A big plus for Bruins

Savard works to become a more complete player

By Barbara Matson
Globe Staff / November 26, 2008
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WILMINGTON - A reputation can be a slippery thing. Once let loose on the world, it's hard to get back in the box.

Marc Savard, the Bruins' 31-year-old playmaking center and scoring leader, has been an offensive standout since he was a kid, and last week was no different. He led all NHL scorers with 8 points (2 goals, 6 assists) in four victories and was named the league's First Star of the Week.

Currently second in the league in assists with 19, and third in points (27) and plus/minus (+13), Savard has 225 assists in the last 3 1/4 seasons. Only San Jose's Joe Thornton has more (272).

But until recently, Savard was something of a defensive dropout. Though he was ninth in the league in scoring in both the 2006-07 and 2005-06 seasons, his name did not command the respect of others in the top 10, names like Ovechkin and Crosby and Thornton.

Last year, Savard dipped to No. 22 on the NHL scoring sheet, though he was a better player; he earned a trip to the All-Star Game, and his team reached the playoffs. The difference was defense. Under coach Claude Julien, Savard started to play some.

Of course, it's not that simple. Drafted by the Rangers in 1995, Savard spent his first three seasons in Calgary, hanging around the blue line. He was traded to Atlanta, and under coach Bob Hartley, he got more minutes and his game started to grow.

When Savard came to Boston in 2006, he was signed to a four-year, $20 million deal and was expected to be a star forward. But expectations ended there.

"After my last year in Atlanta, I ended up plus-9 and had a good season - we finished ninth in the conference and just missed the playoffs," said Savard. "I came here and I felt like I took a step back a bit. I still had 97 points or whatever I had [in 2005-06], but I was minus-19. I wasn't really happy that summer.

"Coming in here [the next year] with Claude, and him stressing defense so much, now I get more benefit going home at night knowing I was a plus player that night and I helped my team win. I don't want to be a minus, I don't like getting scored on, and I think it's helped me out."

Savard has been centering 21-year-old Phil Kessel and 20-year-old Milan Lucic, a perfect opportunity to be in a leadership position.

"They bring energy," said Savard. "It's always nice to be able to help guys out and take charge in situations. When we come off a shift and we missed a chance - say I passed to Kessel and he missed or even he passed to me and I missed - I get back defensively. I tell them we've got to want to put that in, we've got to want more. You only get so many good chances, it's the NHL."

In taking on the responsibility of pushing his young teammates, Savard is pushing himself. Julien, in turn, can keep pushing Savard.

"When you have a player who respects what the coaches are trying to do, that's a leader," said Julien. "They reinforce that message for us.

"I think he showed a desire to be a leader, and it was a matter of him proving he could be, on and off the ice. Sometimes it's not about what comes out of your mouth, it's what people see you do."

Of course Savard has plenty of talk, too. Ask rookie Blake Wheeler.

"When I first got here," said Wheeler, "I didn't know what to expect in the locker room, and he just never stops talking. I always sit by myself before games and listen to what he has to say and we get a pretty good laugh and he keeps it loose. It makes you go out there and play better."

Savard is having a blast. The Bruins are 9-0-1 in their last 10 games.

"When you're winning like this, you can't beat it," said Savard. "You want to get to the rink every day. I'm the first guy here usually and I'm here even earlier now and the trainers look at me like I have four heads and say, 'What are you doing here so early?' I'm like, 'I don't know, I just came down.' "

Marco Sturm was the only player absent from practice yesterday; he remains day-to-day with an upper-body injury.

Fluto Shinzawa of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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