CHICAGO – It’s hard not to notice Zdeno Chara because, well, he’s 6-9, 250 pounds and a future Hall of Famer still playing in the NHL at 44 years old.
But the Islanders didn’t sign the defenseman just for his unique size and longevity. Chara was brought in to aid the club’s stated desire to win the Stanley Cup. A13-game road trip continued Tuesday night against Chicago in the United Center home opener and Chara’s first two games back in an Islanders’ jersey – he was traded away in 2001 – did not go as planned.
The Islanders, who had fourth-line left wing Matt Martin back in the lineup for the first time since his offseason ankle surgery and were facing Chicago for the first time since Dec. 27, 2019, were outscored 11-4 in their opening two defeats. Chara was on the ice for four goals against in Saturday’s 5-1 loss at Florida.
"You don’t want to be on the downside of it but that’s hockey sometimes," Chara said of his minus-4 rating. "We win as a team, we lose as a team. That’s not exactly the indicator necessarily of individual performances."
Chara, paired with third-year-pro Noah Dobson, can still be effective defensively by using his big body to block paths to the crease. But it was noticeable when the Panthers’ Aleksander Barkov skated around Chara to the net for the final goal on Saturday.
Coach Barry Trotz said looks can often be deceiving.
"I go through every chance every night after the game and we have a grading system for each chance: Who created it? What happened? What was the thought process?" Trotz said. "His grading system has been OK. There were three mistakes before that happened to allow Barkov all that speed. Barkov should have been picked up by a forward. It wasn’t Zdeno’s responsibility and he tried to recover for the guy that didn’t do his job. Plus-minus is a fleeting stat a lot of times."
Chara spent last season with the Capitals after 14 seasons and one Stanley Cup as the Bruins captain.
Trotz said Chara is going through a natural adjustment period. But Chara said what the Islanders want him to do is very similar to what he was used to with the Bruins and Capitals.
"If we do our jobs on the ice, everybody unifies as a team," Chara said. "We have good guidelines that are being forwarded to us from the coaching staff and the system has been in place for some time here. It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. It’s not more about the system, it’s about doing our job and doing it well and once we do that, everything will fall into place."
"We brought him in to defend, get pucks out, be a good penalty killer," Trotz said. "I think he can do that. There’s going to be an adjustment period for him and for us. He’s been better than the plus-minus, put it that way."
Notes & quotes: Captain Anders Lee (illness) was a late scratch. The team said it was not COVID-19 related . . . Leo Komarov cleared waivers and was re-assigned to the Islanders’ AHL affiliate in Bridgeport to open a roster spot for Martin…Trotz is hopeful goalie Semyon Varlamov (injured reserve/soreness) will make his first start before the end of back-to-back games in Arizona and Las Vegas this weekend. "Hopefully, as we go along here, Varly is feeling pretty good," Trotz said. "Hopefully, we get to the weekend and he might become available." Cory Schneider is expected to be re-assigned to Bridgeport when Varlamov is activated…A pregame chant was held for Chicago Hall of Fame goalie Tony Esposito, who died on Aug. 10.