WILMINGTON, Mass. – As he normally does, regardless if a player is going really well or having some struggles, Bruins head coach Claude Julien sought out center Marc Savard this morning before practice at Ristuccia Arena.
Savard was partially benched for a large chunk of the third period in Boston’s 3-1 loss to Minnesota last night – the veteran only skated in extra-man situations over the final three fourths of the stanza – after an unforced giveaway led directly to the Wild’s go-ahead goal.
After cutting Savard’s ice time as punishment, Julien wanted to follow up this morning with some positive reinforcement and a message that he has faith in the center to bounce back the right way in the games ahead.
Now to Savard, the benching – his second in as many weeks – is on the previous page. Saturday night’s huge match-up with Montreal is on the current page.
“You’ve got to [forget about last night]. That’s part of the business. You’ve got to move on. It was tough to swallow,” said Savard.
Savard’s too proud to keep leaning on the excuse that he has only been back playing games for a month after his bout with post-concussion syndrome and his long road back into shape once he started skating. But that’s obviously a huge reason a guy that usually tops the Bruins’ scoring chart has recorded just six points in 16 games.
The gaffe against the Wild was the second glaring one Savard made leading up to an opposition goal since his return. December 11 he made a blind pass back to the point that Mike Richards intercepted and turned into a 2-on-1 goal in overtime to lift Philadelphia. Savard made his share of miscues in earning extra bench time last week in Tampa as well.
Unlike Patrice Bergeron who went also went through a return from a serious concussion a couple seasons ago, Savard did not have the benefit of months of skating leading up to training camp or even training camp. And even if he had had those things, his game might still be a little off because so much of the way Savard plays is about touch, timing and confidence. The time off has obviously taken it’s toll on Savard. But general manager Peter Chiarelli is as willing as Julien to be patient with the center, even if that means curtailing some playing time in the midst of games.
“We’ve got three centermen and we have to spread out the ice time,” said Chiarelli while rinkside during today’s practice. “Obviously, he’s a very good player and whether he was confused or not, he has to … I see progress. But these blips here and there, they’re attributed to inactivity. Any offensive player like him is prone to those things. … It’s just the frequency of it. He may do nine great plays and one giveaway. Right now, he’s not at that ratio yet. But I expect him to get there.”
As far as Zdeno Chara’s concerned, he’s confident that Savard and any teammates that suffer a cut in ice time because of poor play would be wise to just to lean on the team’s system and focus on the little things in order to get back up to speed and still contribute to the team’s success.
“Obviously, if you’re not performing and you’re not playing well, and somebody else is playing well, obviously it’s their turn to play more,” said the captain. “When you cut down on your ice time, then you have to really focus on doing the things right, really pay attention to detail and think defense first and make sure you don’t make mistakes in the defensive zone and get it nice with speed through the neutral zone and don’t turn the puck over. …
“When we get to the offensive zone, we all know we have [some freedom] … then you can create something and try to do something offensively. But obviously it starts in the defensive zone.”
That’s a lesson Savard has been learning since he came to Boston from Atlanta almost four years ago. And one that he can take to heart again as he continues to try to work is way from being the dormant, pedestrian Marc Savard back to the dynamic playmaking Marc Savard.
At least now he knows now his coach still has his back and will give him more chances to regain his form.