Bruins

Do the Bruins need to add toughness to protect Marchand?

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Do the Bruins need to add toughness to protect Marchand?

There are some unmistakable warning signs when it comes to the Boston Bruins, and opponents taking liberties with their best players on the ice.

It actually might seem like a non-story right now because the Bruins are very close to achieving a fully healthy lineup for the first time all season. But it may not stay that way for very long if the B’s don’t make sure they’re protecting their best players with everything they’ve got in the team toughness department.

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In fact, it should make you wonder if the Bruins need to dig a little deeper into the available tough guy/enforcer supply to make certain they’ve got every manner of protecting for their high-end skill guys. The Bruins actually had Ryan White with the team for weeks on a tryout while they mulled over their roster, but in the end both sides opted to go in different directions with the Bruins keeping their young fourth-line guys intact.

That was before Brad Marchand started getting targeted with big hits from nearly every team the Bruins played, and missed 8-of-10 games with two different stints where the B’s indicated that he was in the concussion protocol. It all started when the Bruins got pushed around by the Washington Capitals while losing to them last month, and Tom Wilson clobbered Marchand with a hit that dazed the left winger. Later on in the same game John Carlson clipped Marchand with a hit aimed at his knees that was well behind the play, and left the B’s agitator angry on the bench as he shattered his stick against the boards.

Marchand proceeded to miss the next two games before returning for the Hockey Hall of Fame weekend home-and-home against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He once again got clocked by Leo Komarov and then missed the next six games before again coming back for a big statement win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Marchand has been lighting it up with a goal and five points along with a plus-5 in three games since coming back, and is clearly feeling better given how involved he’s been in everything happening on the ice. But Marchand once again got smashed by a massive Ivan Provorov hit when he got caught with his head down in the neutral zone, and was forced to miss the rest of the first period while getting checked on in the dressing. Marchand returned to the game and factored heavily into the shutout win, but what if he never made it back from that big hit?

What if Marchand ended up in the concussion protocol for the third time within a month’s time where repeated head injuries can spell real problems for NHL players, and their long-term health and well-being could be in jeopardy?

Bruce Cassidy mentioned after the Flyers win that the general rise in abuse heaped on Marchand by opponents this season would be a topic of discussion for the team. Marchand himself certainly noticed that he was catching a higher rate of big blows this season, and that’s not something you want to hear if you’re a Bruins fan.  

“I’m just frustrated,” admitted Marchand after the Philly game. “I’ve been hit more this year than every other year combined in my career. I just need to do a better job of keeping my head up. Sometimes that’s just the way things shape up during the game.”

Some big hits and some concussions can’t be prevented, and there is a limit to how much anything can discourage or deter those types of consequences. But it seems just as clear that the Bruins, as currently constituted, aren’t putting a lot of fear into the other teams when it comes to squarely targeting Marchand for punishment. Marchand will always put himself into harm’s way with the fearless style that he employs on the ice, and it’s part of what makes him one of the best all-around players in the NHL right now.

Maybe the Bruins will have enough in the team toughness department now that David Backes is healthy and back in the lineup, and feared pugilist Adam McQuaid is slowly approaching a return while on the ice rehabbing from a broken leg. Add them to Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller, and the Bruins still have players that can stick up for their fallen teammates when necessary. Backes certainly thinks the Bruins have what’s required within their group to protect their teammates, and that’s something he takes very seriously.

“I don’t think we need anybody to take advantage of our best players. That’s for darn sure. The new NHL isn’t necessarily intimidating that guy [throwing the big hit] so he stops it, but it’s going after their best players to make them uncomfortable,” said David Backes. “They can tell their own guys that ‘If you’re going to be hard on Marchand then they might kill me out there tonight, and I don’t like that.’ I don’t necessarily think it’s fear, but you’ve got to have that counter-action or repercussion as at least a threat so they don’t start taking liberties with [Marchand].”   

But perhaps the Bruins need more to ensure that ultra-valuable skill players like Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy remain upright and free of egregious cheap shots for the rest of the season. White, by the way, has 43 penalty minutes in six games for the San Diego Gulls after signing a minor league deal with the Anaheim Ducks, and certainly looks like he could have been exactly that guy when he was hanging around with the Bruins. The Providence Bruins actually have a big, hard-hitting 5-foot-10, 234-pound defenseman/forward named Sena Acolatse, who leads the AHL with six fighting majors this season, and doesn’t look like the type of player that would be shy about protecting his teammates.

In all he’s got 42 career fights during his seven-year AHL career, and has racked up well over 600 penalty minutes while still showing he can actually play when he’s not duking it out with an opponent.

The debate for the Bruins would be the same as it is for most NHL teams in this day and age. There is limited NHL roster space for players that are one-dimensional tough guy types, and that goes doubly so for a Bruins team that’s already got an NHL roster stocked with forwards climbing over each other for playing time.

The bottom line is this for the Bruins: If they can unearth an intimidating player that can discourage even one massive hit that might knock Marchand back out of the lineup for a significant portion of time, it would be well worth having that player around. Nobody is asking these Bruins to turn back the clock to the Big Bad B’s Bullies that won it all back in 2011, and the current NHL climate wouldn’t allow it anyway.

