Patrice Bergeron’s second hat trick in six games has him on pace for a career-best offensive season, but it’s his two-way play that has him in line to make history.
It’s a remarkable stretch that dates back more than a month, all the way to a mid-December outing in which the Boston Bruins fell 5-3 at the hands of the Washington Capitals. But since that contest, which took place in Boston on Dec. 14, the Bruins have been the hottest team in the league, bar none. Because despite the Calgary Flames’ current seven-game winning streak and regardless of the fact the Colorado Avalanche pushed their streak of victories to eight with a win Thursday, Boston hasn’t left a single contest empty-handed in more than a month.
Such a run, as impressive as it is by a collective group of players, can’t be accomplished without a certain set of individual catalysts, and Boston has had those, to be sure. Brad Marchand, for instance, is tied for third in scoring since Dec. 16 with eight goals and 20 points. David Backes has found his form for the Bruins, chipping in six goals and 14 points. Meanwhile, David Pastrnak, Danton Heinen and Ryan Spooner have a dozen points or more across the 15-game streak. And this isn’t to mention the play of the defense, led by Zdeno Chara, Torey Krug and rookie standout Charlie McAvoy, nor does it give credit to Tuukka Rask, who has been excellent since an early season slump created a faux-goaltending controversy in Boston.
But the player most important to the Bruins’ success over the current streak, a run which has seen Boston shrink what was once a 14-point gap for the Atlantic Division lead to a mere five-point deficit with a game in hand on the division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, is Patrice Bergeron. Though, frankly, that doesn’t come as much of a surprise.
For the better part of his career, Bergeron has been a driving force behind whatever Boston has accomplished. He’s helped spur the Bruins to four 100-point seasons, was a near point per game player during Boston’s 2010-11 Stanley Cup run despite significant injuries and has consistently been the most reliable player at Boston’s disposal. But this season, and particularly during this run, Bergeron is on to something special. Thursday night in New York, as the Bruins looked to keep the streak alive against the Islanders, Bergeron fired home three goals for his second hat trick in six games. It was his 10th multi-point outing of the season, his fifth during the current streak and a trio of tallies that put him on pace for 38 goals and 76 points, which would be both the best goal-scoring and point-scoring season of his career.
Granted, Bergeron getting the job done offensively doesn’t necessarily come as a surprise. He’s a three-time 30-goal scorer, has hit the 20-goal plateau eight times and has nine campaigns of 50-plus points on his resume. He’s been a gifted scorer since he entered the league as an 18-year-old and he’s continued to prove as much since his 31-goal, 73-point sophomore season. But what has always been his calling card, what separates Bergeron from the rest of the league’s reliable 20-goal, 50-point men, is his two-way play. And that has been on display during this streak and beyond, with two numbers in particular standing out.
The first is Bergeron’s Corsi for percentage over the past 15 games, which, among the 206 skaters to play at least 150 minutes at 5-on-5, ranks 13th at 58.6 percent. But the second, and easily more impressive, is Bergeron’s goals for percentage. Adjusted for score and venue, Bergeron has a goals for percentage of 77.3 percent since mid-December. He’s been on the ice as Boston has tallied 13 goals at five-a-side and only four times have the Bruins dug a puck out of their own net at 5-on-5 with Bergeron on the ice during the current streak. This run, too, has been a microcosm of his season.
Across the entire campaign, Bergeron is among a group of 500 forwards who have skated at least 500 minutes at 5-on-5 and is either at or near the top in some of the key advanced statistical categories. In terms of possession, Bergeron ranks second, behind only Chicago Blackhawks winger Brandon Saad, with a 57.8 Corsi for percentage, all the while sitting 17th in shots for percentage at 55.1 percent. He tops the league in scoring chances for percentage at 59.4 percent, and there’s no player who is even all that close to him in terms of goals for percentage. Bergeron is pacing the league at 76.2 percent. The next-best forward is St. Louis Blues winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who sits at 70.9 percent. That’s due to the fact Bergeron has been on the ice for only 10 goals against at 5-on-5 all season. That’s fewer than any other skater — let alone forward — who has played 500 minutes. He also ranks 33rd in the league as he’s been on ice for 32 goals for at five-a-side.
Maybe the only blip on Bergeron’s otherwise outstanding defensive record is that the 2017-18 campaign has seen him start a greater portion of his shifts in the offensive zone than ever before. Entering this season, Bergeron had a career 46.1 offensive zone start percentage, which was boosted by last season’s 54.7 percent rate. This season, though, Bergeron is starting 57.5 percent of his 5-on-5 shifts in the offensive zone. However, the reality is that Bergeron’s rate is only that high because the Bruins have tilted the ice in their favor so often. The only team that has started more shifts in the attacking end than Boston is Chicago, and Bergeron’s offensive zone start is only slightly higher than team average, according to Corsica. His quality of competition, though, is higher than any other Bruins forward.
And that’s where Bergeron’s play — both during this streak and across the campaign thus far — tie into a bit of history. At the culmination of last season, Bergeron earned himself co-ownership of a place in the history books as one of only two players to win four Selke Trophies, tying the mark set by Hall of Famer Bob Gainey, who won the award in each of the first four years following its inception. But Bergeron, who has either won or been the runner-up for the trophy in each of the past six seasons, is well on his way to a fifth Selke thanks to his combination of top-tier offense and unwavering defensive play.
So, as the Bruins continue their dominance and fight a battle for a divisional crown that few thought possible at the quarter-mark of the campaign, Bergeron’s pursuit of career-best point totals and another piece of hardware to add to his already considerable trophy case make for another storyline worth watching. And if he can keep this up, and there’s nothing to suggest he can’t, Bergeron is in line to make history by the time the book is officially shut on the 2017-18 season.
(All advanced statistics via Natural Stat Trick, unless otherwise noted.)
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