Penguins’ plan: Hit Chara, repeat if necessary
Left wing Matt Cooke’s classic, hockey player grin was on wide display Friday when he was reminded of a meeting last march at Consol Energy Center between the Penguins and Bruins.
The Penguins won that game, 5-2. Of more historical significance, they unloaded on Boston’s behemoth defenseman, Zdeno Chara, knocking him to the ice four times.
Slaying the giant so many times starting Saturday in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference finals might be unrealistic, but Cooke believes being as physical as possible against Chara is wise.
Wingers like Cooke, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Craig Adams have long thrived at punishing defensemen this time of year.
“He’s so big and strong,” said Cooke of Chara. “But the key with him is not always knocking him down and driving him through the boards.”
Paul Newman’s character in “Slap Shot” famously told his team to “let ’em know you’re there,” and that is the Penguins’ philosophy.
“Exactly,” Cooke said, acknowledging that initiating contact with Chara — even if it doesn’t appear to make a dent against the 6-foot-9, 260-pound defenseman — is necessary.
“Make him stop skating,” Cooke said. “Make his minutes as hard as possible.”
That was certainly the approach taken by the Penguins in that matchup last season. Cooke and Kunitz each drilled Chara to the ice, while right wing James Neal did so twice.
The Penguins possess an enormous amount of respect for Chara but won’t be intimidated. Chara is 36 and plays nearly 30 minutes per game during the postseason, facts the Penguins hope will contribute to the big man fatiguing.
A formula that includes physically punishing the opposition’s best defenseman has long been a successful one for the Penguins. They did it to Washington’s Miske Green in 2009.
Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson was barely noticeable by the end of the Ottawa series in the second round, largely because the Penguins made most of his shifts unpleasant.
“And we don’t have to change,” left wing Jarome Iginla said. “We honestly just need to keep playing the same way. I don’t think we need to adjust. We just want to put constant pressure on them and wear them down.”
Chara, of course, isn’t the Bruins’ only quality defensemen but merely their biggest name. Boston’s high-scoring blue line is filled with veterans and a very talented rookie in Torey Krug. From the 6-9 Chara to the 5-9 Krug, all the Boston blue liners should be expecting some rough treatment.
The Penguins simply don’t know any other way.
“We plan on being physical with everyone,” Adams said. “That’s the way we always want to play.”