But the players in the Bruins dressing room should be getting a little tired of other teams feeling like they can take runs at Boston’s best players whenever the mood strikes them, and not pay any price as a result of it.   

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McQuaid returns to first B's practice since breaking leg

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McQuaid returns to first B's practice since breaking leg

BRIGHTON, Mass – It marks just another step on Adam McQuaid’s eventual return to game action, but it was a big one getting back on the ice with his Bruins teammates on Monday for his first practice since breaking his right fibula on Oct. 19. 

The 31-year-old McQuaid has missed 21 games and counting since blocking a pair of shots in a win over Vancouver that ultimately snapped his right leg. It’s been a long road of rehab and working his way back after a fairly significant surgery, but the light is present at the end of the tunnel now for the rugged, stay-at-home defenseman.

However, it looks like there will be a healthy amount of practice time involved before McQuaid has sufficiently knocked the rust off for game action after missing the last seven weeks. 

“He’s still got a ways to go, so I don’t want to even speculate [on a return date],” said Bruce Cassidy. “We’ll start to sort the pieces together when he’s truly ready to play, but it’s nice to have him around. He’s a great guy and his teammates all love him.”

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Clearly McQuaid has suffered his share of injuries over the years while playing a fearless style of blocking shots, throwing hits and defending his teammates at all costs. Just don’t expect him to change the way he plays after suffering a major injury in that particular line of duty because McQuaid knows exactly what his job description is on the ice. 

“Obviously today was a good step. It was good to be out there with the guys, and hopefully things continue to progress,” said McQuaid, who had an assist and a minus-3 rating in six games this season. “It’s tough. Without sugarcoating it, it was [a tough injury]. But you can’t change the situation. You try to persevere through and be better for it, so hopefully that will be the case with this. I felt good coming into the season, so it was disappointing in that way. But I’m looking to work back to that level now.

“I’ve said to some people that I can choose between getting hurt once in a while and missing some time, or playing a different style and probably not playing at all. I don’t foresee anything changing with me in that way. When you get out there, you just play and get into that mindset where you can’t think about injuries. 

It’s going to be a challenge for Bruins head coach Cassidy to work McQuaid back into the lineup when he is ready to play given the six-man defense corps that’s functioning well these days with rookie puck-mover Matt Grzelcyk in the lineup. Still McQuaid is bullishly strong, a Stanley Cup champ and as good of a teammate as you’ll find when it comes to defending everybody else in a Bruins uniform, so it won’t be too long before he finds his way back into the lineup.  

Cassidy appreciates all of those things in McQuaid’s game since their early days together with the Providence Bruins, and bristles at the notion of his injuries being looked at as a liability in any way. McQuaid has missed an average of 18 games per season over his seven full seasons with the Bruins, but Cassidy sees it as more of a hazard of the particular role he fills on the back end. Not everybody can do what McQuaid does, but it’s absolutely needed on any hockey club that’s going to be successful in the regular season and playoffs. 

“He plays hard every night and he’s a guy that blocks more shots than anybody,” said Cassidy. “Yes, he missed the last seven weeks because he blocked two shots in the same sequence. He puts himself in harm’s way and he’s suffered some injuries because of it. That’s the way I look at it. I don’t want to get into labels…I love the guy. 

“The game needs players like him, and the team needs him if you want to be hard to play against. Guys like that are necessary…I’ve heard that [injury-prone] description and I think it’s unfair because [McQuaid] lays it on the line every night.” 

Here are the Bruins line combos and D-pairings based on Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena with both Ryan Spooner (lower body) and Noel Acciari (upper body) practicing and uncertain if they can play Wednesday night in Detroit: 

 

Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak

DeBrusk-Krejci-Bjork

Heinen-Nash-Backes

Schaller-Kuraly-Acciari

Beleskey-Spooner-Vatrano

 

Chara-McAvoy

Krug-Carlo

Grzelcyk-Miller

Postma-McQuaid

 

Rask

Khudobin

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Morning Skate: Boeser continues to produce for Canucks

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Morning Skate: Boeser continues to produce for Canucks

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while avoiding all “The Last Jedi” spoilers out there. 

 

*Brock Boeser continues to score and play well for the Vancouver Canucks despite the extra attention as one of the NHL’s lead rookie players this season. I hate to say it, but this is another one of those players from the second half of the first round in the 2015 NHL Draft. I’ll leave it at that and move on. 

 

*Alex Burrows fined $5000 for an incident in San Jose, but at least he didn’t bite anybody this time around, right? 

 

*It must be a slow week if there’s a big think piece about the ritual of using smelling salts right before the drop of the puck in NHL games. 

 

*There is more speculation about the Ottawa Senators trading Erik Karlsson than ever before in his NHL career, but his thoughts haven’t changed about wanting to win in Ottawa. 

 

*Good for the Bruins going out and donating some Christmas trees this weekend to the families of service members and veterans in Leominster. 

 

*It’s been a whopping 44 games since Chicago Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith has scored a goal, and that’s an almost unthinkable drought considering how much he handles the puck. 

 

*For something completely different: Wonder Woman is getting snubbed by the Golden Globes, and it’s difficult to understand why.