Daniel Paille can’t help but check sometimes. He takes a peek at the statistics, sees his name on the bottom, and it isn’t a comfortable feeling. Scoring is not necessarily at the top of his job description, but having zero goals through nearly a quarter of the season isn’t where he wants to be.
“It comes down to pride and wanting to do better,” Paille said on Saturday. “I know everyone looks at points – we all look at it sometimes, too. Even though I’m not called upon, I generally do better than what I’m doing now.”
Since coming to the Bruins in 2009-2010, the former first-round pick has scored at a relatively consistent clip, 0.14 or 0.13 goals per game in every year except for the lockout season (0.22). He scores about nine or 10 goals a year, and adds almost as many assists.
Right now, though, the winger has no goals and just two assists and, far worse for a player asked to limit the goals against, sits last on the team at minus-4.
His defensive shortcomings came into stark relief on Saturday, as Paille’s neutral-zone turnover led to the Bruins getting hemmed in their own zone for 20-plus seconds in the first period. The Hurricanes scored their only goal of the game at the end of the sequence, and Paille saw just nine seconds of ice time for the remaining 12:55 of the period.
“Any time you realize that you’re not playing due to lack of — well, for whatever reason — whether it’s turning the puck over or effort or mistakes, you want to go out there and prove that you can battle back and make sure that it doesn’t bother you,” he said. “Unfortunately I had to wait until the second period, but I felt that I responded when I needed to and played to the speed that I needed to throughout the rest of the game.”
Asked about the word “effort,” Paille backed away. That, he said, wasn’t the problem.
“I don’t think there’s an issue with effort with us,” he said. “On that play, in general, I just got caught reacting too slow and I did try to dump it in, but too softly. So it ended up costing us there where we ended up in our zone I don’t know for how long — maybe 30 seconds, maybe more.
“Then it was kind of just scrambling and we didn’t communicate back there and we needed to do a better job, including myself.”
This season has been a strange one for the fourth line and for Paille. Missing its longtime third, in Shawn Thornton, the fourth line has seen some different iterations. None of them has worked particularly well, partially because Paille has been struggling at times.
He’s whiffed a couple of times on opportunities to get that first goal of the year, including notably in the game on Thursday in Montreal. He also had a breakaway chance in Toronto, and ended up with a high-sticking penalty instead.
It’s been that kind of a season for Paille, something that has hampered coach Claude Julien’s usual method of rolling all four lines in all of his games. The coach ended up shortening his bench significantly at times in Saturday’s win.
“Overall I kind of look so far at how the season’s been going in segments,” Paille said. “And every segment was kind of different with either linemates or stuff, and I’ve just tried to work my way with a defensive style. Now I’ve got to think offensively as well with the guys here.
“But I felt the last 15 games or so, maybe 12 games, I’ve felt that I’ve been a lot better than not. A couple of times I had a lapse where I’d make a mistake, but I definitely make sure that doesn’t happen again throughout the rest of the game.”
But for Paille, there was nearly a moment of redemption in Saturday’s game. He returned to the ice in the second period, his bench time over, and in the third, nearly wiped away the zero on his goal total.
“I was itching for my chance to get back out there,” Paille said. “Of course I had to wait until the second period, and I think that’s where we need to respond the most is when things don’t go right, you’ve got to play a lot better and as soon as that happened, I made sure that I didn’t let that happen again.
“I felt that over the course of the game I was skating, bringing the puck to the net, and creating those chances. And even with the limited time that I got back, I felt a lot better as that game got started.”
At 11:09 of the third, Paille beat Cam Ward. But the goal was immediately waved off, due to contact made by Gregory Campbell in the crease. It was a decision that Julien said he did not agree with.
As Paille said, he got “the short end of that stick.” It’s something that, for him, has been happening quite a bit this season. But, still, it’s a moment he can point to, a moment that might signal better things are coming.
“Even though that doesn’t count on the scoresheet, that doesn’t bother me,” Paille said. “In my mind, the puck went past the goalie and I’ll take that positive any day and continue to work through that.
“Even though it’s not on the scoresheet, it’s out of my mind now, and I’m just glad that I got that opportunity that it crossed the goal line. It’s too bad that it didn’t count, but I’m counting it.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.