Giant roadblock

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 9:46 AM ET

BOSTON -- After four seasons of having him watch their backside, the Senators are about to discover what it's like to face the biggest -- and one of the strongest -- players in NHL history.

To push their winning streak to four games, the Senators will have to get past a Boston Bruins team that features new captain Zdeno Chara, the 6-foot-9 man-mountain who grew into one of the game's best defencemen while in Ottawa.

Chara, who signed a $37.5-million free agent contract with Boston last summer, will naturally be out to prove the Senators erred when they opted to open the vault for Wade Redden instead of him.

"I do have great memories from Ottawa ... I met a lot of people and met a lot of friends, but I had to move on," Chara told reporters at TD Banknorth Garden yesterday. "This is my team, this is who I play for and I'll try to win a hockey game."

HEAVY ICE TIME

While scoring his first goal in Thursday's 3-2 loss to the Habs (a typical Chara boomer from the point on a power play), he has also added five assists, 10 penalty minutes and a minus-5 to his statistical blotter this season. The most eye catching number is his ice time, however. Chara is averaging 30:39 per game, which is a full 1:35 more than the next busiest NHLer, Toronto's Bryan McCabe.

"He's going to be pretty physical on us, he's going to be pretty excited," Jason Spezza, fresh off a five-point game, said when asked about facing Chara in live, real action for the first time after a couple of years practising against him. "We're going to have to try and tire him out. I don't know if he does tire, though. The guy works out eight times a day.

"Definitely, when you play an old team, you get a little extra pumped for the game. But you get a little extra nervous, too. I think we have to try and take advantage of the nervousness."

It would figure Chara will jump over the boards whenever Spezza and Dany Heatley are on the ice, as the duo is officially back in top offensive form.

"He plays a lot of minutes ... everybody is going to see him a lot," said Heatley, who added Ottawa will have an obvious game plan versus Chara.

"I don't care which defenceman it is, they don't like going behind them to get the puck. Especially him. We've got to shoot the puck in deep then work down low."

Daniel Alfredsson concurred.

"We know him pretty good, and we can take advantage of his weaknesses," the Senators captain said of Chara.

"He's a good player, but we have to make it hard for him. We have to dump the puck in and skate past him. You're not going to deke him 1-on-1 with his strength and reach. We have to dump it in and make him work."

Coach Bryan Murray sees this game -- against an improving division rival that is coming off a heartbreaking, last-second loss to Montreal -- as something of a measuring stick. While the Senators are 3-0-0 on the road, the Bruins are obviously anxious to improve a 1-2-0 home record.

Getting past them, and Chara, would add cement to the belief Murray's team has turned the corner.

"We all recognize he was a very good and important player on this team," Murray said of his former shutdown defenceman. "I would think the players are going to want to play well against him."

Chara downplayed the added significance of facing Ottawa.

Asked if he still keeps an eye on the Senators, he responded tersely.

"I'm following my team," said Chara, who was paired with a 20-year-old (Matt Lashoff) playing his first game on Thursday. "I talk to a few guys to see how they're doing, but with the schedule, you're about your schedule and your game. You don't have time to follow how they're doing."

He'll have plenty of time to follow them tonight. At least 30 minutes worth.


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