The Little Ball of Hate is back and so are Bruins

The Little Ball of Hate is back and so are Bruins
January 28, 2014, 1:15 am
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(AP Photo)

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – It was exactly the kind of moment that put Brad Marchand’s confidence on full display, soaring high with both his busy mouth and tireless legs churning with the same kind of in-your-face energy.

Marchand showed the tireless compete level, courage around the net and craftiness with the puck in collecting four points in the Bruins’ haphazard 6-3 win over the Islanders, and then he brandished his famous agitator wit in the visiting dressing room at the Nassau Coliseum.

Your favorite hockey insider asked Marchand about his line really shouldering their share of the offensive burden this month, and the good feeling it was giving him, Patrice Bergeron and Reilly Smith. What happened next was the Boston sports media version of Marchand creatively telling the Sedin Twins to kiss the ring last month in Vancouver.

“Well, it’s definitely nice not having you chirping us all the time on twitter and on TV,” said Marchand, with the impish smile that drives opponents nutty on the ice. “We’re expected to do a job out there, and it’s very frustrating when we don’t do it. We just need to continue this. Everybody is playing well right now, and we’ve got contributions from every line.

“We definitely have some confidence and some chemistry right now. But we’re also getting some bounces. You need all of those things to go together to play well, but those things weren’t happening early on. We’d be hitting the post, or missing the net. Now we’re executing pretty well.”

Marchand is fond of showing a little humility when things are going well for him, and will even sometimes say it’s just “luck” pushing the puck past goaltenders.

But there’s nothing lucky about the way Marchand is playing this month, and scoring during a six-game tear where he’s helped carry the Bruins offense. There’s nothing lucky about leading the Bruins in goals last season, and now being on pace to potentially do it again this year after his sluggish start.

Marchand has eight goals and 14 points in the 11 games during the month of January, and seven goals and 12 points during a career-high six-game point streak that’s coincided with Boston going 4-1-1 against top quality competition. Marchand has also been a plus-10 with 18 shots on net during the six-game stretch of excellence, and those are big-time production numbers for a player that’s not getting any power play time with the Black and Gold.

It’s also very clear he’s feeling it in every facet of the game. While he was on his best behavior against the Islanders, Marchand was acting up and getting inside the respective kitchens of Claude Giroux, Drew Doughty and Duncan Keith over the last few games.

Bruins coach Claude Julien knew his second line would eventually catch fire offensively after a sluggish start to the year. That has most definitely happened to the PBR Line (Patrice, Brad, Reilly) in a large, noticeable way just as the Bruins are elevating their game to a higher level, and so much of it goes back to the basics.

It’s about skating and constant motion in the offensive zone rather than lazy, reaching penalties and careless turnovers that bedeviled this group just a few months ago.

“We’re cycling and moving the puck, and guys are always moving their feet. That’s tough to defend against,” said Julien. “You saw that with the [David] Krejci line in the last game [vs. the Flyers]. They spent a lot of time in the offensive zone.

“It’s nice to see our team generate a little more of that. As long as we respect the defensive part of the game then we’re going to be okay.”

The skill set was entirely on display against the Islanders: the frenetic, tireless skating legs constantly in motion in the offensive zone, the willingness to cycle and carry the puck in the danger areas around the net, the creativity and quick hands to serve up passes to his teammates for golden scoring chances.

The top shelf finish was also pretty gnarly on Marchand’s second period goal after Bergeron faked out the entire New York defense, and dished it down once his left wing started creeping toward the right post. Marchand returned the favor a period later when he set up Bergeron’s sizzling one-timer from the slot with an Islanders defender hanging all over him.

Smith and Bergeron certainly bring their own personality to the line, but a confident, cocky Marchand brings a lot of attitude and bounce to that trio when he’s feeling it like he has been this month.

The puck certainly doesn’t lie with his team-leading 17 goals.

There was no reason for the B’s rabble-rouser to deny that it’s a lot more fun when pucks are going in, and there’s no reason for this hockey writer to deny the Bruins are a much more difficult team to play against when Marchand is playing with equal parts mischievousness and masterful offense.  

“We know it’s not going to happen every night,” said Marchand. “But it’s pretty fun when it does.”

It’s also pretty fun when Marchand is back to being the Lil’ Ball of Hate while getting all up in the business of the opposition. It gives the Bruins so much of the attitude and personality they need to dictate play against teams all around the league.

Both Marchand and the Bruins are having gobs of fun as they place the finishing touches on a month of January where they’ve built a 7-3-1 record, and served notice to the rest of the NHL world that Boston is once again exactly where it needs to be at the turn for the Winter Olympics.