NHL.com continues its preview of the 2014-15 season, which will include in-depth looks at all 30 teams throughout September.
Entering his 11th NHL season, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron has had dozens of linemates. He's worked well with some, better with others. One thing he's learned is that line chemistry is as easy to predict as the lottery.
But when the right numbers come up, the jackpot can be big.
The Bruins hit the lottery last season when the line of Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Reilly Smith combined for 75 goals and 91 assists, had the Corsi-for percentage of any line that played at least 300 minutes together at even strength according to Progressivehockey.com, and helped Boston win the Presidents' Trophy. Bergeron had his second 30-goal season and was second on the Bruins with 62 points; Marchand's 25 goals were the second-most he's had in a season; and Smith, in his first full NHL season, had 20 goals and 51 points.
Bergeron and Marchand had been teammates since Marchand broke into the League in 2009-10. But Smith, 23, was a new arrival after coming from the Dallas Stars as part of the trade return for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley in July 2013. He had three goals and nine points in 37 games with the Stars in 2012-13, but with Jarome Iginla and Loui Eriksson ahead of him on the depth chart at right wing, the likelihood was Smith would start the season in the American Hockey League.
Eriksson opened the season with Bergeron and Marchand, and Smith made the roster and played with Chris Kelly on the third line. Smith played well, with six goals and 19 points in his first 29 games. So when a concussion sidelined Eriksson on Dec. 7, Smith was an easy choice to slide into his spot.
Video game provides measure of revenge
As bad as it was to lose to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs, Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron was spared the embarrassment of a second Montreal-related loss in the spring.
Bergeron made it to the finals in voting for the EA Sports NHL 15 cover. His opponent in the fan-driven contest was Canadiens defenseman P.K. Subban.
When the votes were counted, it was Bergeron who was revealed as the cover athlete for this year's video game. Though it didn't make up for the premature end to his season, Bergeron said the win was a bit of a relief.
"That would have hurt, losing in seven to Montreal and then losing against another Montreal Canadien would have been tough," Bergeron said. "P.K. is such a great player also, it was an honor to be up against him. I appreciate the support I received. I was surprised."
Part of being the cover star involved promoting the game release. That included a pair of videos he and teammate Brad Marchand filmed featuring them in uniform but not exactly performing hockey duties. Bergeron performed a bit of beat poetry titled "Feelings,"
while Marchand played a guitar and sang a song titled, "I Want To Marry NHL 15."
"He's definitely got a great voice," Bergeron said of Marchand. "That's what he thought anyway."
Bergeron knows he'll be hearing jokes about his poetry reading for a long time, but said he enjoyed it.
"The whole thing was a great experience," he said. "It's one of those things that we had fun with it. We know that it's silly. But that's the whole point of the commercial, to be silly, to be funny, to be a little awkward and weird at the same time. They made it that way. And as long as people talk about it, EA Sports is happy."
-- Adam Kimelman
The three players weren't on the ice together long when Bergeron noticed something special was happening.
"It clicked right away," he said. "Reilly, he's a smart player. He's got good speed, but also he creates a lot of plays by his vision. … We played some good games together, and in practice we read each other well and made some plays that only chemistry, knowing where the other guy will be before making those plays. It really made me realize that we had a good feel with where your linemates are on the ice, and that usually helps you a lot as a line."
Marchand's continued maturation also was a big reason the line worked. Known as one of the premier pests in the League, sometimes it's forgotten the 26-year-old can do more than be a shift disturber and all-around irritant.
"He's one of those players that's so dynamic and has such great speed, but also great moves that he can change the game in one play," Bergeron said. "He's definitely one of those guys that gets under people's skin and he can answer the bell with goals. The energy he brings with our line helps us a lot."
Eriksson returned to the lineup after 15 games, but by then the trio of Bergeron, Marchand and Smith had jelled into a solid unit. They remained together for most of the remainder of the season.
"I think sometimes it just happens," Bergeron said. "Right away you've got to work a little longer on it, but you always find a way to get it done."
They got it done right through to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, when they lost to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. The Bergeron-Marchand-Smith line played well, scoring five of Boston's 16 goals in the series, but it wasn't enough.
"It was very disappointing," said Bergeron, who won his second Selke Trophy last season. "Any time you don't make it to the [Stanley Cup] Final or to your ultimate goal, it's always disappointing. Any team would say the same thing. For us, we came out of the regular season feeling good. We had a good, strong season. We expected more and we didn't do that. Definitely was disappointed. You can't really do much once it's over; it's about making sure you regroup and you're better the year after."
To be better this season the Bruins will need to weather a few offseason changes to their forward group, notably the departure of Iginla. Eriksson will move into his spot alongside left wing Milan Lucic and center David Krejci, and the Bruins will need to reconfigure their fourth line to replace Shawn Thornton.
One constant, though, will be Bergeron, Marchand and Smith staying together; that was cemented when Smith, an entry-level free agent, signed a one-year, $1.4 million contract Sept. 29. The Bruins have bought another lottery ticket with the hope of hitting the jackpot again. Bergeron feels it will be a good gamble.
"Hopefully we can build on what we did last year and build on that chemistry and improve it and be a better line," he said.