BRIGHTON, Mass – Count Brad Marchand among those NHL players that don’t like how closely officials are calling face-off violations so far this preseason.
The NHL is cracking down on run-of-the-mill slashing penalties to the arms and hands and calling an excessive number of penalties for forwards “cheating” in the face-off circle prior to the drop of the puck.
This essentially means the opposing centers taking the face-off can’t be standing or have their sticks on the painted hash marks and instead must stand perfectly still while waiting for the puck to drop. Two consecutive violations of Section 10 of the rulebook will result in a two-minute delay of game: face-off violation penalty. It was called on numerous occasions for the first eight NHL preseason games played on Monday night.
Needless to say, Marchand was watching some games on Monday night while not playing in the first two preseason games for the Bruins and he called the stricter interpretation of the rulebook “an absolute joke.”
“The slashing [penalties] is one thing, but this face-off rule is an absolute joke. That’s how you ruin the game of hockey by putting that in there. They’re going to have to do something about that because we can’t play all year like that,” said Marchand. “Basically you have to be a statue. You can’t move. It takes away from the center iceman. I think there was even a play [in the game I was watching] last night where a penalty was called on a 4-on-4 before play on the first penalty had even started because of a draw.
“That’s just a joke. I don’t know how you expect guys to step back, guys are excited to get in there and help out there centerman. I know they’re trying to add a little more offense to the game [with power plays] and make it more exciting, but you don’t want to ruin the game. It’s frustrating for everyone. There are ways to make the game better, but this isn’t one of them. We might as well start throwing D-men in there to take draws.”
Marchand did acknowledge that sometimes on-ice officials put an extra emphasis on making a slew of calls in preseason to let players get used to any new enforcement of rules like for face-offs and slashing calls. Perhaps that’s what is going on here. That may be the case in the face-off circle, but it sounds like Marchand is going to be one unhappy camper if the more stringent face-off rules interpretation creeps into the regular season.
TORONTO – The Bruins are lining up their options at the NHL trade deadline and that includes backup plans in case things don’t go their way by late Monday afternoon.
One of those might just be 40-year-old Jarome Iginla, who has been working out with the Providence Bruins this week. Another potentially remote possibility for the B’s is Brian Gionta coming off his stint with the US Olympic team in PyeongChang, according to a report from The Athletic’s Pierre Lebrun.
Gionta, 39, had 15 goals and 35 points for the Buffalo Sabres last season, then sat out the first half of this season in order to compete with Team USA at the Olympics. Gionta and the Americans fell short of a medal, of course, and the captain had a pretty quiet tournament with college kids Ryan Donato and Troy Terry leading the way for the USA.
Clearly, the Bruins have a need for an experienced, heavy player on the wing to augment the multitudes of youthful, smaller, skilled players that the Bruins have currently have on the wing outside of David Backes. But the 5-foot-7, 178-pound Gionta really doesn’t fit Boston’s current roster need outside of the experience factor given his 112 games of Stanley Cup playoff experience.
As with Iginla, Gionta would seem to be a remote possibility for the Bruins if they happen to strike out on all of their trade scenarios leading up to the Monday 3 p.m. deadline. A trade for a big, heavy top-six winger like Edmonton's Patrick Maroon or Vancouver's Thomas Vanek would be much more meaningful roster improvements for the Bruins.
Other than as a Plan B or Plan C, Gionta doesn’t make a lot of sense as an upgrade over what the Bruins currently have and really didn’t show much in the Olympic tournament to indicate there’s a ton left in the gas tank.
There certainly would be an interesting full circle element to Gionta’s career if he were to end up with the Bruins after starring at Boston College prior to the NHL. Still, the feeling from this humble hockey writer is that the B’s could do a lot better than that when it comes to augmenting their roster ahead of what the organization hopes will be a long playoff run in Boston.
TORONTO – The in-season breathers and breaks are essentially over for the Bruins and the sprint to the end of the regular season begins Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
With the drop of the puck in Toronto, the Bruins will play a whopping 24 games in 44 days to close out the season and will have a series of big games against the Maple Leafs and then three games vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning that will essentially decide the top spot in the Atlantic Division.
It reaches a fever pitch in March when the Bruins play a whopping 16 games, but the entire month-and-a-half stretch is one that the Black and Gold have been eyeing warily all season.
“It’s going to be tough. Especially when you look at the games...none of them are going to be easy games,” lamented Brad Marchand after B’s morning skate at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday morning. “There are a few very important ones against Tampa and Florida and tonight in Toronto. So it’s going to be a very tough [stretch], but I think the biggest thing is to take it all day-by-day. You can’t start looking ahead at the schedule. You just have to focus on the next practice or the next game, and then go from there.”
So what can be done about it?
The Bruins have already begun efforts to combat the attrition that’s sure to come by making a depth move for defenseman Nick Holden from the Rangers. The expectation is that the B’s will do the same thing up front with at least one established winger coming there way. So, the trade deadline move before Monday should be an effort to combat the sheer number of games played. Still, the Bruins will also have to hope that the injury bug doesn’t whack them as badly as it last season when they lost three of their top four defensemen during the playoffs.
The challenge will be incorporating any new players into their system as the Bruins are also expected to drastically scale back on their practice schedule with the heavy slate of games. It won’t be easy, of course, but it’s something the Bruins have also known about all along after a breezier schedule at the beginning of the year when they were besieged by injuries all over the roster.
“We knew that this was going to be our schedule. We obviously know that every team is ahead of us in terms of games played, and we were going to have to catch up,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s the schedule. There is really no easy way for the rest of the regular season. We’ve just got to battle through it.”
It will be particularly challenging for the soon to be 41-year-old captain as well as the handful of rookies that the Bruins employ in their lineup on a nightly basis. The good news in all of this is that the Bruins have cleared every other hurdle thrown at them this season and the dense final spate of games provides one more challenge prior to the postseason.