Lost in the Boston Bruins' season-opening funk has been the steady play of center and alternate captain Patrice Bergeron. While his teammates have struggled to find their game on a consistent basis, Bergeron has been a model of consistency. He's riding a five-game point streak and has seven overall for the Bruins, who are mired in last place in the Northeast Division and tied for last in the Eastern Conference with eight points heading into Saturdays night's game at the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"Patrice never changes, that's the thing," Bruins coach Claude Julien said when asked about Bergeron's start to the 2011-12 season. "You'll get the same work ethic from him every night; you'll get the same kind of game from him every night. Whether it goes perfectly or not, you know what you're going to get from a player like him on a daily basis. There's no in-between. So that's what you like about his game is the consistency that comes with him every day, whether it's focus, whether it's practice, whether it's in a game, he doesn't know how to let up.
"That's what made him a great player and if you look at him in the playoffs last year, there was no better two-way player than Patrice Bergeron. I don't care what anybody says, there was no better two-way player than him. He's gained a lot of respect around the league and certainly for people that didn't know he was that good, they now know he is. That's what I like about him, for a coach, nothing better than what you're going to get out of a player every night."
Julien's assessment of Bergeron's play during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run is hard to argue. After a 57-point regular season in 2010-11, Bergeron had 20 points in 23 playoff games, including eight points in 11 games after missing two tilts with a concussion suffered in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Flyers. While posting those numbers, he was part of the Bruins' shutdown line with Brad Marchand on his left wing and the now-retired Mark Recchi on his right. Bergeron was also a key cog in the Bruins' penalty kill and one of the few bright spots on their anemic power play in the playoffs and regular season.
While many of the Bruins seem to have left their A-game in the playoffs, Bergeron has played every game so far as if it was the postseason. The Bruins snapped their recent three-game skid with a 5-3 win over the Ottawa Senators on Tuesday night, and according to Marchand, Bergeron and his even-keeled approach to the game helped the Bruins play the way they need to.
"He never gets too high or gets too low and it doesn't matter how the season's going or how he's playing, he's very strong mentally and it shows," Marchand said. "It's been huge to have a guy like that on the ice with you and calming you down, not letting frustrations boil over. You have a guy to follow in situations like that and it helps so much. To see him always be upbeat and determined when we're down helps you change the way you're seeing the game."
Just as Julien did, Marchand pointed to Bergeron's consistency both on and off the ice.
"You know what you're going to get from him every night," Marchand said of his linemate. "He's the hardest-working guy out there and he's always in the right position, does everything right and he's both one of our best offensive players and defensive players too. He's huge out there and he's playing great for us as always."
Marchand also echoed his coach's claim that Bergeron doesn't get enough credit for the offense he provides.
"Very underrated," Marchand said of Bergeron's offensive flair. "He seems to always be there in the right place at the right time and the right spot. He always makes the right play. He's very strong on the puck and wins the little battles you need to win. But yeah, he's very good offensively and ... he's put up good numbers. He's just a great player."
Bergeron made the Bruins out of his first training camp in 2003, and Tyler Seguin did the same last season. But in the 2003-04 season, Bergeron had 39 points in 71 games, while Seguin had just 22 in 74 in 2010-11 as he struggled to adapt to the two-way game needed to play in Julien's system and to thrive in the NHL. However, Seguin has learned from last season -- and according to him, he's done so in part by watching Bergeron -- and has jumped out to an impressive start, leading the Bruins in points with 11 in 11 games. Seguin has recently been playing with Marchand and Bergeron and is more amazed every game.
"Even Marchy and I always say Bergy's so good defensively it's unbelievable some of the plays he makes," said Seguin of the 26-year-old Bergeron. "But Bergy's been a guy -- you know he's not too much older but -- I look up to on the ice with his defensive and offensive skill and compete level but also off the ice with how determined he is. He's definitely the type of player you want to follow. You can't replicate the player he is but you try to play a similar game and make yourself the best you can be like he is and have that complete game, the power play, penalty kill, 5-on-5, no matter what you can depend on him, and that's the type of player I strive to be. I want to be able to play that last minute when you're down a goal but also play that last minute when you're up a goal. I want to be a complete player like him."
The departure of Recchi left a huge leadership void both on and off the ice, and while Bergeron's fellow alternate captains Chris Kelly and Andrew Ference, along with captain Zdeno Chara, have been doing a solid job of collectively filling that void, the normally quiet leader Bergeron has taken it upon himself to be more vocal when necessary.
"He's really taken on a bigger leadership role with Rex [Recchi] gone," Marchand said. "I feel like this year, he's spoken up a little more. I think with Rex gone he wanted to fill that role and he's done a really good job. He's being more vocal and every day he comes to the rink, he's very focused and determined to help the team any way he can and get the team out of this rut."
Seguin has also noticed a "louder" Bergeron.
"I've also definitely noticed that Bergy has gotten a lot louder in the room than he was last year," Seguin said. "He's always been a guy that talks when he needs to but he's definitely stepped up in that area this year. I've definitely noticed that."
To Julien, this is just a case of Bergeron now knowing he has the ear of the dressing room and feeling comfortable within himself to lead vocally and with his play.
"That's just a guy that came here as an 18-year-old and certainly wasn't going to be vocal at that point but has been here for a lot of years now and knows that he is part of that leadership group that team has built around guys like him," Julien said. "So he certainly has that voice now and we certainly need that voice in the dressing room. He's a guy I said before that is very respected by his teammates and he doesn't speak that often but when he does speak he's a little louder and certainly has the players' attention."
If the Bruins are to turn this season around and find the consistent effort they need, it would behoove them to keep listening to No. 37.
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.