The Boston Bruins did not get off to a good start this season. They went 0-3-0 allowing 16 goals (including three while shorthanded) and more than 30 shots per game. Since an 8-8-1 start, they've rebounded to go 13-7-4 and some of that has to do with the improved defensive game, of which forward Patrice Bergeron has been a key component.
There's a reason Bergeron has won the Selke Trophy each of the past two seasons and in three of the past four, and why, at the halfway point of the season, he's the favorite to win it again. Not only has he won 575 faceoffs (second in the League) for a 56.7 percent rate, he's excelled in defensive-zone faceoffs, winning 60.1 percent (205 of 341).
Last season, he finished sixth in SAT% (shot attempts percentage at 5-on-5) among forwards who played at least 50 games (58.09 percent). That number has slipped to 53.05 percent this season, but Bergeron has had a huge impact on the Bruins defensively.
After allowing a power-play goal in 14 of their first 17 games, the Bruins penalty kill has allowed a power-play goal in four of their past 24 games. Bergeron is second among Bruins forwards in ice time (20:02) and first among forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (2:23). He's 14th in the League in shorthanded ice time among forwards (98:11).
Bergeron has 15 goals, 38 points and a plus-5 rating in 41 games.
"It's always the same thing with him -- he's deserving," coach Claude Julien told the Bruins website when Bergeron was selected to the 2016 Honda NHL All-Star Game, his second all-star nod. "I think he's been a great player for us for many years now, and he's being recognized not just here, but on the international scene as well as a good player. To me, it's a no-brainer."
Ryan O'Reilly , Buffalo Sabres: O'Reilly leads the League in faceoffs taken (1,087) and won (633), which equals a 58.2 winning percentage. He has also won 58.7 percent of draws in the defensive zone and averages 1:52 of shorthanded ice time per game. O'Reilly has 17 goals and 37 points in 43 games, on pace for career highs in each category, and has been a big reason for the Sabres' improved defensive play from a year ago. His defensive ability is what the Sabres have come to expect rather than his offense.
"It's more of a factor on our defense in the third," coach Dan Bylsma told the Sabres website. "You almost have to put him on the ice in the defensive zone to take the draw. So it almost detracts from the offense -- obviously on the power-play situations, the 5-on-3 situations -- he's winning those draws and winning them back."
Mikko Koivu , Minnesota Wild: Koivu's SAT% was 53.62 entering Tuesday, second best on the Wild, and his SAT Relative (ratio of on-ice SAT% vs. off-ice SAT%) was 7.3, which was 10th in the League. He has won 55.5 percent of his faceoffs (532 of 959), including 49.8 percent in the defensive zone (146 of 298). Koivu leads Wild forwards in total ice time and ice time per game, and averages 56 seconds of shorthanded ice time per game. Besides being outstanding defensively, he could be on his way to setting career highs with 10 goals and 33 points in 43 games.
Koivu left a game last Tuesday against the Columbus Blue Jackets with an injury but returned Thursday. His teammates expressed how important he is to the Wild.
"You never want to see a guy -- especially him -- go down like that," center Charlie Coyle told the Wild website. "He's a big part of our team, he's our captain, and we need him in our lineup."
ALSO IN THE MIX: Joe Pavelski , San Jose Sharks; Jonathan Toews , Chicago Blackhawks; Anze Kopitar , Los Angeles Kings