After beginning last year as the Bruins' seventh defenseman, McQuaid earned his way into a regular role in the top, and his steady defensive work and physical play made him a key contributor in the club's Cup run. He was rewarded with a three-year, $4.7 million extension this summer that will keep him in Boston through 2014-15.
But his first full season as a regular in the top six hasn't quite gone according to plan. He missed the season-opener when he was felled by flu-like symptoms, and then literally knocked himself out of lineup for four more games when he caught an edge and crashed headfirst into the boards in Carolina on Oct. 15.
McQuaid returned last Thursday against Montreal, but he's struggled to regain his old form in the three games he's played since.
"I still think I can be better than I've been," McQuaid said Thursday after the Bruins' final practice before heading to Toronto for a showdown with the first-place Leafs on Saturday. "At the same time I think maybe I'm trying to complicate things a little bit too much and have to get back to just doing what I do best and that's being simple and reliable and take it from there."
McQuaid has a pair of assists and is a minus-1 in six games overall this season, but since his return he has no points and is a minus-3 in three games. The lack of points isn't a huge concern for a player who, despite showing an ability to jump up into the attack on occasion, is primarily a stay-at-home defender.
What is more concerning are the defensive lapses and lack of physical play from McQuaid. He was on the ice for each of the first four goals Montreal scored in his first two games back, with his turnover leading to the Canadiens' game-winner in last Thursday's 2-1 loss at the Garden. McQuaid has has four giveaways and just one blocked shot in his first three games back.
He also has just one hit in that span and for the season has recorded just three hits. After piling up 12 fighting majors last year he has not dropped his gloves this season. His lone penalty came from a delay of game when he cleared the puck over the glass while the Bruins were already shorthanded, giving Colorado a brief two-man advantage.
It's not a surprise that McQuaid has not been his usual aggressive self coming off such a scary injury, which was officially diagnosed as a neck injury, though the team had him go through the full concussion protocol as a precaution. McQuaid also suffered a serious neck injury in the second round of the playoffs when he missed a check on Philadelphia's Mike Richards and crashed into the boards.
But McQuaid insists his past injuries aren't weighing on his mind or forcing him to change his style of play.
"I haven't really thought about it to be honest, so I guess that's a good thing," McQuaid said. "I'm not consciously thinking about getting hit or giving hits, so that's probably a good sign."
McQuaid does think that the team's schedule hasn't done him any favors in trying to get back to full speed. After returning from a two-week absence, he played three games in a five-day stretch, then had another unwanted break with three days off before Saturday's clash with the Leafs.
"I don't know to be honest," McQuaid said of his recent struggles. "It would be nice to get into a rhythm here playing games. I think for everyone getting into games more frequently will help. We've had more time off between games than we're used to, so I think it's just about getting into a rhythm and making things become second nature again, and that will come with time."
McQuaid will soon get his wish, as the Bruins play 11 games in the next 22 days starting with their visit to Toronto. By Thanksgiving, McQuaid and the rest of the Bruins will have had plenty of opportunities to round their games back into form, and they'll be begging for a light week like this one.
"I might be retracting my statement by then," McQuaid said. "But it's one of those things where repetition and getting into more game situations will help make things more natural."
The Bruins need McQuaid to be playing like his old self again. His steady play last year was invaluable, as he finished third in the entire league at plus-30 and was plus-8 in 23 playoff contests. Upon McQuaid's return last week, coach Claude Julien discussed what the bruins had missed without him.
"He's a very, very physical player, great at winning battles in the corners and when he's on top of his game he makes a good first pass, keeps his game simple but very effective," Julien said. "That's what Adam's brought to this team and that's why Adam was a big part of us winning last year."
The Bruins are still missing some of those elements from McQuaid, but if he can find that form again, he could help contribute to Boston picking up some much-needed wins this year as well.