Bruins' Brad Marchand with a dose of reality: 'Older teams are going to struggle' when NHL returns

Bruins' Brad Marchand with a dose of reality: 'Older teams are going to struggle' when NHL returns

While many Bruins fans think that a long leave of absence for NHL players could end up benefitting the B’s when the NHL finally starts again, that may not be the case at all.

In theory, an older, veteran team such as the Bruins would be well-rested with bumps and bruises healed along with energy levels restored to what they were at the beginning of the season. To the layperson, that would be a good thing.

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All one needs to do is look at the Black and Gold’s 15-4-0 record in the 19 games after their 10-day All-Star break/bye week in January that pushed the invigorated B’s to their very best stretch of the regular season. With even more rest, one might extrapolate that Boston would be in even better shape once the Stanley Cup playoffs finally do roll around, if they ever do.

All those theories don’t seem to jive with reality, however.

In so many words, Brad Marchand implied he doesn’t think it’s going to work out very well for the Bruins if they get a chance to put a cap on a season where they’ve been the NHL's best for most of it. The months that the players are being forced to stay off the ice is going to take away their feel for the puck and push everybody to the same poor level of conditioning. Any momentum Boston had built up the first five months of the regular season is pretty much out the window now.  

Instead, Marchand thinks the advantage will swing pretty strongly to teams with young skating legs that will simply turn playoff games into a track meet with the kind of raw NHL speed you normally only see in October.

Maybe it will benefit the Lightning getting Steven Stamkos back from a serious injury or the Hurricanes getting Dougie Hamilton back from injury as well. Still, it sure doesn’t seem to Marchand like it’s going to help a Bruins team that was sprinting to the President’s Trophy when the season was paused.

“I don’t think it’s going to help anybody," Marchand said in a virtual town hall with Bruins season-ticket holders on Thursday. " The only ones it’s going to help is teams with players that had significant injuries. Just look at [Steven] Stamkos, who was injured and guys like that. Now they have the time to regroup and get healthy.

“But it’s not going to help any teams that were playing well at the time. Maybe a few days [of rest] might have been good, but when guys are taking a few months it’s going to hurt everyone.

“You can’t skate, keep your conditioning up or keep up your skills. It’s going to hurt everybody. Everybody is going to be sloppy," Marchand said. "I think the only teams that are going to come back and look good are the really young teams like Toronto or Tampa. The really high-end skilled teams are just going to have the legs and be able to get it back quick. Older teams are going to struggle.”

The Bruins have some excellent young players, David Pastrnak, Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo among others, but they are most definitely an “older team” with core guys Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, David Krejci, Tuukka Rask and Marchand well past 30.

For the veteran Bruins who rely on chemistry, conditioning, physicality and hockey awareness, it could prove a challenge if there’s only one or two games to warm up ahead of the postseason. Clearly, it won’t be the only challenge for the Bruins given the likelihood that teams will be playing in empty arenas and filling a summertime playoff slate when they’re usually out on the golf course somewhere.

Still, the NHL’s best players know that the biggest hurdle to jump over for any kind of successful conclusion to their season is going to be bouncing back from the longest stretch most of them have gone without skating in their adult lives.

“You can stay active. You can stay moving and keep the conditioning level as ‘up’ as best you can. But the biggest thing is that it doesn’t matter what you do off the ice. You can run and you can bike, but nothing that you can do is going to simulate the workout that you do on the ice,” lamented Marchand. “You can’t duplicate it. You can’t replicate it. It doesn’t matter who does what during this break, we’re all going to feel awful when we come back.

“We’re all going to be bad. It’s going to take a while to get it back, so that’s going to be the biggest concern with this whole thing. If you take guys that have been off and had very limited opportunities to work out and train and haven’t skated in months, you can’t just throw them back into games or everybody is going to get hurt. There’s going to be some kind of ramp-up period, but it’s going to be really, really ugly for a couple of games. It’d be nice to get a couple of games before the playoffs, otherwise, it’s going to be a free-for-all.”

Clearly, there are more important things going on in the world than the plight of the Bruins, but the NHL's return means we’re inching closer to normalcy in a world put on edge by the coronavirus crisis. Still, it's also a dose of reality to hear Marchand speak about the extended break and how it’s going to do no favors to Boston’s high hopes for a Stanley Cup given where they were when the season was paused. 

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy responds to Tuukka Rask's 'exhibition' remark

Tuukka Rask's comments after the Boston Bruins' Game 2 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday night rubbed some the wrong way, but head coach Bruce Cassidy wasn't fazed.

Rask raised eyebrows when he said, “To be honest with you, it doesn’t really feel like playoff hockey out there. There are no fans, so it’s kind of like playing an exhibition game." That isn't exactly what B's fans want to hear from their goaltender after a playoff loss, but Cassidy downplayed Rask's remarks Friday during a video conference with reporters.

