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Back in the groove

Posted by Danny Picard December 11, 2008 05:57 AM

Don’t think. Just shoot.

That’s the mindset Michael Ryder has adopted over the last two weeks while reminding every-
one in the league that he can still put the puck in the net if an opponent chooses to leave him open in the slot. And after all, that’s what he was brought here to do.

But somewhere during the Bruins’ first 22 games of the season, Ryder found himself with only three goals, separated from the man who was supposed to help him get back to 30-goal territory.

First-line center Marc Savard had been feeding Ryder pucks all season, combining for one of the more dangerous scoring duos in the league. Remember all those smiles in training camp?

“Ryder likes to shoot, and Savard likes to pass,” said anyone giddy with the thought of the two on the same line.

But just five games and one goal in, Bruins coach Claude Julien switched Ryder with Phil Kessel, putting Ryder on the right wing with Patrice Bergeron rather than Savard.

Ryder played 17 games with Bergeron, but the combo never clicked. When that tandem became stale, Julien placed Ryder with David Krejci and Blake Wheeler before the Nov. 28 game against the New York Islanders. Since the move, Ryder’s been nothing short of his vintage scoring self.

“I’m just throwing pucks at the net, and they’re finally going in,” said Ryder after scoring his seventh goal of the season on Monday night against Tampa Bay. “I’m not thinking as much, when I get those chances. I’m just shooting it instead of thinking where it’s going to go. Just shooting to an area instead of trying to be too fine with it.

“Before I was a little too anxious,” he added. “Now I’m just trying to be a little more patient in the offensive zone, trying to find the holes and glide in there instead of jumping in too quick and forcing it too much.”

Ryder went into Wednesday’s game in Washington with four goals in his previous five games, all with his new linemates. All were prototypical Ryder goals: open in the slot, quick-release wrister. Something his coach is used to seeing.

“Those are the kind of goals he’s scored for many years,” said Julien, who’s coached Ryder both in the junior level and with the Montreal Canadiens. “It was just a matter of finding his game a little bit. He’s another guy who’s building on confidence right now because those shots earlier were either hitting the post or crossbar, or the goaltender was making a good save. He seems more relaxed. That’s just the pressure taken off him from scoring some goals. Hopefully he can build on that and continue to score goals for us.”

Snakebit no more, Ryder can only add to the Bruins’ already-dangerous offense. The team was tied for second in the NHL in goals scored with 92 through 27 games after Monday night.

“Goal scorers, a majority of them, are usually pretty streaky,” said defenseman Dennis Wideman. “Maybe it just took a little bit to get used to playing with guys and finding his groove. He’s definitely starting to play better.”

Going streaking
Kessel has benefited from playing with one of the league’s top playmakers this season. After Monday night’s 5-3 win over Tampa Bay, Kessel ranked third in the NHL in goals with 17, three behind Buffalo’s Thomas Vanek and Philadelphia’s Jeff Carter.

With a goal and an assist in Monday’s win, Kessel extended his point streak to 12 games, which was the longest active point streak in the league at the time. It also marked his sixth consecutive game with a goal, giving him seven in six games.

In 10 games since Nov. 17, Kessel had only one game without a goal. His emergence as one of the league’s top goal scorers can be credited to increased experience, but one of his biggest improvements has been his game without the puck, ranging from backchecking to finding open ice on the offensive end.

“It’s his third year in the league, he’s more mature,” said Julien. “His whole game is starting to round out a little bit better. He’s always been good with his hands, his shot, and his speed, but there was more that he needed to learn.”

Danny Picard covers the Bruins for OT and can be reached at dpicard@globe.com

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