BOSTON – Jimmy Hayes said it was more of a joke than anything else, but there was also clearly a message when he motioned that he was tossing the monkey off his back after scoring his first NHL goal in over nine months.
Like that he’s done with what’s been a miserable opening six weeks to his second season in Boston, and that he needs to start building things back up after hitting rock-bottom with zero points and a minus-11 in his first 19 games this season. He also had a message for this humble hockey writer, who hasn’t shied away from criticizing the unproductive power forward when it seemed like his motor wasn’t running at full power earlier this year.
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“It feels really good. Like you said, it’s been a while. So, to be able to contribute and get a goal and step in the right direction, that’s what the plan is,” said Hayes. “It’s been a while. I think, where’s Haggs [Joe Haggerty]? Haggs usually knows how long it’s been, so hopefully he caught that one.”
Credit where it’s due however, Mr. Hayes, because I always call them like I see them: Hayes was pretty good in scoring during the Bruins 4-1 win over Tampa Bay on Sunday afternoon, and the 6-foot-6 forward has been much better over the last couple of weeks since being dropped down to the fourth line. Hayes was due to break the 35 straight games dating back to Feb. 24 where he hadn’t had a single point in a game, and that finally, mercifully happened on Sunday afternoon.
“You see the way the bench reacted, I mean he’s a good guy in this room and we are all pulling for him,” said Torey Krug. “So [it was] great for him to get on the board and hopefully he can keep it going as well.”
The goal was exactly the kind that Hayes should be scoring as well, and that’s another encouraging sign that the winger is doing the right things. He drove to the net, and was in good position to redirect a David Krejci centering pass to the far corner of the net where Ben Bishop had zero chance to stop it. The Hayes goal gave the Bruins a 3-0 lead in the second period, and for all intents and purposes knocked the Lightning down for the count.
It’s also given Hayes a couple of big plays against Tampa Bay after he also scored the game-winning goal in the shootout win at Tampa earlier this month.
The question now, as always with Hayes, is whether he can consistently keep up the effort level, and keep playing the big man’s game going to the net, winning battles in front and at least scoring at a 15-20 goal pace as his talent level dictates. If he can do that perhaps there’s a chance to save himself and his roster spot with both the GM and Club President having gone out on a limb when they acquired him, and gave him a contract extension.
The 12 shots on goal in his last six games and an even plus/minus rating are a good place to start, and the battles along the boards and elevated physicality - whether it was throwing a few hits or fighting Garnet Hathaway on Friday night - are showing a higher effort level across the board from the Dorchester native. Now he can’t afford to have any backsliding considering how truly awful the first quarter of this season was for him coming off a tough first year in Boston.
“[I’ve] just got to continue to work hard. You just have to put your head down and try to find a way to put a puck in the back of the net,” said Hayes. “I started to get some chances here lately and to get one to go in, it’s nice. [I’ve] just got to continue to have that offensive mindset and put pucks to the net. I’m just trying to get as many pucks on net as I can, and hopefully one will fall. Got one tonight.”
Hayes will also need to continue getting more offense because fellow Massachusetts native Frank Vatrano is just a couple of weeks away from potential return after undergoing foot surgery at the start of B’s training camp. The highly skilled winger’s return means somebody from the current forward group will be out of a job, and either traded somewhere else, sitting up in the press box every night watching or riding the AHL buses down in Providence until an injury opens something up.
Hayes has been playing like he doesn’t want to be the odd man out and instead wants to shut down the critics that have been there on a nightly basis this season. Whatever it takes to get Hayes into a productive, consistent place is fine and dandy from a motivational standpoint, but he needs to keep Sunday afternoon’s inner fire burning if he’s looking to completely erase the last 35 games of futility from everybody’s memory.