Brad Marchand's evolution to playmaker is complete: 'They're the shooters and I am the passer'

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Brad Marchand's evolution to playmaker is complete: 'They're the shooters and I am the passer'

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.

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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.

Bruins' David Pastrnak gets wistful in tweet about missing hockey

Bruins' David Pastrnak gets wistful in tweet about missing hockey

There’s no doubt it’s hurting hockey fans to not have the NHL as a welcome distraction from the global coronavirus pandemic currently ripping through North America.

But there’s also little question it pains those involved in the NHL even more to not have hockey at a time of year when teams are finishing up the regular season, and gearing up for the best time of year in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Bruins hotshot right wing David Pastrnak sent out a tweet over the weekend that was simple and short with its actual words, but truly conveyed exactly the kind of heartbroken emptiness that the 23-year-old is feeling while house-bound amidst what was the best season of his excellent NHL career.

“Haven’t done the thing for a while…” wrote a wistful Pastrnak without any need to elaborate that he was talking about playing hockey and scoring goals.

For young, single NHL players like the happy, go-lucky Pastrnak this period of time has to be particularly difficult with no immediate family to keep their minds off just how much they are missing hockey in their lives.

Pastrnak was approaching both 50 goals and 100 points for the first time in his NHL career (48 goals and 95 points in 70 games) and was destined to be a Hart Trophy finalist when the NHL regular season was suspended nearly three weeks ago. It feels like hoping for more regular season games is more fantasy than reality at this point, but hockey players like Pastrnak are still clinging to the hope that there will still be some kind of hockey playoffs when some sense of normalcy hopefully returns months from now.

The good news is that guys like Pastrnak and Jake DeBrusk are doing something good with their downtime as they played on a Fortnite tournament over the weekend to raise money for the COVID-19 Solidarity Relief Fund for the WHO (World Health Organization).

NHL players are still currently in quarantine after a handful of them tested positive for the coronavirus over the last week, most notably in Colorado and Ottawa, but at least the league is beginning to host video conference calls between players and the media to make certain that fans can still keep an eye on what their favorite players are up to these days.

Shawn Thornton, Mark Recchi reflect on Bruins' Game 7 vs. Canadiens in 2011

Shawn Thornton, Mark Recchi reflect on Bruins' Game 7 vs. Canadiens in 2011

The Boston Bruins' 2011 Stanley Cup run was unbelievable -- especially since Claude Julien's team was considered an underdog throughout the entirety of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

Although Tim Thomas, David Krejci and Nathan Horton played key roles in the 2011 championship, everyone did their job, including Mark Recchi and Shawn Thornton. 

Recchi and Thornton reflected on that historic 2011 Cup run in a recent interview with SportsNet's Eric Engels and solely focused on Game 7 of their quarterfinals matchup with the Montreal Canadiens.  

"The whole series was so intense like it always is with Montreal and Boston and it just got elevated because you're in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup playoffs," Recchi said of an epic Game 7 against the Habs. "Just the energy and the passion in both teams displayed was just incredible to be a part of. There was a lot of ups and downs throughout the whole game and it just showed you how even everything was throughout the whole year with our two teams." 

Thornton had a similar take but also mentioned how much the B's-Habs rivalry impacted his career. 

"This rivalry was everything for my career," Thornton said. "I loved playing Montreal. I love being involved. I loved the passion, the fire. This game... was I even on the ice for most of it? I think I just had the best seat in the house. I think most people in Boston paid $1,000 bucks and I just got to sit there for free and watch Recchi do his thing.

"But you know, we were lucky we ended up moving on and had a great finale to that season. Being there was a lot different than the Game 7 my first year when I was in Boston when we lost to Montreal. That rivalry was at its height when we were playing there and I'm just happy to have been a part of it. Doesn't matter what side you're on really. I mean, I'm a Bruin in those days but either side you just had to enjoy the rivalry."

And of course there would've been no Stanley Cup victory without former Bruins head coach Claude Julien, and Thornton reflected on how much of an influence Julien had on that 2011 team throughout the entire season.

"I remember Lake Placid the most. We were going to Lake Placid to hide but when you go to Lake Placid there's nowhere to hide so all the media knew we were going there and it ended up being a bigger fishbowl," Thornton said. "But, Claude [Julien] was amazing at the one game at a time or the one period at a time. Like we don't have to win four straight guys. We don't even have to win the next two games, we just have to win the next period and then take it from there.

"I think our team really adopted that. He should also send Recchi and Horton some of his paychecks that he's still getting because he wouldn't be getting those sheets in Montreal if it wasn't for us winning that game. We were there for a lot of years together and he definitely had a calming influence when it came to those situations and our leadership group in the room too was huge for us."

After defeating Montreal in seven games, the B's went on to sweep the Philadelphia Flyers in the semifinals, crush the Tampa Bay Lightning's hopes in the conference finals, and well, we all know what happened in the Stanley Cup Final. 

That team was something special, and the only members from that squad still with the Bruins are Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, Brad Marchand and Tuukka Rask. 

If one thing's for sure, those four guys will need to become leaders in the 2020 playoffs, provided they happen, and help Boston avenge its 2019 finals loss to the St. Louis Blues. 

You can watch the full interview below or by clicking here.