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“I didn’t speak to him after his comments. Tuukka, I think the Boston media knows him well enough — he answers his questions the way he feels,” Cassidy said. “It is a unique environment, but to me, there’s playoff intensity on the ice. You’ve just gotta control what you can control when you’re a player. In my situation, as a coach, the way I look at it, at the end of the day, they’re gonna hand out the Stanley Cup this year. So we’ve gotta play our best hockey if we want to be that team.

"That was our goal at the start of the year. We didn’t anticipate it would end up in an environment like this, but here it is, right? You play the hand you’re dealt, and you prepare yourself — and in my case prepare the team — in this case, for Game 3, to play our best hockey game and that’s what my focus is on right now, plain and simple. That’s what we’re gonna do tonight and puck drop tomorrow at noon, we’re gonna put our best foot forward.”

While Rask's comments may have been off-putting, they weren't unfounded. The NHL's bubble environment is unlike anything these players have experienced before. Matching the level of playoff intensity that's in the arena when fans are in attendance is virtually impossible.

Regardless, Rask and the B's will have to be on their game if they're to regain the series lead on Saturday. Puck drop for Game 3 vs. the Hurricanes is set for 12 p.m. ET. on NBC.

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

Bruce Cassidy says Bruins will be making changes for Game 3; Is it Jack Studnicka time?

The Bruins are expecting to make some lineup adjustments headed into Game 3 after the Hurricanes evened the series 1-1 apiece in Thursday night’s 3-2 loss in the Toronto bubble at Scotiabank Arena.

Bruce Cassidy said the B’s have some banged-up players that will also have to be factored in as well, but it sounded like he was looking to go a little smaller and faster with his group to counteract some of the speed and aggressive pressure that the Hurricanes are throwing at them.

“We’ve thought it through. There are always day-to-day bumps and bruises, but we’ll be making changes both at forward and at [defense]. Some of that is getting some energy in the lineup and changing the look of our forward group,” said Bruce Cassidy of his Game 3 lineup vs. the Hurricanes.

“Overall [Anders Bjork] did what he could with his skill set to help that line. Nobody is going to replace Pastrnak, but if guys can go in there and complement Bergeron and Marchand and help them create some offense, then they’ve done a good thing. [Bjork] may not go back there, but I don’t think that’s why we feel a goal short [in Game 2].”

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Cassidy said he “anticipates” that Rask will start Game 3 on Saturday at noontime and that David Pastrnak “could possibly play” as a game-time decision after he didn’t practice on Friday with small optional group.

Ideally, the B’s would like to have Pastrnak be able to test out the injury in practice ahead of trying to give it a go in a game, but they won’t get that chance with a noontime start on Saturday after the 24-year-old Pasta didn’t skate on Friday.

“There were some good goals and good saves, but in those one-goal games each goalie needs to make one more save along the way [if they hope to win],” said Cassidy of Rask, who has a “meh” .899 save percentage and a 3.00 goals-against average in two games vs. Carolina.

“We didn’t get it and they did, and the opposite was true the game before. I think [Rask’s] game can grow like all of our games. The goalie position is probably a tougher one to get up to speed with not a lot of room for error.

“All of the goalies coming back are all in that same position. Hopefully he’ll be better [in Game 3] and we’ll be better in front of him.”

The bet here as far as the lineup changes go? One would expect that Nick Ritchie would be coming out after he was a non-factor in Game 2 with just 10:45 of ice time, and Jeremy Lauzon as well after playing just 13:16 of ice time and taking an early undisciplined penalty chasing after Carolina players after a clean hit laid on Karson Kuhlman.

If Pastrnak can’t play Game 3 and the speedy, responsible Kuhlman stays in the lineup that could open up a chance for rookie Jack Studnicka to play right wing on either the first or third line with Anders Bjork swinging over to his natural left wing side.

Studnicka is the only player the Bruins have among their current reserves that could really make a significant offensive impact with the kind of upside where the 21-year-old could be a difference-maker in a possible one-goal game. So it would make sense that the kid gets the call if the Bruins are looking for energy and a little offense with Pastrnak’s skill set potentially missing from the Game 3 lineup. 

Studnicka played in the first game of the round robin and didn't do much beyond some nice hustle plays on the back-check, but it's pretty clear he has top-6 skill and goal-scoring abilities. 

On defense, it might be time for Cliffy Hockey and Connor Clifton after he played a gritty, agitating game in the round-robin finale against the Washington Capitals. Clifton could play a role similar to the one that Haydn Fleury has played very well for the Hurricanes as a D-man that’s been unafraid to stir things up physically against the Bruins.