MONTREAL – Zdeno Chara is focused only on playing hockey at the Bell Centre as he and the Boston Bruins get ready for what promises to be yet another intense game against the Montreal Canadiens.
That’s crucial for Boston, which is off to a rough start as reigning Stanley Cup champions.
Saturday night’s Original Six matchup will mark the first time the Bruins’ towering captain will face Max Pacioretty in Montreal since a nasty on-ice incident on March 8, when Chara shoved the Canadiens’ left wing into a stanchion.
Pacioretty suffered a fractured vertebra and a concussion that ended his season. He’s now fully recovered from both injuries and is leading Montreal in scoring this season.
The Canadiens’ 2-1 win in Boston on Thursday night marked the first time Pacioretty played the Bruins since the incident, but nothing came of it. The two had spoken to each other after the incident and both consider the matter settled.
That is not the case for Montreal police, who said this week they still have the incident under review but have not decided whether to lay charges against Chara. It appears unlikely given that seven months have passed with no action taken. Even Pacioretty tweeted in June that he hopes Chara is “NOT prosecuted.”
Asked after Boston’s morning skate Saturday if he had been contacted by authorities about the incident since he arrived in Montreal, Chara closed the door on the matter.
“No. No, I haven’t,” he said.
Clearly he and the Bruins have more pressing concerns. The loss to the Canadiens two nights earlier dropped Boston—which has played seven of nine at home—to the Eastern Conference cellar with a 3-6-0 mark.
“It’s not where we want to be. It’s the bottom of the standings and it certainly isn’t a spot that is good in our standards. It’s something we have to get out of and obviously it starts tonight.”
Bruins coach Claude Julien has reunited the line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton. The trio enjoyed much success together during last season’s run to Boston’s first Stanley Cuo since 1972.
“It’s looking for solutions,” Julien said. “We’re certainly not happy where we are in the standings or as a team and we’re looking to find ways to get out team going in the right direction, and sometimes bringing some familiar faces back together is not a bad thing, just like it was separating them at the time.”
Krejci, who led all playoff scorers with 23 points, has one goal. The 24-year-old Czech centre has been held without a point in five of six games, including three straight since returning from a midsection injury that sidelined him for three games.
The Bruins are looking to get his production going with the help of Lucic and Horton, who scored a pair of overtime goals in Boston’s first-round win over Montreal, including the series winner in Game 7.
“They’re two big, strong guys and work very well on the same line,” Bruins forward Brad Marchand said. “They’re very tough to defend against when they’re working down low and playing their game,” Marchand said. “Hopefully they can just kind of get the same chemistry back they had last year.”
The Canadiens come into the game riding consecutive wins for the first time this season.
Petteri Nokelainen is new to Montreal but no stranger to the intense rivalry between the two Original Six teams. Acquired in a trade with Phoenix on Sunday, the 25-year-old centre always looked forward to playing at the Bell Centre during his two seasons with the Bruins from 2007-09
“The crowd is so intense,” said Nokelainen, who spent last season with Jokerit Helsinki in his native Finland. “It’s almost like you have to hold yourself back a little bit. You try to do too much and run out of position. Controlling the emotions. We know they try to intimidate you. It’s definitely something we talked about the other night when we played in Boston. You can’t fall into that and you can’t take dumb penalties because they end up costing you any way. We did a pretty good job after the first period.”
The brief winning streak began with Wednesday night’s 5-1 win over Philadelphia, which saw assistant coach Perry Pearn fired hours before the game with Montreal off to a 1-5-2 start, the team’s worst since 1941-42.
“Yeah, we’ve had two good games but we haven’t accomplished anything yet,” defenceman Josh Gorges said. “Especially in (Thursday) night’s game, there were times where we didn’t play the way we should be playing so we still have to get better and tonight’s going to be a huge challenge that we need to be ready for.”