Washington defenseman Zdeno Chara signed a one-year, $795,000 deal with the Washington Capitals in late December, and the captain of the Bruins for 14 years returns to Boston for two games this week. Nick Wass/Associated Press

BOSTON — In normal times, without a pandemic, TD Garden would be a packed, sold-out spectacle Wednesday night for the homecoming celebration of longtime captain Zdeno Chara.

The 43-year-old defenseman, who signed a one-year, $795,000 deal with the Washington Capitals in late December, would be met with a raucous ovation as the videoboard flashed with his highlight-filled tribute video for the 14-year Bruins captain.

But on Tuesday, with the world still grappling with the pandemic and TD Garden still without fans, Chara acknowledged that his welcome back to Boston will come with less grandeur – and he’s content with that. The Capitals (12-5-4) will face the Bruins on Wednesday and Friday night.

“It’s going to be exciting to be back,” Chara said. “Obviously, we all wish to have fans at some point – hopefully sooner – at our arenas. They always make the games more exciting. But this time we’re going to have to obviously wait and respect that safety and health is the priority.”

In addition to playing in TD Garden for the first time since signing with the Capitals, Chara also saw his family for the first time in nearly nine weeks. Before he signed with Washington, Chara and his wife decided that keeping their kids in school in Boston would be the easiest route.

While Chara kept up with his family every day over FaceTime, it was not the same as being with them every day. So Chara took full advantage of the Capitals’ scheduled off day Monday in Boston. The father of three, who followed all NHL pandemic protocols, finally got to spend time with his wife and kids.


“It was really nice to see them after long time and be a dad for one day again,” Chara said. “… It’s different not being with them at home. Those are the sacrifices we talked about before I made that decision, and so far it’s been working.”

Chara is averaging 19:24 of ice time, which is third-most on the team. He has settled into a third-pair role alongside Nick Jensen now that the Capitals’ are fully healthy on their blue line. However, Chara’s minutes rank in the top four among blue-liners because of Capitals Coach Peter Laviolette using him in more situational times on the ice.

Laviolette said Chara has been doing exactly what he expected. Chara has also contributed offensively, with two goals and four assists. Laviolette has routinely called the Chara-Jensen tandem one of the best pairs on the ice.

“I think it’s been exactly what we were looking for,” Laviolette said. “His presence on the ice, his game on the ice, his presence on the team and in the locker room, there’s been no surprises. I don’t think that we tried to push it in a different direction or have it be something that it’s not. I would say almost as advertised.”

While the spotlight is on Chara over the next week, the entire team knows the importance of the upcoming stretch. Washington has won three consecutive games and sits atop the East Division with 28 points through 21 games. Boston (12-5-2) has 26 points through 19 games.

“I think you got to stay even-keeled here,” Laviolette said. “We know they are a good team, and we know that this little two-game stretch here will separate somebody or push somebody a little bit forward. . . . I am excited to play the games and see where we are at.”

Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov was back at practice Tuesday after missing the past two games because of an upper-body injury. Kuznetsov, who has spent time on the NHL’s COVID-19 list, has missed 10 games this season. He was skating on the top line with Alex Ovechkin and Conor Sheary on Tuesday and was working on the second-unit power play. The team expects to provide an update on his status Wednesday morning.

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