It’s hard to ignore the timeline for Brad Marchand.
The Bruins pest struggled to put up points and effectively annoy his opponents for the first 2 ½ months of the season, and just didn’t seem to be playing with the same energetically obnoxious quality that’s always been the very foundation of his game.
Marchand started off as a minus player (minus-2 to be exact) with one goal in his first 14 games of the season, and his skating looked slow and tentative. Even worse, he was shying away from the agitating nature that had given him his place in the NHL, but was getting called for twice as many penalties based purely on reputation.
There was way too much perimeter play out of a guy in Marchand that’s always been willing to get his nose dirty around the net, and way too many plays where he was turning pucks over trying to get a little too fanciful with the puck.
Marchand picked up the pace a bit in November, but he was in the middle of a stretch with two goals in 15 games when a banged up Bruins outfit rolled into Vancouver for their first game since the Stanley Cup Final three years ago. The Bruins gave up six goals in a game that completely got away from them in the third period, but Marchand actually played pretty well with the hate flowing on the ice.
Naturally that turned into his “kiss the Cup ring” act in the second period targeted at Henrik Sedin in the second period, and his lifting of an imaginary Cup as he skated by the Vancouver bench while his team was getting waxed in the third period. Both Claude Julien and Peter Chiarelli publicly denounced Marchand’s antics as they went from amusingly hateful to embarrassingly bad in the third period. Rather than paying attention to the scoreboard now, it seemed that Marchand was still basking in the glow of something that happened three years ago.
Marchand’s actions prompted conversations with his coach and general manager in the days following, and enough speculation that Peter Chiarelli felt like he had to affirm that he “wasn’t going to trade Brad [Marchand].”
Perhaps it’s a coincidence the Nose Face Killah’s game has taken off since that point in time, but there are very few coincidences in sports these days. In the 13 games since Chiarelli said he wasn’t going to deal his underperforming pest, Marchand has scored seven goals and 10 points along with a plus-4 rating while exhibiting that same familiar force of personality that opponents abhor.
Some of it is as simple as the Marchand outburst coinciding with Reilly Smith settling into the right wing role on his line with Patrice Bergeron.
But Marchand’s sense of security with the Bruins might have been shaken a bit when he watched his buddy Tyler Seguin get traded last summer, and perhaps Chiarelli’s vote of confidence finally set him at ease.
Or perhaps the Chiarelli and Julien chats gave Marchand the swift kick in the pants that can sometimes help players find their motivation.
Marchand said he didn’t think he was going to be traded away simply because of one isolated incident in Vancouver, and of course that’s true. No player is ever dealt based solely on one incident unless it’s the kind of egregious action that could completely tear a team apart, or undermine the authority of leadership or management. If anything it was about a player in Marchand that was playing mistake-prone hockey without producing the kind of offense that normally makes his missteps forgivable.
Either way, Marchand has been a different guy since the days following the Vancouver game, and the Bruins are a better team for it.
“I knew it was going to come. It was a matter of time, but you just need to keep building on it. I just wanted to pull my weight,” said Marchand. “After talking to [Chiarelli and Julien] I knew there some things that I needed to work on, but at a certain point things come together. It’s [expletive] frustrating when it’s not.
“It never really crossed my mind that I would be traded. They know what I can do, and I’ve had three pretty good years and been to two Cup Finals. I didn’t think they’d give up on me after two months. Every player goes through stints like that. But it’s always nice to hear [a vote of confidence]. It would have been a lot worse if he came out and said ‘[Marchand] is on the block, and we’re looking to trade him.’ So it was good.”
It was so good that now Marchand is back on track pacing for a 20 goal, 45 point season after an excruciatingly slow start, and has been doing some good agitating work while coping with clear reputation calls coming from the referees.
Sometimes all it takes is a good, firm conversation to get things moving in the right direction.
SUBBAN IS A CHARACTER
It seems every season Montreal defenseman P.K. Subban draws the ire of at least one opponent, and this season it’s Ottawa goaltender Craig Anderson and the Senators after a Thursday night overtime loss.
Subban won the game in OT when he squirted a follow-up shot through Anderson’s five hole, tossed his stick to the ice and then raced toward his teammates in celebration right in front of the Senators bench. Then the reigning Norris Trophy winner dropped to his knees on the ice while pulling up the Habs crest on the front of his Montreal sweater.
