|Marc Savard leads the Boston Bruins with 47 points.
Check out Mark Savard's recent goal highlights
All he had to do was change his game to meet them.
While Julien possesses one of hockey’s true defensive minds, Savard spent his first nine seasons in the NHL on the defensive about his lack of attention and grit on the opposite side of the red line.
“I bought in right away at the beginning of the season,” Savard said.
He’s an All-Star because of it.
A career minus-77 entering this season, including minus-19 last season, Savard is headed to his first NHL All-Star Game next weekend in Atlanta because, while keeping true to his roots as one of the League’s top playmaking pivots, he has finally become a dependable two-way player.
“Being a leader on the team it has helped everyone else realize this is what we have to do to win hockey games,” said Savard, who earned his All-Star nod due to Dany Heatley’s recent shoulder injury.
Savard, who racked up 193 points over the previous two seasons, leads the resurgent Bruins with 47 points, including 36 assists. He’s also a plus-5, despite being asked to play against the opposition’s top forwards at key times this season.
The only time Savard finished a season as a plus player was two years ago when he was a plus-7 with the Atlanta Thrashers.
“I just thought that he would be an even more valuable player and probably kind of a leader if he took on the responsibilities that I thought he was capable of taking on,” Julien recently told The Boston Herald. “For me, the only reason he wasn’t as good a two-way player was because he didn’t work at it. So, yeah, that part I really wanted to work on with him, because it made him a better leader and a more respected player.
“Not just here, but around the League.”
The League and its entire fan base will get to judge for themselves Sunday when the Bruins play the New York Rangers at Madison Square Garden in the NBC NHL “Game of the Week” at 12:30 p.m. ET.
The Rangers and Bruins are each jockeying for positioning in the snug Eastern Conference playoff race, and will also play Saturday in Boston at the TD Banknorth Garden in the opening of this crucial home-and-home series.
Savard admitted that could add some extra intrigue to Sunday’s National telecast.
“NBC has already been to Boston for media coverage on it, and it’s a game at the end of a back-to-back, so it should be exciting for the fans and the players,” Savard said. “We’re both close to the playoffs right now so they’re much needed points for both hockey clubs. It’s going to be a pretty intense little series.”
Savard said he and Julien had a history together before this season, which is why he knew what to expect from his new coach.
Savard, who is from Ottawa, used to attend the hockey camps run by Julien, from nearby Blind River, prior to heading off to training camp with the Oshawa Generals of the Ontario Hockey League.
But since entering the NHL as a 20-year-old center for the Rangers in 1997, Savard become known as somewhat of a defensive liability.
There was no doubting his offensive flair – Savard scored 22 goals in his second full season, 23 the next, and has 544 NHL points on his resume – but his defense had always kept him from truly blossoming into an elite NHL player until now.
“Maybe that’s part of why I got recognized (as an All-Star),” Savard said. “If I had two goals and four assists I don’t think I’d be going, but you have to produce at both ends.
“Obviously the coach is pretty defensive-minded, so I mean that’s the only way that we’re going to win hockey games is playing the system. That’s helped me a lot, too.”
Savard, though, feels he could have – or better yet, should have – earned All-Star recognition last season despite his so-called defensive shortcomings. He admitted Wednesday that he was “upset a bit” at being left off the East’s roster last season.
“You know, I think I was around seventh or something like that in the League in scoring, and I thought for sure, especially coming off the year before that, I had a good chance of getting in,” Savard said. “I guess it just takes time to get recognized. I’m just glad I’m in this year.”
While Savard credits Julien for forcing him to become a two-way threat, it was actually the host of next weekend’s festivities who helped resurrect his career.
Savard, who was traded from Calgary to Atlanta late in the 2003-04 season, stormed out of the lockout with a career-year for the Thrashers. His 97 points were a full third more than his previous career high of 65. His 69 assists, 27 better than his previous career-high, were tied with Jaromir Jagr for third most in the League.
“Don Waddell, I owe a lot to him,” Savard said. “And, when Bob Hartley took over (as the Thrashers coach) he called me the first day and told me the ball is going to be in my court because he knows what I’m capable of doing. I owe a lot of credit to him.”
Because Waddell, Hartley and now Julien believe in him, Savard can finally call himself an All-Star, even if he feels the nod is somewhat overdue.
“When I signed with Atlanta I got a really good opportunity to play,” Savard said. “It’s great how I’m getting to play there for my first All-Star Game. I’m really happy about that. I’m excited to be in one.”
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.