Coaching change, consistent linemates
bringing centerman out of sophomore slump
By LOUIE KORAC
HAZELWOOD, Mo. -- After his rookie season saw him net 21 goals and 47 points, a big, bright future was expected of Blues center Patrik Berglund.
Berglund, in his second season in the NHL, could still have that big, bright future. But the way season No. 2 began, there were some that wondered if last season was as good as it can get for the 6-foot-4, 215-pound from Vasteras, Sweden.
Berglund, 21, who led the Blues a season ago at +19, was touted as a center with unlimited potential after the Blues drafted him in the first round (25th overall) in 2006.
But Berglund was suffering through the proverbial sophomore slump -- big time.
Berglund was slowly floundering under then-Blues coach Andy Murray. His point production was down, he was bouncing back and forth between the third- and fourth-lines. He even found himself a seat in the press box as a healthy scratch.
This was not supposed to be happening.
"Earlier in the year, I didn't have confidence," the soft-spoken Berglund said.
But with Murray gone and the younger, fresh voice of Davis Payne on board as the Blues' head coach, Berglund has began to get back to where his skill level can be.
No, the numbers aren't overwhelming -- he has 10 goals and 21 points through 58 games this season -- but Berglund is showing signs that his confidence is certainly back, and his game is ascending to where it belongs.
Just in time to try and help the Blues back into the playoffs.
"I do have confidence now and I feel good," said Berglund, who is on a career-best five-game point streak with two goals and three assists. "I've been working myself up there. I've taken more control of the ice, I've been carrying more pucks and I want to be more a part of it. I want to be as good as I can, and I know I can be a good player, so why not try to be."
Which is precisely what Payne told Berglund when he arrived and took over the team on Jan. 2.
"He made the comment that he's got to get (confidence) back, and I made the comment that 'It's not gone. You need to focus in on these areas and make sure we do these kinds of things. You still have all those same abilities. Let's get back to using them,'" Payne said.
"I think it's gotten better. I think he's moving with the puck. There's still some areas defensively that we want to close up, but I think he's done a great job in looking at face-offs and becoming a more determined guy in that area. As a result, his line and our team has had the puck more. Credit to him for putting that emphasis in there. He's been watching it on tape, he's been working at it, so I think that's made his game much more effective. He seems like a guy who wants the puck, demands the puck and is moving well through the neutral zone and the offensive zone. I think we've made some progress as far as Patrik getting back to playing the kind of game that can make a difference for us."
Maybe some consistency with linemates is making not only Berglund a better player but Andy McDonald and David Perron better players as well.
"Speed, skill, puck possession, time in the offensive zone. I think that that's the strength of theirs," Payne said. "You kind of have a big body in Bergy, they've got speed in Andy and they've got that elusive play that David has as far as his ability to make people miss and create a 1-on-1 that all of the sudden becomes a 1-on-2 and now all of the sudden, you're able to spring something open.
"I think they've got a little bit of everything. They're a dynamic group. They seem to find each other on the ice fairly well. I've liked the way it's gone."
Since the three have played together, they've given the Blues another scoring threat as a second line behind David Backes, Paul Kariya and T.J. Oshie.
McDonald leads the team in goals (20) and is tied with Oshie for the team lead in points (40), while is third in goals with 16 and has 35 points.
"Overall, I think we play pretty good together," Berglund said. "Hopefully, we can stay together and build more chemistry and get really dangerous in the future.
"It's obviously fun to play with the same players. You build chemistry. You have to do that. If you look at other teams, they almost always have the same lines through the whole year."
Berglund played the majority of last season with Perron, but adding McDonald to that mix seems to be the perfect tonic to the group.
"He's a really good player," Berglund said of McDonald. "He's smart and fast. He's a really good passer and a good scorer. I think you have the full package out there. Obviously, it's an honor to play with him.
"Me and Perry, I think, played together the whole year last year. We like to play with each other. I think we compliment each other pretty good."
McDonald, the veteran of the trio, is counting on this unit sticking together, and he definitely sees a more confident player in Berglund down the middle of the ice.
"He's learning to use his size," McDonald said of Berglund. "I think he's got skill for a big guy, but I think as of late, he's really used that size to protect the puck and playing 1-on-1 in those situations. And it's about confidence. Once he feels that he can do it, you've seen that more often and that's a bonus for us. When he's protecting the puck, he's a hard guy to stop.
"You have to be confident in your ability. From Day 1, he's been a highly-skilled player. It's just a matter of having the confidence to use that skill and that's a difference now. He's been able to use that skill because he feels like he can use it."
Berglund won't admit to it, but the change in coaches probably has benefited him as much as anyone.
"He knows what everybody's capable of doing out there and we know what we have to do," Berglund said of Payne. "Everybody knows their limits and they know what to do out there. He really doesn't have to talk about your own role. I think we've all figured that out. We just have to be more stable and play a little more solid game and move forward.
"I think I still have the same role. It's just now, I'm playing better hockey. I'm more involved. This is how I want to play my game. I'm trying to stabilize things and balance it all out. ... I feel more comfortable to be out there. Last year, I had a lot of success and this year, it was more a bit of a dip down and I was a healthy scratch a lot of games and now, I feel good about where my game is going."