( Photo Credit: Winslow Townson / AP Photo)

By: Pierce Brody | Follow me on Twitter @PierceBrody3

Patrice Bergeron is the heart and soul of the Boston Bruins organization. He commands a level of respect from both his teammates and players across the league that is reminiscent of the legendary former Bruins captain, Zdeno Chara. Unfortunately, even the most respected players inevitably regress with age.

The culmination of Chara’s reign was impactful, but it was evident that his play fell short of the intimidating, titan-like presence that Bruins fans expected. While he remained a skilled and experienced defender late in his 30s and helped shape the next generation of defensemen, his offensive abilities gradually became a liability.

Bergeron, Chara’s successor, is now in his age 37 season and, akin to his predecessor, may face the possibility of regression. Fortunately, he is still showing signs of defying the odds and staving off the effects of father time for now.

On the defensive end, he continues to be the annual Selke Trophy candidate we’ve all grown to love. NBC writer Nick Goss originally noted that “a total of 357 players have totaled 250 or more [five-on-five] minutes this season. The three goals the Bruins have allowed with Bergeron on the ice at [five-on-five] are the fewest of any player in that group of 357 … Boston also has a .973 save percentage at [five-on-five] when Bergeron is on the ice.” Ostensibly, that sounds nice, but let’s dig a bit deeper to see if it’s not just Linus Ullmark’s doing.

Bergeron’s five-on-five Fenwick against per 60 minutes (a measure of total shots against) is 34.2. That mark is an improvement on his career mark of 35.7 and better than two of his five Selke Trophy-winning seasons. Furthermore, Bergeron’s expected goals against (expected goals based on the quality of shots given up) are 18.4 over 43 games. If you extrapolate this to an entire 82-game season, he is currently tracking toward his third-best mark since the metric was established nine years ago. In summation, when Bergeron is on the ice this season, the Bruins are giving up fewer shots and fewer quality shots than his average season.

It would appear he’s playing close to the best hockey of his career, so how can we ensure this isn’t a statistical anomaly? Bergeron’s five-on-five Fenwick against and expected goals against stats may be altered by the Bruins steadfast defense. However, it is important to note that this statistic is based only on shot quality and quantity rather than scoring. Thus, Ullmark’s excellent play cannot alter them.

I mentioned in a recent article that Ullmark might be propping up the Bruins “stellar” defense, given the gap between the Bruins expected and actual goals against them. The gap has only grown to an unsettling 60 goals to 80.82 goals, respectively (Interestingly enough, Bergeron has the opposite gap of 23 actual goals to 18.4 expected goals against). These statistics indicate the Bruins’ excellent defense being composed more of Ullmark, rather than the skaters. Hence, it likely isn’t helping Bergeron’s Fenwick against any statistical performance trickery.

On the other hand, Bergeron’s zone starts to spin an alternative narrative. He is currently facing off 60.5% in the offensive zone. Although this stat does not consider neutral zone faceoffs, there is still a large gap. That extra time in the offensive zone is helping his five-on-five Fenwick against and expected goals against since he is far less likely to have a shot against on a shift starting in the attacking zone. Moreover, this year’s offensive zone start stat is his second-highest percentage in a season ever. Unfortunately, an adjusted Fenwick is not a common statistic, and mathematical models are needed to understand the effect of his offensive starts truly.

Patrice Bergeron continues to defy age and expectations with his exceptional defensive play. According to heuristics, his current season is merely average by his standards, as his exceptional defensive statistics are asterisked by limited defensive zone time. Though it may be a challenge to evaluate this season clearly, it is evident that Bergeron is proving to be an ageless wonder.

Hockey Reference and Money Puck were used as statistical references.