Commentary

Zdeno Chara delivers message

In face of adversity, Bruins captain calls meeting, then helps douse Flames

Updated: December 18, 2013, 1:31 AM ET
By Joe McDonald | ESPNBoston.com

BOSTON -- It doesn't happen often, but when Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara gets a sense that too many distractions are affecting the team, both on and off the ice, he'll address his teammates.

During the team's recent road trip through Canada, the Bruins dealt with numerous lineup changes due to injuries, along with a nasty flu bug that wreaked havoc in the locker room. Boston's captain decided to speak his mind.

"Yes, I did," Chara admitted after Boston's 2-0 win over the Calgary Flames Tuesday night at TD Garden. "But it's just one of those things and at the same time you don't want to put too much pressure on the team when you know there's already enough with whatever we were facing. At times, yes, it's my job to go by what I feel is right and I obviously have to take charge."

[+] EnlargeZdeno Chara
Steve Babineau/NHLI/Getty ImagesAfter gathering his teammates on their recent trip, Zdeno Chara brought them together again with a pair of power-play goals Tuesday.

So, what exactly was his message to the team?

"Oh, I'm not going to say what I said," Chara said with a smile.

At times during his Bruins career, Chara's captaincy has been called into question by fans and the media alike. But behind closed doors, his teammates and coach Claude Julien respect Chara's leadership abilities.

When the team returned home from the road, Julien admitted after Monday's practice that it can be a challenge for a coach to keep his team in check when it appears things could go south in a hurry. So Julien appreciated Chara doing what he did.

"I don't know what he said, but a lot of times what Zee does is he'll reinforce the message we're trying to give," Julien said. "You hear it from the coaches and when you hear it from your captain it means it's in the room from the leadership and it reinforces the message."

Julien explained the team never panicked on the road, despite all the adversity. The idea of a closed-door meeting isn't customary with the Bruins players because the room is loaded with veteran players, but usually once a season Chara will give his state of the team.

"This was a great opportunity to do that, so if he got the guys all riled up to take that challenge then more power to him because that's what good captains do -- they kind of rally their team around them and say, 'Listen, let's do this.' He's done that every year," Julien said. "At some point he gets a feel of what's going on in the room, sometimes more than we do. He sees certain things that are either slipping or need to be addressed and he'll address it without having us to deal with it.

"A lot of times we're not in the room and he is; so that's basically where he ends up stepping in. He's been a captain for a lot of years now. He's got some experience and he knows when to do those kinds of things and when to step back."

The Bruins finished the road trip with a 3-1-0 record and won a few games they probably should have lost. But that's what the best teams do, and the Bruins found a way to win.

"It was a big road trip for us and we faced a lot of adversity -- different things," Chara said. "I've been saying it doesn't matter who's in the lineup, you have to respect the system and play to your full potential and for most of the trip we did. It's not always easy to be missing guys, but it's part of the game."

Since the Bruins are without the services of Adam McQuaid, Dougie Hamilton, Chris Kelly, Loui Eriksson and Daniel Paille due to injuries, along with Shawn Thornton, who is serving a 15-game suspension, Boston needed to call up Ryan Spooner, Matt Fraser and Craig Cunningham from Providence.

Even though the Bruins' bottom two lines are completely different from what they're used to, the players recalled from Providence have done their job well enough to help the Bruins continue to be successful during this stretch of games.

"The guys who got called up know that they're not here just to play in the NHL," Bruins assistant captain David Krejci said. "They have to prove that they belong here and they've been doing a pretty good job the last few games. It's not just those young guys from Providence, it's also the veterans and guys who have been playing in the league a long time. It's about how you respond and we responded pretty well as a team today."

Although there are many different faces in the lineup, Boston's identity has not changed, and that's something Chara wanted to make sure remained in tact.

"I don't think that has changed," said goaltender Tuukka Rask, who finished with 21 saves to record his third shutout of the season and 19th of his career. "That's the one thing we have to keep in mind that we are what we are and we can't change the style of team we are."

The Bruins have had the luxury the last few seasons of having a consistent lineup and haven't been hit by injuries to the extent they're dealing with now.

There's been a total of eight players this season who have played their first game with the Bruins, including forward Cunningham, who made his NHL debut Tuesday night against the Flames.

Because the P-Bruins play the same system as their parent club, it makes the transition to the NHL level a relatively smooth one for the reinforcements from Providence. It also helps the newcomers that the room is loaded with veteran leaders, many of whom also played in the AHL and know how difficult the transition can be.

"It's unbelievable," Cunningham said of the leadership in Boston. "I've been watching [Jarome] Iginla play since I was 10 years old. He's been a guy I've really looked up to and it's been great being in the room with all these guys. Everyone makes you feel welcome and it's a real family here."

Having a strong and welcoming atmosphere in the room translates into success on the ice. If there's nothing else to worry about other than playing the game, it helps everyone on the team, especially the recent call-ups.

Chara noticed the distractions the Bruins were dealing with and didn't want them to affect the team's game. Without the coaching staff knowing it, he spoke with his teammates and voiced his opinions.

"He's our leader and it was a good thing he addressed us," Rask said. "We don't want to change anything. We are what we are and we need everybody to step up our game and carry the load for the guys who are missing.

"We have a lot of leadership in the room, so it's not always him who speaks. Everybody likes to step up when they see something and say something. Thankfully it's not too often we have to do that, but when we see that we have to fix something, we do it."

Joe McDonald

Reporter, ESPNBoston.com

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