Boston Bruins: Is Patrice Bergeron Finally Back to His Original Self?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIDecember 15, 2011

OTTAWA, CANADA - DECEMBER 14: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins celebrates his third period goal with team mate Brad Marchand #63 during an NHL game against the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank Place on December 14, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images

Extraordinary as it sounds, Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien has never seen a Patrice Bergeron quite like this—at least not in their four-plus years of being on the same side.

About three-eighths of the way through this season, Bergeron has gone no more than two consecutive games without a single point. He has one playmaker hat trick and three other multi-point efforts, including two in as many nights this week against Los Angeles and Ottawa.

Between Oct. 20 and Nov. 7, Bergeron put his name to seven consecutive score sheets for his longest production streak since December of 2006.

The Bergeron that Julien is witnessing now was certainly there when he assumed his coaching duties in 2007. At that time, the then-22-year-old alternate captain was raring to build upon back-to-back 70-plus-point seasons, and the new coach was vying to deliver the Bruins back to relevance.

Everything was going according to plan on both fronts through nine games, at which point Bergeron had a sound scoring log of 3-4-7, and Boston boasted a better-than-expected record of 6-3-0. But it all took a frightful turn for the worse in the first period of the next game, when Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Randy Jones belted Bergeron from behind, instantaneously canceling the rest of his season with a grade-three concussion.

Julien’s pupils carried on without the anointed franchise nucleus and completed the first step in Boston’s rebuilding process by claiming their first playoff berth in four years.

In the subsequent three years, Bergeron has been healthy off and on, sustaining two more concussions and a handful of other ailments. But otherwise, he saw action in 217 regular-season and 47 postseason contests, and he pitched in on a team that is more balanced than it is star-studded, yet they continuously climbed from the basement to the summit.

The long-term consequences of his protracted injury and recovery from 2007-08 were evident in his own numbers. In the first two years after the lockout, which otherwise would have been his sophomore NHL season, Bergeron broke both the 40-assist and 70-point plateau.

In the Julien era, Bergeron has mustered no more than 35 helpers or 57 points in a single season, but it would not be a stretch to say that the rest of the Bruins have grown through adversity. After all, they have won two of the last three Northeast Division titles and won at least one series in each of the last three postseasons, including four out of four last year.

Last season also happened to be Bergeron’s fullest and healthiest since his original injury. Unlike 2008-09 or 2009-10, there were no blatant aftershocks like the second concussion he incurred through an incidental collision with future teammate Dennis Seidenberg in December 2008. Instead, he missed merely two regular-season and two postseason games.

In that span, he matched his 2006-07 total of 22 regular-season goals and upped his assists bushel from 31 to 33 to 35. In 23 playoff appearances, he amassed 14 assists and six goals, one of which put him in the company of Bill Carson, Roy Conacher, Bobby Bauer and Bobby Orr as the only men to score a Cup-clincher for the Bruins.

There has since been little or no hangover for the 26-year-old playmaking pivot, even when there was for the bulk of his teammates. At this point in the 2011-12 campaign, on the heels of back-to-back two-point nights, Bergeron has a precise ratio of one goal and three assists every five games.

On his current pace, he could finish with as many as 16 goals and a career-high 49 assists for 65 points. Or, if he were to match last year’s total of 80 games-played, he could still pace himself to 48 helpers, which would equate his 2006-07 output.

By the time he has checked 60 games off the 2011-12 docket, Bergeron could already eclipse his 35 assists from last season.

Of course, that is hardly a lock. After all, Bergeron has had totals comparable to his current 6-18-24 log at the 30-game mark of the previous three seasons.

At this time in 2008-09, Bergeron had collected four goals and 14 helpers. The following year, he had eight goals and 16 assists for 24 points in his first 30 outings. In both cases, that was before any new injuries threw him off course.

Ultimately missing 18 games in Julien’s second season, Bergeron managed four more goals and 17 more assists in his latter 34 appearances. In 2009-10, when he had 24 points in the first 30 games, just as he does right now, he sat out eight games with an injury and another for maintenance purposes. In the last 43 contests he did partake in that year, he tallied 11 goals and 17 assists.

Remarkably, last year was Bergeron’s slowest start in recent memory with zero points in the Bruins’ first four games and a 5-12-17 transcript in their first 30. He brooked another four-game production drought in November and later a seven-game lull in the first half of March, but he still accumulated a year’s total of 22 strikes and 35 assists.

But so far this year, there have been no slumps. And assuming Bergeron stays healthy this time, he is only moving farther away from the worst of his history. That, in turn, only lessens the likelihood of another seven-game pointless skid and enhances the possibility of another seven-game scoring streak.

If there is any time for Bergeron to put a Sharpie-strong stamp on his return to old form, this season is it.