Zdeno Chara considers some of his former Boston Bruins teammates “brothers,” but the Washington Capitals defenseman will approach facing them at Capital One Arena on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSWA, NESN, NHL.TV) the same way he has every other game during his 23 NHL seasons.
“Regardless who I play against, I always try to prepare the same way,” Chara said Friday. “I don’t think it’s going to be as much about me playing against Boston Bruins. I think these are two really good teams playing for two points that are going to be out there tomorrow to grab. I’m going to prepare the same way, just like I’ve been preparing for many years and many games.”
There’s no denying this game will be different for Chara and the Bruins, though. It will be his first against them since he left Boston to sign a one-year, $795,000 contract with Washington as an unrestricted free agent Dec. 30. The 43-year-old played 14 seasons for the Bruins as their captain, helping them win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and also reach the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 and 2019.
Chara’s 1,023 games played rank sixth in Boston history, and he’s third on the Bruins list for points by a defenseman with 481, behind Ray Bourque (1,506) and Bobby Orr (888).
“It’s going to be weird playing against him, there’s no question,” Boston forward Brad Marchand said. “But I think it’s going to make him compete harder against us. He’s going to have something to prove or he’s going to want to make sure he doesn’t treat us as friends, he treats us as competitors.”
The Bruins offered Chara a chance to stay, but likely in a reduced role. Chara thought he had more to offer, so he signed with the Capitals, who had an opening in their top six defensemen.
He has fit in quickly, helping Washington (5-0-3) get at least one point in each of its first eight games for the first time in its history despite playing the past four games without forward Alex Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov, defenseman Dmitry Orlov and goalie Ilya Samsonov, who each has been in quarantine in accordance with NHL COVID-19 protocols. Chara has three points (one goal, two assists), is second on the Capitals with a plus-7 rating and is third on Washington in average time on ice per game (20:29).
“I’m just trying to focus on what I can do for this team and do my best to help this team any way I can,” Chara said. “I try to come here every day with the right mindset and the right energy and work hard and do what I can to help this team win.”
Chara acknowledged he has a special bond with players like Marchand and center Patrice Bergeron, who succeeded him as captain in Boston. His decision to leave the Bruins didn’t change that, nor will whatever happens on the ice Saturday.
“With those guys, being on the same team for a really long time, I respect those guys very much, I love them like my brothers,” Chara said. “We were able to win a Stanley Cup together, so it goes a long way. We understand that this is a business and we have to play for our teams and compete out there, but at the same time, we have something that’s very deep. It goes far back.
“Obviously, we will cherish those memories and those great celebrations that we had winning the Stanley Cup. But at the same time, we are professionals and we have to do our jobs.”
The Bruins are approaching facing Chara similarly.
“Me and [Chara] have a special relationship and it’s going to continue even after our playing years,” Bergeron said. “So yeah, obviously you wish him all the best but that being said, once you step on the ice — and I’m sure he’ll say the same thing — it’s all about playing your game and back to business and making sure you do everything you can to win that game.”
The influence Chara has already had in Washington was evident by the way his teammates mobbed him at the bench after he scored his first goal with the Capitals in a 6-3 win against the New York Islanders on Thursday.
“It was a special moment for me, after the goal,” Chara said. “I wanted to share that celebration with my entire bench and my entire team. Since Day One, they’ve really helped me make this transition as easy as possible, and they’ve welcomed me with open arms and it was very helpful to get so much help from everybody. … So I just wanted to share that joy with them. It was a great a moment and a great connection. That’s probably something that I’ll always cherish.”
Chara hopes to enjoy more moments like that with Washington. His belief that the Capitals can win the Stanley Cup again this season after winning it for the first time in 2018 factored into his decision to sign with them.
But they might have to go through the Bruins to do it. The game Saturday will be the first of eight between the teams in the MassMutual East Division.
After a slow start, Boston (5-1-1) has won its past four games, and forward David Pastrnak could make his season debut Saturday after missing the first seven games recovering from offseason surgery on his right hip.
The Capitals and Bruins play again Monday in Washington. Chara will visit Boston for the first time with the Capitals on March 3. But Chara isn’t looking past Saturday.
“Obviously, I knew this would be coming up on the schedule,” he said. “Just kind of taking it day by day, and I’m looking forward to the game tomorrow. It’s going to be a good game.”
NHL.com staff writer Amalie Benjamin contributed to this report