Bergeron knows the feeling
MONTREAL - Last night, for the first time since Jan. 5, Sidney Crosby appeared in an NHL game. The symptoms of his concussion, most likely delivered via David Steckel and Victor Hedman hits, have been gone for months. Crosby returned with a thunderclap, scoring two goals and adding two assists in Pittsburgh’s 5-0 win.
More than most players, the Bruins’ Patrice Bergeron knew what Crosby might have been feeling in anticipation of his return.
On Oct. 27, 2007, Bergeron suffered a career-threatening concussion. He didn’t play again that season. The next time Bergeron played was Oct. 9, 2008, in a season-opening win over Colorado at the Pepsi Center.
“Nervousness is there,’’ Bergeron said before last night’s 1-0 win over the Canadiens. “You’re anxious. You’re excited. You just want to get that first one out of the way, get it behind you, and just look forward. I’m sure he’s going to feel the same way. But I can’t speak for him. I’ve been through it. But everyone’s different.’’
At the time of his injury, Crosby was the league’s best player. In 41 games last year, he had racked up 32 goals and 34 assists.
Yesterday, echoing feelings around the league, Bruins coach Claude Julien welcomed the return of the NHL’s premier player.
“He’s a great ambassador for the game at a young age,’’ Julien said. “Whether it’s through him speaking or through playing, I think he’s been great that way. To lose him for almost a whole year hasn’t been good for the league or anything else. When you look at what we’ve been through with Patrice, what it did to him and our team, you understand where they’re coming from.
“I think people have to be careful about expectations after he’s been out for a year. If he does great off the bat, good for him. It will show how good a player he is. But I think if things don’t go smoothly, people have to understand what he’s been through and give him that opportunity. Personally, honestly, I’m really happy to see him back.’’
Although he looked like an All-Star last night, there is no guarantee Crosby returns to the exquisite level he was at before his injury. In 2006-07, Bergeron was nearly a point-per-game player (22-48-70 in 77 games). In 2008-09, Bergeron’s first year back, he scored only eight goals and had 31 assists in 64 games. That year, Bergeron also suffered a second concussion when he ran into Dennis Seidenberg, then with Carolina.
Bergeron has four goals and 10 assists in 19 games. He may not score 31 goals like he did in 2005-06. But Bergeron is a better all-around player now than he was before his concussion. He is averaging 19:29 of ice time per game, the most he’s played under Julien. Bergeron has won 57.5 percent of his faceoffs.
Bergeron has proved that players not only can play again after a serious concussion, but even improve.
“There’s no doubt that from when I saw him before the injury to today, he’s a much better player. A more complete player at both ends of the ice,’’ Julien said. “Offensively and defensively, it’s his whole game. I’ve always attributed him as one of the best two-way players in the league. It’s also one of the reasons why he was able to represent his country at the last Olympics. He just keeps improving.’’
The Bruins were called for only six penalty minutes last night, far fewer than the 15.6 PIMs they had been averaging per game.
One player, however, was responsible for all six penalty minutes.
In the second period, Alexei Emelin nailed Benoit Pouliot with a clean check. Pouliot retaliated by hooking Emelin, and was sent to the box at 13:57.
Less than five minutes later, Pouliot was back in the box, this time for high-sticking P.K. Subban in the face. Pouliot was called for a double minor at 18:47.
As expected, Pouliot was benched for most of the third period. He skated only 13 seconds in the third after leaving the penalty box upon the expiration of his double minor. Gregory Campbell replaced Pouliot on the No. 3 line alongside Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.
Jordan Caron, a healthy scratch last night, could replace Pouliot tomorrow against Buffalo.
Gill out again
Hal Gill missed his fourth straight game because of an infection. As usual, the Canadiens are banged up on defense, with Jaroslav Spacek (upper body), Andrei Markov (knee), and Chris Campoli (lower body) joining Gill on the sideline . . . Subban and Adam McQuaid appeared in their 100th games . . . Andrew Ference missed several minutes in the third period after having a problem with his skate blade . . . Joe Corvo was limping after the game. He was hurting in the first period, losing an edge and tumbling to the ice while trying to keep the puck in the offensive zone . . . Bergeron had a rare rough night on the draw. He lost 12 of 18 faceoffs . . . Caron and Steven Kampfer were the healthy scratches . . . Versus was scheduled to air last night’s game for non-New England viewers (NESN had exclusive local rights). But the network pulled out, switching to the Pittsburgh-Islanders game.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at email@example.com.