Subban’s theatrics weren’t exactly understated, and that stuck in the craw of Anderson 24 hours later rather than the incredibly half-hearted play in the defensive zone from his teammate Erik Karlsson that set it all up.
“I think you hit the key word there — it was unnecessary,” said Anderson. “I didn’t see us, when we scored our overtime goal (in a 4-3 win on Jan. 4 in Montreal), we didn’t skate around throwing our jersey up in the air like that.
“It’s one of those things where it’s his character, that’s the way he is, we all know about it. But it should make us all angry here that we don’t want that to happen again so we’ve got to win the games.”
I think Anderson hit the key idea on this whole kerfuffle. If you don’t want to see Subban acting like he just won Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in overtime, then you should probably close up the neon “shoot it here” sign between your leg pads with the game on the line.
It says just as much about Anderson’s character that he can’t simply say “I gave it up” and leave it that rather than going with the loser’s lament of ripping an opponent for showing him up.
MESZAROS PLAYING “TOO WELL”
There was some thought Flyers defenseman Andrej Meszaros might be a possibility as a trade target for the Bruins if Flyers GM Paul Holmgren had a fit of impulse trade pique – a phenomenon that seems to happen once or two a season for the Broad Street Bullies in good or bad times.
But the Flyers are in the NHL’s worst division this season, and aren’t likely to be selling off spare UFA parts to the highest bidder after recovering from an awful start. Furthermore, the former Ottawa Senators defenseman has a goal and nine points in his last nine games in a timeline that matches up with his being named to the Slovakian Olympic team.
Meszaros has been in and out of the Flyers dog house over the last couple of seasons due to some loose play in the defensive zone, but he appears to be back in the good graces and far away from the trade block.
"I don't know if it's a coincidence or not," Meszaros said. "It was tough in the beginning (of the season). I talked to the coach, I wasn't playing much. I was up in the press box more than I was playing. It was tough for my confidence, for me and for the coaches to have to make that decision. If you're not playing, it's tough to get involved and get nominated for the Olympic team. But I'd played more lately and that got me some confidence and it got me there.”
*A stick salute to former Bruins forward Steve Begin, who called it a career this week after unsuccessfully attempting to return from an injury to play for Calgary’s AHL team in Abbottsford. The 35-year-old played one largely uneventful season for the Bruins’ fourth line in 2009-10 with Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton, and was replaced by Gregory Campbell the following season. He’s probably best known to Bruins fans as the Habs player that broke a bone in Marc Savard’s back during the 2007-08 season, and opened the door for David Krejci’s first prolonged stint at the NHL level. He was an absolute pleasure to cover in Boston, and I’ll always remember him in a French-Canadian accent saying that “the Bruins need to speak with their shoulder pads” when things needed to get physical.
*Congrats to Zach Parise, who became the father of newborn twins (Emelia and Jaxson) this month just like Bruins defenseman Johnny Boychuk. Boychuk brought wife Sheena and twin daughters Kenzie and Zoey home from the hospital in the hours after the Tuesday night loss to Toronto, but had to immediately hit the road for games in Dallas and Chicago.
Parise, on the other hand, was able to spend the first week with his wife and children while mending a broken foot. To say it was a life-changing experience for Parise would be an understatement, just as it is for everyone that gets to experience the miracle of life firsthand.
“It’s been the greatest thing ever. I couldn’t be happier,” Parise said. “It’s 10 times better than the way people describe it. Everyone says it’s the greatest thing in the world. You hear them, but you don’t really hear them until you go through it and see it and have them at home, it’s incredible."
*File this under surprising stats: the Chicago Blackhawks are 4-11 in games that have gone beyond 60 minutes to overtime or the shootout this season. That's a lot of wasted points for a dominant Western Conference team, and a head-scratcher for a Hawks team that boasts Pat Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharpe, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook among others.
"Our record in overtimes is rather one-sided against us." said Joel Quenneville. "It’s certainly a tough situation for us this year knowing that four out of (15) games … with only one (point), it’s a lot of points (lost). We should be better in that area."
Remember, keep shooting the puck at the net and good things are bound to happen.