"I think I've been building every year since coach (Bob) Hartley helped me in Atlanta," Savard said. "Then, I came here and Claude (Julien) helped me. With our system, it helps me be a better plus-minus player than I've been in the past. He tells us exactly what to do and to trust in our teammates. I know better what to do down low in our own end. I think I've been playing better away from the puck. That's helped me too."
And it shows. Savard, who is tied for second in NHL scoring, second in assists and tied for third with a plus-13 ranking, was named the NHL's "First Star" for the week ending Nov. 23. Savard led the NHL in scoring with 2 goals and 6 assists as the Boston Bruins (14-3-4, 32 points) won four straight, climbed to first place in the Eastern Conference and increased their Northeast Division lead to seven points.
"I've always been a passer first," Savard said. "I'm trying to have more shots on goal this year and it has worked out well. It's nice to get some recognition. Hopefully, I can keep setting up my wingers and score some goals. I want to produce every night and I'm hungry to do that. I'm even killing penalties this year."
That wasn't always the case. Savard was considered a one-dimensional player early in his career, more interested in the offensive zone than taking care of business in his own end.
Savard, 31, has offensive talent to be sure. In his 11th NHL season, Savard has scored 178 career goals and 424 assists in 680 regular-season games. But he also was a minus-61 over the same span. Savard, in fact, posted minus numbers in eight of his first nine seasons. But he has been in the plus category in three of his past four seasons.
Originally drafted by the Rangers with the 91st pick of the 1995 Entry Draft, Savard also has played for the Flames and Thrashers, where he started to put his game together. After being acquired early in the 2002-03 season, Savard scored 16 goals and 31 assists in 57 games. A second season in Atlanta produced 19 goals and 33 assists in only 45 games. Following the lockout, Savard had a breakout season with the Thrashers, scoring 28 goals and 69 assists in 82 games in 2005-06.
An unrestricted free agent, Savard was snapped up by the Bruins for 2006-07 and came through with 22 goals and 74 assists. Last season, Savard netted 15 goals and 63 assists and added 1 goal and 5 assists in the Bruins' seven-game loss to the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
While a disappointing result, Savard said it was in that series that the Bruins started to show the character and skill that they are displaying this season.
"It started when Patrice Bergeron went down and we came together and knew everyone had to step up," Savard said. "Then, we battled back the way we did against Montreal. The whole team came back this year, except for three players, and it took off from there.
"It's like a family here and we stand up for each other," he said.
"At the start of the year, we knew we had a great team, but we didn't know how quickly it would come together. We grew as a team off the Montreal series and we knew the damage we could do if we stayed together and worked hard.
"Our system makes it a lot easier and the system is there to protect us. If we get away from it, we get in trouble. We don't have the most skilled team in the NHL, but we are able to stay in games with hard work. With our goaltending, we are a confident team."