BUFFALO — Long the Bruins’ top faceoff man, Patrice Bergeron these days tops the club’s chart for shots on net. Patrice the Thief, adept at clipping pucks off the sticks of fellow centermen throughout the league, increasingly is making life miserable for goalies.
“We emphasize that probably with most of our players,’’ coach Claude Julien said prior to Friday night’s game against the Sabres, noting an overall urgency for his players to take shots. “And [Bergeron] is a guy, you know, he has to shoot a little bit more.’’
Over the previous two seasons, Bergeron amassed 402 shots on net over 161 regular-season games, an average of 2.5 per game. Entering Friday’s game, he had 39 shots in 11 games, an average of 3.5, or a 40 percent increase. Eleven games may be a small sample, but it seemed at least to indicate a trend.
“There were times I thought he looked [too often] for the perfect play,’’ added Julien. “And it took not only an opportunity to score, but also a shot on net. It doesn’t always have to be scoring on an initial shot, but maybe creating a loose puck, a chance.’’
Bergeron, usually flanked by Brad Marchand (16 shots) and Tyler Seguin (34 shots), entered the night tied for fourth in team scoring with Nathan Horton (7 points). Julien added that he has told first-line pivot David Krejci to shoot more this season, and Krejci entered the night as the club’s top point-getter (4-7—11).
Krejci, in his sixth NHL season, has never finished a season with a point-per-game average. Prior to Friday night, he had 23 shots on net, an average of 2.1 per game. In the prior two seasons, he totaled 302 shots over 154 games, or 1.96 per game. His uptick has been but fractional.
“We have talked about sending guys more to the net this year,’’ said Julien. “I thought last year we weren’t as good as we should be in that area. And by doing that, then guys are more tempted to put pucks to the net because someone is there for the rebound. Already this year I think we have scored more goals from in tight than we did probably for half a season last year.’’
Goalie Anton Khudobin, proud son of Ust-Kamenogorsk, Kazakhstan, grew up some 200 miles from where the meteor caused such havoc on Friday in the Chelyabinsk region. Khudobin said he was thankful that both of his parents were nowhere near where the meteor left a large crater and reports of more than 1,000 injuries.
“It’s only what I saw in the media, ‘’ said Khudobin, chatting after the morning workout. “One friend sent me a message that a meteor just landed. And a picture. And it’s this huge hole [in the ground]. But [initially] I don’t know if it’s true or not.’’
The site, Khudobin said, is some three hours’ drive from his home.
“It’s really close,’’ he said. “I don’t know how scary it is. I heard the sound was really bad. I heard windows blew out in apartment buildings.’’
Upon hearing the news, and seeing pictures over the Internet, Khudobin wasn’t sure what to think.
“A buddy posted a picture and I figured, ‘Oh, he’s probably joking . . . oh, it was just the sky, whatever . . . clouds.’ And after I saw the [posted] comments, you can go the video on YouTube, and after I watched the video. Everybody is safe . . . I hope everything is fine. I hope everybody is safe.’’
Concern over the incident, said Khudobin, reminded him of all the e-mails he received last weekend, friends from across the world inquiring how he was coping in the 2 feet of snow that fell in Boston.
“Everybody was talking to me, asking, ‘Are you safe, is everything OK?’ ’’ he said. “That’s kind of the same. They are in front of the world news right now. But I do my job here. They do their job there. And I hope everybody is going to be fine.’’
Quick with a compliment
Following his club’s morning workout, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff said the Bruins are among the best clubs in the NHL, and likely the best in the Eastern Conference.
“I think that group of six defensemen is tough,’’ said Ruff, his club struggling mightily. “I think with [Zdeno] Chara back there playing half the game, one of the best defenders in the league, one of the strongest. They have excellent team speed, maybe the best team speed in the league.’’
Apprised of Ruff’s comments, Julien said increasing speed was a team objective.
“It’s part of our game that we’ve tried to work on,’’ he said. “I said at the beginning of the year that our breakouts were pretty good over the years but that our neutral zone could use some work. We have worked on our neutral-zone counters and certainly that has helped. We’ve got some players that have come into their own and have some speed up front and that certainly helps.
“Guess you take the compliments when they come your way, right?”
The speed, said Julien, has improved among individuals, as well as in the overall transition game.
“I think if you look at a guy like [Milan] Lucic last year, and look at him this year, he is skating so much better,’’ Julien said. “So, those are the kind of guys that make it happen. You know [Rich] Peverley’s got great speed and you can add Chris Bourque to that group. He is a good little skater and he is coming into his own. And the fourth line, we have a guy like [Daniel] Paille who skates the way he does. Then [Tyler] Seguin, Bergy, Marchand, I think they are all pretty good skaters. We like to think we are a pretty quick team, but we also have had to work at that.’’
Julien, along with a number of his players, including Bourque, Andrew Ference, Dougie Hamilton, Aaron Johnson, Adam McQuaid, Paille, and Peverley, will visit the families affected by the Sandy Hook tragedy on Monday in Newtown, Conn. In addition, the team will honor Sandy Hook vice principal Natalie Green Hammond at the game against the Montreal Canadiens March 3 at TD Garden. Green Hammond, a lifelong Bruins fan, will drop the ceremonial first puck.