Haggerty: Bergeron, Karlsson set team tones

Haggerty: Bergeron, Karlsson set team tones
February 8, 2014, 11:00 pm
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BOSTON – When it was all said and done, the contrast between two of the key players in Saturday’s Bruins/Senators game revealed all you needed to know about the performances from their respective teams.

Heading into Saturday’s matinee as the last game for each team prior to the Olympic break, the Ottawa Senators should have been the desperate hockey team. They are, in fact, clinging to the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot in a neck-and-neck race with the Columbus Blue Jackets after rebounding from a putrid start to the season.

It would have been understandable if the Bruins had been the distracted, unfocused hockey club at the end of a prolonged stretch of good hockey while currently locked in as the East’s No. 2 seed.

But it was the reverse on Saturday afternoon for both clubs.

The Bruins punched up a season-high seven goals in a 7-2 thrashing of a Senators team sporting the defeated body language of the Bad News Bears suffering through a stupefying down phase.

Patrice Bergeron led the way acting as de facto team captain in his final game before heading to Sochi for his second tour of duty with Team Canada at the Olympic Games, and produced a pair of goals to set the tone for the Black and Gold.

Every single player on the Bruins roster followed Bergeron’s intense lead, and never let up in the relentless pounding of the Senators. The B’s two-way center could have been a prime candidate to let his mind wander to the long flight to Russia, or the kind of twin bed conditions that await him when he finally arrives at the Olympic village. But it was obvious that wasn’t the case when Bergeron and Carl Soderberg hooked up on a give-and-go play for Boston’s first goal, and the B’s center’s second effort gave Boston the power play goal.

There was no retreat and no surrender through 60 minutes of hockey, and that’s in line with Bergeron’s team-first mantra in all 82 games per season.

“It’s something we talked about before the game…that we wanted to end this on a good note and feeling good about ourselves heading into the break,” said Bergeron. “I think we’ve done that. We had two games without our leader [Chara], and we all had to step up and do the job. I think we’ve all done that, and that speaks a lot about our team and the way that we handle adversity.”

Bergeron finished with eight shot attempts in 17:16 of ice time, scored the two goals and three points while playing his reliably rock-solid defense against a Senators team focused largely on offense. It was the end of a stretch where Bergeron had 12 points (six goals, six assists) in the 12 games leading into the break.

“It seems it’s picked up in probably the last 10 games. I’ve seen his game offensively progress. A lot of it has to do with him, but also his linemates have gotten better along that way,” said Bergeron. “He’s always been that guy that’s that perfect fit. He’s as reliable defensively as he is offensively.

“He’s going to give you a fair amount of production and a fair amount of points, yet he’s going to give you that same kind of, I guess, comfort feeling in your end of the ice as well. Those guys are hard to find, and when you have them, like I said, you try to hold onto them.”

It’s exactly the kind of final tune-up that Team Canada must have loved to see, and the kind of final effort boost that explains why Bergeron is so respected in a discerning hockey market like Boston.

On the other side is fellow Olympian Erik Karlsson. The former Norris Trophy winner doesn’t have a letter on his sweater, but is easily one of the most talented players on the ice every time he suits up for an NHL game. His mental toughness and will to win are different situations entirely, and certainly open to questioning given lame performances like Saturday afternoon.

Karlsson finished a minus-2 for the game in 25:27 of ice time, had a couple of giveaways and got torched repeatedly by the PBR (Patrice, Brad, Reilly) that produced four of the seven goals scored by Boston.

Bergeron’s second goal twisted Karlsson around like a pretzel, and one shift later Brad Marchand easily lost the Swedish defenseman in the D-zone with a quick spin move en route to another scoring chance.

There was zero compete and battle level in Karlsson’s game, and honestly looked like he would much rather have already been on the plane to Russia. At least Sens captain Jason Spezza had six shots on net and some impact a positive fashion for Ottawa despite his minus-3 rating for the game. Karlsson looked like a player simply looking to avoid injury before things start up for Team Sweden, and it was reflected in the way his team performed on the ice.

One knows it’s pretty bad when you can’t decide whether it was a team full of players distracted by the Olympic break, or a team full of players that haven’t played well on Saturday afternoon matinees all season.

Either way it’s the sign of an immature hockey team with an immensely talented, immature defenseman that isn’t consistently bringing it for the Senators while sporting an ugly minus-14 mark this season.

“We probably owe them a couple of bucks for the clinic they put on today,” said Ottawa coach Paul MacLean, who has his work cut out for him with this bunch. “Today we were terrible from the start to the finish and we didn’t put up much of a fight in the game at all. We can say that…I would say that they were better prepared to play the game than we were, and that’s the result of the game.”

Perhaps it’s a difficult comparison lumping Bergeron and Karlsson in together. One is an experienced, highly respected leader capable of playing at an elite level offensively and defensively, and was very much at the heart of a Stanley Cup championship in Boston. The other is a supremely skilled player that can do serious damage when things are going well for him, but hasn’t been the same player since bursting on the scene as a Norris Trophy winner a couple of season ago.

Given the tone set early in the game by both Bergeron and Karlsson, the final outcome wasn’t all that surprising for two Atlantic Division hockey clubs trending in very difference directions.