Bruins

Marchand still finding his game's balance

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Marchand still finding his game's balance

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

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.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs

Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

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Morning Skate: No place for Gudas’ slash on Perreault

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while enjoying the new Brown Sugar Cinnamon coffee flavor at Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s not Cookie Dough, but what is after all?

*FOH (Friend of Haggs) and PHT writer James O’Brien has the details on Radko Gudas getting ejected for an ugly, reckless and dangerous slash to Mathieu Perreault’s head last night. Gudas should be facing a long suspension for a play that has no place in the NHL. It’s time for Flyers fans to stop making excuses for a player who’s no better than a cheap-shot artist and hatchet man. He has to face the music for consistently trying to hurt his fellow players.  

*Frank Seravalli has some of the details for a historic GM meeting in Montreal where NHL hockey was born in the first place.

*You always need to link to a service dog being part of the pregame face-off ceremonies. That’s like a rule here at the morning skate?

*Cam Atkinson and the Columbus Blue Jackets have agreed to a seven-year contract extension, according to reports from the Athletic.

*It’s been quite an eventful year for Arizona Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet and some of it has been to the extreme both good and bad just a month into his first year as bench boss.

*For something completely different: Chris Mannix is all-in on the Celtics being the front-runners in the Eastern Conference after their big win over the Golden State Warriors.

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

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Haggerty: For now, Bruins need to ride Khudobin’s hot hand over Rask

These are desperate times for the Bruins even after pulling out a solid, blue-collar 2-1 win over a sputtering Los Angeles Kings team on Thursday night.

The victory ended a four-game losing streak and gave the Bruins just their second road win of the season in eight tries. It was also the fourth win of the season for backup netminder Anton Khudobin, who is a sterling 4-0-2 and has given them everything they could possibly hope for out of the backup spot. The Bruins have a grand total of 18 points on the season and Khudobin miraculously has more than half of those (10 to be exact).

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It’s clearly a far cry from last season for Khudobin, of course, when it took until February for the goalie’s season to get in gear.

But Thursday night’s 27-save effort from Khudobin was also a stunning contrast to what Tuukka Rask has been able to produce this season. Khudobin has a .928 save percentage and 2.35 goals-against average. Rask has a dreadful .897 save percentage while giving them average play between the pipes at best.  

Khudobin is tied for seventh in the NHL with reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in save percentage and Rask is chilling in the NHL goalie statistical basement with retreads Steve Mason and James Reimer.

Quite simply, Khudobin has been way better than Rask and the Bruins have, for whatever reason, played better hockey in front of their backup goalie. Some of it might also be about Khudobin’s more adaptable game behind a Boston defense that can make things unpredictable for their goaltender, but Rask is being paid $7 million a season to be better and figure it out. It would be amazing if this trend continued for the entire season and it would certainly merit more examination from management as to why the rest of the Bruins and Rask can’t seem to combine for an effective, winning product on the ice.

For now, the Bruins need to simply win by whatever means necessary and that amounts to riding Khudobin’s hot streak for as long as it lasts. It should begin with the backup goalie getting a second consecutive start against the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night and seeing where it goes from there. Perhaps the extra rest gets Rask additional time to get his game together, or serves as the kind of motivation to get the Finnish netminder into a mode where he can steal games for an undermanned, out-gunned team that needs that right now.

“We’re going to look at it,” said Bruce Cassidy, when asked postgame by reporters in L.A. about his goalie for Saturday night. “He played very well against San Jose last time. They’re a heavy team. He seems to do well in these kinds of games with a lot of traffic around the net. But we’ll look at that decision [Friday].”

Khudobin has stopped 57 of 61 shots in his two games in November, so perhaps that level of hot goaltending could also allow the Bruins to survive a month that otherwise might absolutely bury their playoff hopes. Maybe Khudobin finally loses on Saturday night and the goaltending conversation, not controversy, ends as quickly as his point streak. For now, riding the hot goalie is the right call for a team that needs something good to hang onto.

The Bruins are in desperation mode until they get a number of their injured players back. There certainly might not be more of a desperate option than setting their beleaguered sights on a goalie they sent to the minors as recently as last season. But it’s a new season, Khudobin has been excellent and he’s earned a chance to carry this team for a little bit until they can get things back in order.

Calling Khudobin’s number is the right call right now for the Bruins and, quite frankly, shouldn’t be that difficult a choice given what we’ve seen so far this season. 

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