Canadiens’ plan to shut down Bruins’ Bergeron line works out

Matt Kalman
October 28, 2018 - 9:24 am

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Patrice Bergeron is a pillar of the community in addition to being one of the best two-way forwards in the NHL.

A player with a Lady Byng-caliber demeanor on and off the ice, it should be no surprise that the Bruins alternate captain has friends around the league, some even playing for the Bruins’ biggest rivals.

Montreal center Phillip Danault is one of Bergeron’s offseason cohorts back in their native Quebec. Things may be a little less friendly the next time the two meet up.

During the Canadiens’ 3-0 win at TD Garden on Saturday, Danault was instrumental in making sure Bergeron was kept off the score sheet and the Bruins’ lack of firepower beyond their first line, a problem that’s becoming a crisis 11 games into the season, was exploited.

Adding a little salt to the wound, the 25-year-old Danault won eight of 14 faceoffs against his 33-year-old buddy and sometimes mentor, who leads the NHL with 149 faceoff wins this season.

Danault was sure to shoot down the notion that any mentoring led to the surprising faceoff results.

“It’s always special to play against him,” Danault said. “But he’s smart. He never gives me any tips on faceoffs. So tonight I was good but I haven’t been given any tips.”

Bergeron had just one tip for himself about the next time he and Danault tangle at the dots.

“I’ve just got to be better,” Bergeron said.

“Better” was the operative word in the Bruins’ dressing room after their first home loss in five games at the Garden this season. They outshot the Canadiens 33-23, including 14-4 in the third period, but those totals told a different story than what really happened between the boards. Brendan Gallagher and Max Domi scored goals 1:21 apart in the first period and then the Canadiens played the type of suffocating defensive hockey in their own end and the neutral zone that’s the hallmark of Claude Julien-coached teams.

Leading the way was Danault, who often was double shifted in order for Julien to make sure 18-year-old rookie Jesperi Kotkaniemi had as little exposure to facing the Bergeron-Brad Marchand-David Pastrnak line as possible. Bergeron and his mates had combined for 44 points in the first 10 games of the season, but they couldn’t get anything Saturday.

Most of the time, Danault was on the ice with his regular linemates Gallagher and Tomas Tatar. Sometimes he centered Paul Byron and Joel Armia. Regardless of who Danault was skating with, he was on the ice for most of one of the least productive nights the Bruins’ top line has had this season.

Danault finished with 18:09 of ice time, his second-highest total in a regulation game this season.

“Yeah, Claude likes to match sometimes, especially tonight. And I think we did a great job, our defense too, both forwards, Gally and Tomas was good too, so it was a good team effort too,” Danault said.

Knowing Danault, who had 25 points last season and 40 the year before, can be a strong offensive forward, Julien said he’s trying to get Danault to be a better two-way player. This was the fourth time this season, and second straight game, Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak were all held without a point in the same game, so Danault is making strides in the right direction.

“You know [Danault’s] line’s been good for us offensively, and he’s been part of that. But at the same time his hero is Bergy, and they train together in the summer,” Julien said. “But I think for us, he’ll emulate a lot of the things that he does and tonight was a great challenge for him to try to do that against him. So kudos to him for doing a good job.”

Fault for the Bruins’ loss shouldn’t just fall on Bergeron’s line. Rask gave up a soft goal and the other three forward lines did little to generate anything resembling a dangerous scoring chance.

But the Bruins should be concerned that there might be more Danault-type players out there with the ability to get the better of Bergeron. The Bruins’ uncharacteristic lack of firepower on other lines allows opposing coaches, at home and on the road, to target their best defensive players on Bergeron & Co. And contrary to the rumors, Bergeron isn’t invincible.

There are going to be more nights Bergeron and his linemates, who have carried the Bruins for more than a season now, aren’t going to be able to get their points. The Bruins are 1-2-1 in games their top line hasn’t gotten a point. It’s time for the guys who work out with Bergeron all season to more often pick up their production on the nights Bergeron’s offseason workout partners, and others, are getting the better of Bergeron’s line.