By Joe Haggerty
BOSTON Brad Marchand has enjoyed all kinds of moments during his rookie NHL season with the Bruins.
There have been ups and downs, of course, and moments of learning for a 22-year-old intent on combining his skill set and edgy tendencies into a pretty damned good hockey player.
Thats been the case from the very beginning of the season for Marchand and the Bruins.
Its been fascinating to watch a modern-day agitator learning how to effectively perform his job at the NHL level for a talent-packed team aiming for Stanley Cup aspirations.
I think its big. It just kind of gets me emotionally involved, and it brings a different element, said Marchand of his role. At the same time, you dont want to cross the line. Ive been doing that a little bit lately. It can go either way so you have to make sure you walk that line.
It all began in the preseason for Marchand, a place where he first displayed the Jekyll-and-Hyde flavor to his game in very telling instances. The first was something straight out of Slap Shot while the Bruins were playing an otherwise forgettable exhibition game in Rochester against the Florida Panthers at Blue Cross Arena.
There were no TV cameras and a limited numbers of fans watching the Bruins and Panthers skate in upstate New York during the month of September, and that made it the perfect time a little hyperactivity.
Marchand skated by an anonymousFlorida rookie goalie in his crease and quickly hooked the Panthers goalie with a stick in his skate blades as he circled back toward the defensive zone a move right out of the Hanson Brothers playbook.
ToweringFlorida defenseman Erik Gudbranson actually chased the 5-foot-8Marchand rather than worrying about the puck, and the Bruins scored a counterattack goal with the big Panthers defenseman so preoccupied with Bostons new pest. Marchand wasnt called for a penalty as the refs completely missed the hooking call.
The real Marchand was on display in his next exhibition game when he snapped off a goal against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center after showing a legit burst of NHL speed and confidence to free himself for the score.
All of Marchands skills truthfully surprised the Bs coaching staff just a little bit. Claude Julien and Co. knew Marchand had it in him, but the Bruins winger seemed to turn a corner confidence-wise only after making the impressive speed, skill play in the presence of a legitimate constellation of NHL stars like Alex Ovechkin, Mike Green and Alexander Semin.
Its the kind of fine line the Bs coach has learned to walk with his trouble-seeking player. Julien can live with some of the mistakes because theyre being made by a 20-goal scorer giving an honest-to-goodness effort every time he puts the Bruins sweater on. The constant hope is that a little experience and maturity will smooth over some of the current rough edges, and make him a better hockey player in the long term.
Hes been a good player for us and again, his emotions sometimes can be a positive, but sometimes you dont want to cross the line, said Julien. Certainly you dont like it when that happens. So its just a learning process.
Those good and bad ends of the Marchand spectrum have been on display all season, and they were at play again Thursday night in Bostons 4-3 shootout loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden.
Marchand was the only Bruins player to finish with a multi-point evening while racking up his 21st goal of the season against the Leafs on Thursday night. He potted his fifth short-handed strike of the year, giving him the second-most PK scores in the NHL. Marchand is a consistently annoying force in the limitless number of gnarly scrums that take place during a Bs-Leafs affair.
His speed and creativity were in abundance all over the ice while logging 18:38 of ice time as a part of the dependable line coach Claude Julien has ridden hard over the last few weeks. The short-handed goal arrived little more than two minutes into the second period when he intercepted a weak Clarke MacArthur pass in the neutral zone, and Marchand carried the Leafs forward to the net before beating James Reimer cleanly with an elevated backhand shot.
The speed, shot, strength and grit were all there in one perfect short-handed play, and showed why Marchand and not Tyler Seguin will finish the season in the discussion of worthy Calder Trophy candidates. Hes certainly not going to unseat Corey Crawford, Michael Grabner or Logan Couture, but hes been an impactful first-year player making a man-sized impact on a Bruins team badly in need of a player with his temperament and speed.
Marchands speed helps a lot and the way hes first on the puck is also great, said Bergeron. Its always good to have a guy like him.
Unfortunately for Marchand and the Bruins, the little Spoked B devil on Marchands shoulder also came out to play in the second period with the Bruins in the drivers seat while holding a 3-2 lead. After a little dust up with Phil Kessel, Marchand got into a shouting match with a group of Maple Leafs players sitting on the Toronto bench and then impetuously mimicked a golf swing with his hockey stick.
The golf jibe is the traditional put-down for NHL teams that arent going to qualify for the playoffs, and that seemed to be the message the mischievous Marchand was relaying to the Leafs players. Unfortunately Marchands golf-inspired taunts along with a few third period gaffes by the Bruins led to overtime with the resilient Leafs, and eventually fell in a shootout loss.
Julien read Marchand the riot act between the second and third period about his bush actions toward the Toronto bench, and the Bruins agitator admitted hed gone a little too far this time.
I think in games like this, really high intensity, guys are getting into it a bit, said Marchand. Sometimes youre going to draw penalties. Theyre trying to get on the power play, and I think that was part of it for both teams.
Kessel punched me in the mouth and I was a little rattled. I thought he was calling a penalty for it. Then, they were saying some stuff and I was just yelling back. The golf swing was a little immature of me. I shouldnt have done that. I got a little bit of an earful, so it wont happen again.
While its great that Marchand ranks among the top 10 NHL rookies this season in goals (fifth with 21), points (sixth with 40), second in plusminus (plus-26) and tied with Michael Grabner for the lead with five short-handed goals, its perhaps even better still that Marchand is learning his discipline lessons well with a few regular season missteps like his Tiger Woods impression.
Mistakes will exact a much heavier price for Marchand and the Bruins once they hit the postseason, and its a good thing for him the time is now to get all of those golf swings and smack-talking out of their system.