Savard quietly, confidently leads Bruins to top of East


With the Montreal Canadiens' faithful egging on Georges Laraque to grab Milan Lucic and box the kid's ears Saturday in Montreal, Boston Bruins' playmaker Marc Savard played peacemaker.


EDMONTON - With the Montreal Canadiens' faithful egging on Georges Laraque to grab Milan Lucic and box the kid's ears Saturday in Montreal, Boston Bruins' playmaker Marc Savard played peacemaker.

"That was one of the subplots of that game, Georges trying to get Lucic. You skated over to him at a third-period face-off and were yakking it up with him. You care to tell us what you said to Georges?" asked Mike Milbury, the former Bruins coach, during a conference call with Savard on Monday.

"I just told Georges there would be other times for this ... we're trying to win a game on the road and Looch is an honest player, not just a fighter. Kept Georges quiet for awhile," said Savard

This is the new and improved Savard. He's not just a point-producer who's second to Jumbo Joe Thornton in assists since the lockout ended and fifth in points in that time, but a leader for the Bruins, the NHL's biggest surprise so far with a 14-3-4 record.

The Bruins have won four straight, with points in 13 of their last 14 games. They don't look like they're a flash in the pan, either.

Savard, 31, is playing on the top line with Lucic and Phil Kessel and is tied with Alex Semin for second place in the NHL scoring race with 27 points, but he's also morphed into a veteran presence and protector. He certainly wasn't going to drop the mitts with Laraque, but he wanted to clear his throat.

"Maybe Z (Zdeno Chara) could have grabbed Georges, but we're short of defenceman with (Andrew) Ference out (broken foot), so there's no time for that now. I can see why Looch gets challenged, though. His (fighting) record is pretty flawless and they'd (all teams) would like to get him off the ice. He's a factor in most games (13 points)," said Savard.

But Bruins coach Claude Julien had given orders to Lucic before the game to keep his gloves on and Savard, as an on-ice conduit, was reinforcing the position with Laraque, again showing a different side to a forward who's taken his fair share of knocks throughout his career for putting up numbers but not being somebody you could always count on in the other parts of the game.

In New York, he was found wanting. In Calgary, he was traded to Atlanta for a Russian Ruslan Zainullin, who never panned out. In Atlanta, coach Bob Hartley got Savard working harder. In Boston, Savard is plus-13, third-best to Semin (plus 17) and Willie Mitchell (plus 14).

Julien has so much faith in him, he's using him to kill penalties.

"First time," said Savard. "I'm a more complete player now. It's nice to be counted on."

The Bruins have a lot of nice parts -- goalie Tim Thomas has been outstanding (.944 save percentage, 1.80 goals-against average); they've got six forwards with at least 12 points (Savard, Kessel, David Krejci, Patrice Bergeron, Lucic and Marco Sturm); defenceman Dennis Wideman has given them a power-play point presence, playing close to 25 minutes a night; and Chara is Chara, all six-foot-nine and 260 pounds of him.

Julien, who has to be considered an early coach-of-the-year candidate along with Todd McLellan in San Jose, has been the bandleader. He likes a sound, defensive posture, and doesn't suffer lazy play lightly, but he's given his players the rope to go on the attack, too.

Only San Jose, Detroit and Chicago have more goals.

"Claude keeps us honest. We've not the most skilled team but we stick with what Claude's taught us," said Savard.

Savard is carrying the Bruins offensively, just behind league-leader Evgeni Malkin. He has 225 assists since the

start of the 2005-06 season, with Thornton leading with 272. Only Dany Heatley, Jason Spezza, Sidney Crosby and Thornton have more points than Savard's 299 in 259 games since then, too.

"I've been through some tough times," admitted Savard, who didn't have the same competitive fire in his early NHL days. "As I've gotten older, I think I've become more of a leader."

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