On a Saturday afternoon when Brad Marchand was the single most impactful player on the ice, it also underscored just how much he’s added to his game in the last few seasons.
The Boston Bruins' top left winger set up a pair of goals for the B's in their 4-1 win over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden, and one of those scores just happened to be the game-winning shorthanded goal in a standout second period.
The game-winner was a pure hustle play by Marchand as he hounded the puck retriever on a Red Wings power play, stripped the puck away in the corner after he took away both time and space with his effort, and then fed Patrice Bergeron all alone in front for the easy score against Jonathan Bernier.
It’s the kind of shorthanded strike Marchand and Bergeron have combined for dozens of times in nearly a decade of killing penalties together. The goal gave the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the second period and effectively changed the momentum of the game against a Detroit team that had been creeping along in on the scoreboard while clearly getting outclassed on the ice.
Then it was Marchand again in the third period dangling through Detroit defenders before dropping the pass to David Pastrnak for the tap-in for his 42nd goal of the season. It was the role of playmaker that featured most prominently on Saturday for the "Nose Face Killah" while making certain the Bruins weren’t going to lose to the lowly Red Wings once again.
He did throw in a little hate as well when he pushed Robby Fabbri all the way to the Bruins bench before tossing him through the bench door and onto the hostile B’s bench area for a few laughs and angry words in the third period.
As entertaining as that was, it’s more amazing to realize the development of Marchand as a passer and playmaker. There was a time when No. 63 wouldn’t get on Boston’s top power play unit because the Bruins coaching staff felt he was more of a 1-on-1 playmaker than an effective disher, but those days back from the Claude Julien era are long, long gone.
Instead, Marchand ranks fourth in the NHL with 50 assists this season behind just Leon Draisaitl, John Carlson and Connor McDavid, and only McDavid, Nikita Kucherov and Blake Wheeler have more than his 165 helpers since the start of a 2017-18 season when the Perfection Line of Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Pastrnak really started skating together.
Marchand is happy to play the role of playmaker rather than goal-scorer as he’s done with four assists over the last couple of games. He’s also on pace for 32 goals this season and draws all kinds of defensive attention when he drives to the net. Those dangles through opposing defenses open up passing lines for linemates in Bergeron and Pastrnak that don’t need a lot of room to score goals, and then the goals from the top line follow closely behind.
Add it all up and it’s a productive, successful Perfection Line formula for the Black and Gold generated by Marchand’s playmaking when all three forwards are operating at highest efficiency. It’s all changed from the time when Marchand was Boston’s biggest goal-scoring threat prior to Pastrnak going supernova as an NHL superstar in the last few seasons.
“Before Pasta came along on our line, it was the first thing I was looking to do when I got over the blue line was to be the shooter. It worked. But with Pastrnak and Bergeron being on the line and their tendencies being similar, they’re the shooters and I am the passer, and I am fine with that,” said Marchand.
“It’s obviously worked. A lot of our plays are geared toward that. Obviously, there’s a time and place for shooting and passing, and it’s about trying to read that. But they’re both very good at putting themselves in position on almost every play to get shots off. I’m just going to give it to them and they’ll put it in the net.”
Really it comes down to watching what makes the Perfection Line so difficult to stop, and it comes down to good hockey simply finding the open man when defenses show extra attention to any of the three players. Each of Marchand, Bergeron and Pastrnak can score goals with precision skill and flawless execution, and each of them can make offense happen with creativity, smarts and excellent hands.
It’s part of what makes them the NHL’s most dangerous forward line, but it also feels like Marchand has taken his passing and playmaking to the highest level of the last few years to cultivate that line’s greatness.
“I think it’s the whole line. What makes them so good is you can’t just say ok, we’re going to take [Marchand’s] shot away, his passing,” said Bruce Cassidy. “I think they all do it well. I think they can all score goals, they can all make plays.”
With 23 games left to go in the regular season and 50 apples already in the books, it seems automatic that Marchand is going to surpass his career-high of 64 assists set last season on his way to 100 points again this year.
As he enters another one of his patented hot streaks with two goals and seven points in seven games this month, the 31-year-old Marchand looks ready to set new career highs in both assists and points this year as his game gets better and more evolved with each passing season.