BOSTON – When it comes to regimented pro athletes that thrive on routine and diet, you can’t find a better model than Patrice Bergeron.
So you have to excuse him if Boston’s recent whirlwind tour featuring no fewer than eight legs covering three countries left him a little ragged.
“It’s different, I’ll tell you,” said Bergeron after he ended his brief season-opening points drought tonight with two assists in Boston’s 4-1 win over Washington at TD Garden.
“I was in bed early all week last week. It seemed like those jet legs were staying there for a long time. So I got over it, I guess. I think it was the same thing for everyone. It worked out.”
Maybe those “jet legs” Bergeron brought back from Belfast and Prague, and carried with him from Boston to New Jersey and back, and then to Washington and back, also brought on a bit of a hex in the offensive zone. He seemed to be doing all the right things, but no matter what he executed – be it setting up Blake Wheeler for a wide-open shot or staring down an empty net in the closing seconds Tuesday in D.C. – he couldn’t get the bounces.
That’s where the discipline comes in. Bergeron never seems to panic, even when he’s trying to live up to a brand-new $5 million-per-year contract and he’s sporting goose eggs on his ledger. He’s as steady as they come, with an adherence to the team’s defensive philosophy that borders on religious zealotry and an ability to stick with things offensively even during the worst of times.
While some guys “squeeze their sticks too tight,” Bergeron seems to always be confident in the knowledge that as long as he’s leading one of the league’s best penalty-kill units (a perfect 4-for-4 against Washington) and winning faceoffs (50 percent of them tonight), sooner or later his offensive output will equal his effort level.
When he says after breaking the slump that “I didn’t really care about that” you have to believe him. The lack of worry shows in his play.
“I don’t think Bergy changed anything tonight except for the plays that he made ended up going into the net,” said head coach Claude Julien.
Those plays that found the mesh came courtesy of the sticks of Michael Ryder on the power play and Jordan Caron at even strength after a Bergeron feed from behind the net with the center’s back turned to the play.
When Bergeron found Ryder open at the left doorstep for the game’s first goal at 19:32 of the first period, the alternate captain did so from his new perch on the left point on the power play. Bergeron has played back there in years past, but did so sparingly over the course of last season. Julien said he was searching for more poise from his man-advantage point men. Well, who better to provide that then “Never Nervous Bergy”?
The move worked to perfection, as the Bruins had converted just one of their previous 15 power-play opportunities. And it added to the list of reasons that when you have a player like Bergeron, you don’t mess around by letting him hit the open market.
There aren’t too many guys that can finish among the top 10 in faceoff percentage and shutdown some of the league’s best lines while also possessing the potential to put up 65, 70 points and direct a power play from the blue line with pizzazz. Never mind that those guys rarely become unrestricted free agents, which would’ve been Bergeron’s classification had he not signed an extension earlier this month.
The same work ethic that helped him make the leap from junior hockey to the NHL in 2003, and willed him back to form after two concussions in two years to make last year’s Canadian Olympic team, still burns strong within Bergeron. It never seems to take a night off, regardless of what the stat sheet might tell you about slumps or struggles. When you multiply that by 82 games, plus playoffs, and you put it in perspective against what you might get from a handful of other athletes that make that type of mullah (or more), you can really see the value in keeping Bergeron around here for another three years as your highest-paid-per-annum forward.
Boston’s world-traveling days are probably over for a while, so Bergeron won’t have to worry about “jet legs” again. There will undoubtedly be more slumps, but they’re unlikely to faze him much. As long as he can stay in his routine, the Bruins should receive spectacular returns on their investment.