By Andy Merritt
BOSTON – In the early part of this lockout-shortened season, it was difficult for Bruins fans to find anything to be disappointed about.
Difficult, but not impossible.
Coming off of a sophomore season in which he scored 29 goals and 38 assists, Tyler Seguin was eyed as a potential league leader when play kicked off this year. Back with linemates Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, it wasn’t unreasonable to think Seguin might even match his totals from last year, which in a 48-game season would probably challenge for the scoring title.
Those hopes were boosted by Seguin’s stellar showing with Biel, scoring 25 goals and 15 assists in just 29 games with the Swiss team during the lockout. His 40 points are still the second highest by a Biel player this season, even as Seguin’s former teammates have played 20 more games.
Yet through the first 11 games of the season, Seguin had just two goals and six points in his pocket, slumping hard and clearly struggling to readjust to the NHL’s grittier game.
“Over in Europe I think I was circling a bit more and didn’t really have to battle,” Seguin said after scoring two goals and adding an assist in the Bruins’ 4-2 win over Toronto on Thursday night. “I don’t even know if I got hit over there for the few months I was there but I had to find that game again with me, and I think it’s coming around now.”
Seguin has been on a tear over the last 10 games, averaging better than a point per game after scoring five goals and seven assists. In only two games during the stretch – against Ottawa on Feb. 28 and at Washington on Tuesday – was he held without a point. And Thursday was the finest performance of the season for the 21-year-old, as he had a hand in three of the four Bruin goals and played a healthy 16:59 of ice time.
He’s gotten progressively more involved in the play all over the ice, dropping the Ovechkin-esque drifting around the perimeter in favor of occasionally mucking it up. Thursday night, after a bad David Krejci giveaway sent Toronto’s Clark MacArthur off to the races with teammate Nazem Kadri for a 2-on-1, Seguin hustled from the offensive zone to try to break up the play. He didn’t arrive in time to keep Kadri from scoring the Maple Leafs’ first goal of the night, but his show of speed was impressive nonetheless.
“Honestly I thought he was playing well all year,” Bergeron said. “He has really improved his compete level, the way he plays in both ways of the rink and obviously it pays off, he’s really playing well and I think it’s something he can add to his game which is pretty scary.”
Of course, two-way play isn’t what the Bruins generally need from Seguin – they’ve got Bergeron and Marchand doing quite well in that department. Ultimately, Seguin is the most gifted goal-scorer on the team, which means the most important measure of his season is the number in his goal column.
“It’s nice to see Seggy start finishing,” Marchand said. “It was getting a little frustrating there early on, and it’s nice to see him finally get a couple there and get his confidence up there with the last goal, but that stuff happens. Goals come in bunches, and assists come in bunches and there will be a bunch of games where we don’t get anything. So it’s just how it goes.”
Seguin also signed a new contract before the lockout began, one that will pay him about $5.75 million per year and keep him in Boston through 2018-19. While it was a big show of confidence from the club, hefty new deals can sometimes carry more weight than a player is ready to bear.
“I think there’s a lot of pressure on him coming into the year with his new contract and with how well he did over in Switzerland,” said Marchand, who also signed a four-year extension before the lockout took effect. “I think he was feeling pressure a bit because a lot of people were saying a lot of things about him, and it seems like right now he’s just very calm and confident, and he’s not really worried about anything else.
“He’s just focused on playing, and when he does that he’s a great player, and you see it night in and night out right now. He’s making a difference.”