Conventional wisdom usually says that you should let sleeping dogs lie. Don’t poke the bear, you might make him angry. Have you noticed that making a bear angry, when it comes to hockey, seems to work out sometimes?
It can be one thing to be respectful of your opponent. All the compliments paid, the standard declarations of how good the other team is. But the Blackhawks are taking a page out of their opponent’s playbook from 2011, and aren’t pumping tires any more.
Watch Zdeno Chara protect his reputation against the accusations that he is soft. See Lucic protect his teammate Zdeno Chara. Look at the Bruins run around playing to the Blackhawks tune in game 5, until they finally realize there is a hockey game at stake in the third period.
Last night, I said that Chara was playing the Blackhawks game, and it didn’t really hurt him in the end. But then I look at a number on the scoresheet and I am rethinking this: -2. I’m not a big proponent of plus / minus. It’s a flawed system. You should be able to throw out about half the games accounted for in this stat, the question is which games.
But three things stand out when I look at this number:
- He scored the Bruins only goal, so that means he was on ice for all three goals against.
- He wasn’t playing his game, as previously mentioned.
- Claude Julien changed up the defensive pairings.
The third point is the one that makes me wonder. Why do this if you are only down two goals? What is the issue that would make you do this. So let’s look at the goals and Chara.
Watch Chara glide around his net. He’s playing pretty soft for a guy who has been pounding the hell out of the Blackhawks every chance he gets. Long shift? Not sure where to go? At the very least, he watches Patrick Kane glide around the net with almost no pressure. Perhaps he was focused too much on sparing partner Brian Bickell to play the guy with the puck.
This one I don’t blame Chara so much on as Nathan Horton. As soon as Horton skates towards the puck carrier, who is half the ice away with defenders on them, it leaves Kane uncovered. Chara has to focus on the guy with the puck going around the back of the cage, leaving two guys to the far side of the net covering one Blackhawk. Kane was in a good position to get the puck on his stick and backhand it in, but it was Horton’s choice to go puck chasing that led to Kane standing alone in front of the net.
You can just see Chara in the first second of the video. He’s in front of the net, but that was by design. He lined up as a winger to put a big body in front of the net, so that’s a coaching decision. He might have been helpful when the puck came outside the blue line, but that wasn’t his side of the ice, so he might not have been as close as the winger, instead waiting for an outlet pass to enter the zone with. I don’t blame him at all for this one (and I do think it should have been a tripping call to negate the empty net goal).
But watch Chara sparring with Brian Bickell next to the net at the beginning of this video. This is where Chara lost the war while trying to win the battle.
What isn’t Chara doing? Engaging in the play. He isn’t even paying attention to the play. He’s proving that he won’t be manhandled by Bickell, while taking himself out of the game to do so. Does this seem like a sound strategy to you? Is this what you want your top defenseman to do? It’s one thing to send a message, but this is no way to do so. Send it quickly and get back to work. Instead the message delivered was the wrong one.
Poking the bear works, if you do it right.