from NHL action as the 12-team Olympic hockey tournament begins on February 12. The Bruins will send five players to Russia including Patrice Bergeron (Canada), Loui Eriksson (Sweden), David Krejci (Czech Republic) and goalie Tuukka Rask (Finland).
Most notably, however, Bruins captain Zdeno Chara received the great honor of carrying the flag for Team Slovakia at the Opening Ceremonies on Thursday. While the entire Bruins organization is very proud and supportive, this means that the B’s will be down yet another defensemen for the last two games going into the Olympic break.
Chara has obviously played a huge role in the Bruins success this season, tallying 13 goals and 26 points and being a dominant force on the blue line. The last time Chara missed a game was on December 28 when the Bruins fell to the Ottawa Senators 4-3. His absence will leave several gaps in the Bruins game that they will need to fill to get to the Olympic break on a positive note.
1. The Captain of Game Minutes
Big Z is a huge presence during games both on and off the ice. He averages just under 25 minutes a game and leads the team as a vocal and supportive captain. Every member of the black and gold will be putting up greater numbers of on-ice time over the next two games against the St. Louis Blues and the Ottawa Senators. The Blues will prove to be the tougher challenge being 5 points above the Bruins and among the leaders in the Western Conference.
Bergeron, the alternate captain, should have no problem filling Chara’s giant skates and pushing his teammates to continually give 100 percent. The center put up 12 points last month, his most of the season, and played a pivotal role in the Bruins second line that dominated the month of January.
2. Power Play Presence
Aside from leading the team in time on the ice, Chara strives on the power play, making his presence known in front of the net and creating opportunities. Over half of his goals have come on the power play, leaving a pretty big hole for Claude Julien and the Bruins to fill.
In light of this, Boston has once again called up David Warsofsky from Providence. He played four games for the Bruins back in December where he tallied a goal against the Senators and proved to be a real threat on the power play. The Bruins scored four power-play goals during Warsofsky’s four games.
The former Boston University Terrier will be playing on the first power play line in Chara’s absence with Krejci, Torey Krug, Milan Lucic and Jarome Iginla. The second power play line will remain Bergeron, Eriksson, Dougie Hamilton, Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg.
3. The Age Gap
With Chara gone, the loss of veteran defensemen continues for the Bruins. Dennis Seidenberg has been out of the lineup since December 27 following a torn MCL and ACL. Adam McQuaid is also missing from the roster after suffering a leg injury on January 19. McQuaid’s return for these next two games was questionable until this week when Julien announced that it would be best for the team and McQuaid if he were to continue resting and recovering through the Olympic break. He has still yet to return to the ice and Julien feels confident that his young defensemen can pick up the slack in his absence.
This leaves Joynny Boychuk as the only veteran defensemen still in the lineup. The 30-year-old is seven years older than the average age of his fellow teammates on the blue line. The Bruins will need to see solid performances out of young defensemen Hamilton (20 years old), Krug (22), Kevan Miller (26), Matt Bartkowski (25) and Warsofsky (23) in order to avoid another mini-collapse like they suffered in December after a string of defensive injuries. While Warsofsky put up good numbers, the B’s still lost five of eight games following Seidenberg’s injury which capped off a month of tough defensive injuries.
The Bruins have been playing solid hockey all season and will head into the Olympic break atop the Atlantic Division, but that does not negate the importance of the next two games. There’s a big difference heading into a three-week hiatus after losing two games rather than winning two games, especially with the Lightning, Canadiens and Maple Leafs all within ten points of first in the Atlantic. With good leadership, relentless power-play shifts and strong performances out of the younger defensemen, the Bruins can go into the Olympic break with four more points on the board.