Brad Marchand’s goal-scoring streak came to an end during the Bruins’ 2-1 overtime win over Columbus on Tuesday, but the previous 13 games offered a much-needed jolt of entertainment to a disappointing and frustrating season.
Stats – simple, complex, analytical, indecipherable – won’t do justice to Marchand’s recent goal streak. That’s not to say statistics have no place in this space – I hope to use stats often and, more importantly, learn a great deal about the advanced, possession-driven and honestly, difficult-to-understand numbers that make up so much of hockey analysis these days – but they just don’t mean anything when you’ve watched Marchand ignite into a little flaming ball of hate, scoring a baker’s dozen in his previous 13 games.
I can’t remember the last time a Boston Bruin has skated with as much confidence, swagger and gusto as Marchand is. He’s going 1-against-4 on a regular basis, finding openings in airtight spaces and giving his teammates clear lanes to find his scorching-hot stick, and most importantly to a team like this one, he’s finishing. In the post-NFL season and before Spring Training arrives, Marchand is the special kind of athlete any Boston sports fan should be watching on a regular basis.
Take his goal against the Winnipeg Jets on Feb. 11. A loose puck in the neutral zone, contested by Brett Connolly and at least two Jets, suddenly turned into Marchand accelerating through center ice and blowing by three of his opponents and calmly flipping a backhand past goalie Connor Hellebuyck into the top shelf. Marchand’s always had the breakaway speed to blow past his opponents, but finishing has never been as sure a thing as it is for him now.
During his 13-for-13 scoring streak (that’s not 13 straight games, as some have assumed about this insane streak. Marchand was held off the score sheet on Jan. 26 in the 6-2 loss against Anaheim, but he quickly atoned with a two-goal effort the following game, an OT loss against Toronto), Marchand is shooting a ridiculous, and unsustainable, 27 percent.
Beyond the fine touch he’s discovered with the puck, Marchand is pulling off highlight-reel plays on what seems to be a shift-by-shift basis. For all the criticism he – sometimes rightly – takes for playing over the edge, taking stupid penalties, and stupider suspensions, one of my personal irks with Marchand has long been his puck handling abilities.
In years past, I would notice #63 hanging onto the puck too long, not making the safe play to maintain possession in the offensive zone, and often causing an offsides, either by jumping the line too early, or pulling up in front of the defense, causing a linemate to be called. Now, however, Marchand is doing whatever he wants with the puck. I’m glad I was wrong to criticize him for his sense of overconfidence, since that attitude has largely contributed to his sense of swagger and astonishingly entertaining playmaking abilities.
While recognizing that Marchand’s current, and probably season-long, production isn’t as sustainable as we’d all hope, there is plenty of room for optimism here. As stated earlier, he’s finally seeing time on the powerplay, even if it’s with the second unit on a team that historically gets some of the fewest PP opportunities in the league.
Marchand also does that fun and amazing thing where he regularly pots four to five short-handed goals a year, and while having Bergeron as your center will increase anybody’s productivity – OK, maybe not ANYBODY, *cough, cough Brett Connolly, cough, cough* – he’s also done it without #37 on the ice.
A look through Marchand’s recent scoring log and you’ll see just everyone pop up with assists. The last two games, in fact, have come with Bergeron up in the press box, hopefully making a quick recovery from his tussle with former Bruin Blake Wheeler. In fact, Marchand’s record-quick goal eight seconds into the game on Feb. 14 against Detroit came off a faceoff win from none other than Connolly, who had shifted to take the draw after Ryan Spooner was tossed from the dot.
Marchand’s 28 goals this year obviously lead the Bruins in scoring, and tie a personal career high, when he equaled that total in 2011-2012, and it also places him fifth in the NHL in scoring, around players like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Vladimir Tarasenko. It’s next to impossible for him to keep up his current production, and potential injuries or – hopefully not – suspensions could keep him from reaching the 40+ goals he’s on pace for. But with Marchand filling the void on a team without a legit 30-goal scorer, playing on the first line with Patrice Bergeron and seeing some much-welcomed time on the power play, watching the oftentimes frustrating Bruins this year has been well worth it.
Only the remainder of this season and all of next year separate Marchand from unrestricted free agency and what promises to be a substantial pay raise for the feisty winger, as WEEI beat reporter DJ Bean explains.
It would behoove the Bruins to lock Marchand up long-term this offseason, avoiding a potential difficult decision around this time next year. The Bruins, as currently constructed, don’t appear to be set for a deep playoff run, but they also don’t seem to be so completely helpless that selling off everyone of value and starting from the ground up would be worth it. That said, it’s a priority to ensure making Marchand a part of the core group of guys that include Bergeron, David Krecji and Tuukka Rask, but that could – and probably should, if we’re being realistic – account for another $7 million or so in cap space.
For fans like me, though, seeing Marchand dance his way through a congested neutral zone, successfully pulling off knee-buckling moves with the puck, and finishing with swagger and confidence, will be worth every penny of his next deal. Let’s make Marchand a Bruin for life, just as he recently said he’d like.
A few quick notes and thoughts:
- Hey there! I’m Ian Lord and I’ll be covering the Bruins and anything hockey-related for Chowder & Champions. I’m a lifelong hockey fan, but have only really been regularly watching the Bruins on TV for the past seven seasons or so. I blame my parents and their lack of cable television during my formative years. Hockey is also one of the more difficult sports to analyze, so I hope to use this new forum to help me understand and recognize what’s really happening on and off the ice a lot better. Hopefully you’ll be joining me!
- The Feb. 29 trade deadline is approaching, so we’ll be paying close attention to what, if anything, the Bruins will be up to. A quick wish list on my end: Re-sign Loui Erikkson (probably a piece of its own for an upcoming post), obtain a solid defenseman (the much-need top-four d-man is probably not arriving during the season, so someone who can simply provide depth and limit Kevan Miller’s, Joe Morrow’s and Colin Miller’s time against tougher opponents would be as much as we can ask for), and get Frank Vatrano back up to the pro level to see if his hot scoring in Providence will translate.
- As I mentioned at the top of this post, advanced stats and analytics for hockey are extraordinarily complex. Instead of hiding from my lack of understanding, I’m going to do my best to learn more about what these numbers mean, and how they translate to what we’re watching on the ice. A few things I’m not going to tolerate: “Chara is so slow, he’s too old, he’s overpaid, he’s over the hill.” Nope. Chara is still good and the Bruins would be competing for the Auston Matthews lottery without him. “Tuukka Rask is a terrible goalie, why’d they give him that huge contract?” Tuukka Rask is a very good goalie who earned that contract, partially by playing behind some very good defensive groups. This year, the Bruins’ defense is their biggest weakness, not Tuukka. His numbers, down from years past, are simply a reflection of his team. “Claude Julien is an awful coach! He’s gotta go!” Claude Julien just won his 500th game as head coach of the Bruins. He’s been to two Stanley Cup finals in the past six years, winning one. I can see the argument that a change, with a younger team and a new approach toward speed and skill, rather than strength and toughness, would be a good thing for the Bruins, but calling him an awful coach is just dumb.