Bruins

Marchand looking to turn early-season frustration around

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Marchand looking to turn early-season frustration around

The always-feisty Brad Marchand showed some unmistakable signs of frustration in the shutout loss to the Colorado Avalanche on Monday afternoon. At one point in the second period, he fired a stick down the runway from the Bruins bench after hopping over the boards at the end of an unproductive shift. In that fit of puck pique, he looked much more like an Olympian javelin thrower than an NHL player.

Perhaps some of it was about Marchand getting the “A” on his sweater to start this season and the Bruins left winger showing some emotion and a little fire on the bench after not nearly enough was being displayed on the ice in a weak loss. 

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Some of it was probably about missing his partner-in-crime Patrice Bergeron for the first couple of games with no real indication when he’ll be back from his lower body injury.

A good deal was also just plain, old frustration from Marchand, who has just a single shot on net in each of the first two games. He has a goal thanks to his empty-netter at the end of Boston’s opening night win, but aside from that, the Nose Face Killah really hasn’t gotten untracked offensively.

“[The Colorado loss] was a tough game. It was one of those ones where I was making some bad decisions and really fighting the puck a bit,” said Marchand, who had three turnovers in the loss while not showing the usual moxie and energy that colors his game. “But it’s one you have to learn from. The good thing about this game is that you have [Wednesday in Colorado] where you can get back at it and keep working on your game. That was a learning experience. One I’d like to forget, but that’s hockey.

“It’s going to happen that guys are going to be in and out of the lineup during the year, and you’ve got to adjust to skating with different players. That’s just the way it goes. Obviously, we’d love to have Bergeron back in the lineup and it will happen at some point, but we still have to build chemistry and do the job with whoever we’re playing.”

It's certainly been difficult for No. 63 to skate without Bergeron and with rotating centers Ryan Spooner, David Krejci and Riley Nash as Bruce Cassidy looks to find a combo that works for his leading scorer. 

Marchand has traditionally been a slow starter for the Bruins, aside from last season when he was still warmed up from the World Cup of Hockey, and it’s clear that the B’s need him now more than ever with Bergeron and David Backes out of the lineup. 

Cassidy said he has complete faith that Marchand bounce back on the upcoming three-game trip and there’s ample evidence he will do it quickly coming off a Hart Trophy-level season last year.

“He’ll always get attention, so I think he’s used to that. He knows he’s going to see the best D-pair every night, especially if he’s playing with [Pastrnak],” said Cassidy of Marchand, who has averaged 38 goals and 73 points the past two seasons.  “Missing his buddy helps [keep him quiet]…the guy that he plays very well with. Absolutely. So the onus falls on him to play through that, and that really matters.

“[Marchand] knows that he can be better. We’ve discussed it and he will be. That guy figures stuff out and he’s going to play. He’ll play well for us, and he knows we need him now maybe more than other days because of who we’re missing from our lineup. I expect him to be really good in our next game.”

There are times Marchand can be streaky, but you can also normally count on him for a strong response when he’s authored a particularly poor game. That should be the case when the Bruins take the ice in Colorado on Wednesday night looking to humble the team that did that to them on Monday. 

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

Haggerty: With Jaroslav Halak in place, dealing Tuukka Rask shouldn't be out of the question

There are a couple of inalienable facts about next year’s goaltending situation with the Boston Bruins.

The first is that the B’s have most definitely upgraded in that area with 33-year-old Jaroslav Halak as the backup to Tuukka Rask. Halak is a flat-out better goalie than Anton Khudobin, and should be a little more consistent than the Russian backup, who was admittedly excellent last season while racking up a 16-6-7 record as Tuukka Rask’s understudy.

Halak, on the other hand, has won less than 18 games in a season only twice in his 10 full seasons at the NHL level, and has been a starter with the Canadiens, Blues, Capitals and Islanders with a career .916 save percentage over his NHL career. In case anybody hadn’t noticed that’s also been Tuukka Rask’s save percentage over the last three seasons for the Bruins.

Which brings us to inalienable goaltending fact No. 2: Halak is going to push Rask like he hasn’t been challenged since truly taking over as the top goalie in Boston.

The last truly competitive situation with Rask between the B’s pipes was in 2011-12 in Tim Thomas’ last season with the Bruins when the Finnish goaltender was backing up a reigning Conn Smythe Trophy winner. Rask had temporarily taken Thomas’ job away from him two years prior during the 2009-10 season when he was a rookie goalie, and that sparked the best season of Thomas’ NHL career where he led the Black and Gold to a Stanley Cup victory.

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Since then Rask has had “just another guys” like Chad Johnson, Niklas Svedberg, Jonas Gustavsson and Anton Khudobin backing him up, and none of those backups had the kind of juice to truly take Rask’s job away from him. The best Khudobin could do was start four straight games for the Bruins back in November of last season, and that turned out to be one of the turning points in a 112-point campaign where Rask was significantly motivated from that point onward.

Halak could legitimately get on a hot streak in the regular season and force the Bruins coaching staff to sit Rask for weeks, or even a month, at a time, and that’s something no backup has ever been able to do behind Boston’s Franchise Finn. That should be a good thing and that is something the B’s are already counting on to happen for next season.

“We’ve talked about internal competition. Maybe it puts Tuukka in a better mindset. There were nights when Tuukka [played] back-to-backs. That’s a lot of stress on the goaltender knowing… I think two years ago we didn’t have a win by our backup at Christmas time,” said Don Sweeney, on July 1 after signing Halak to a two-year contract. “I’m not sure you guys wrote about it, but I did, and I lost sleep about it.

“I think we have two guys that have carried the ball for their teams, [and] that will push each other, that will complement each other, and we feel good that now going in every night. That is an area we aren’t going to be concerned about, hopefully. Obviously, it’s [about] the performance now.”

Now here’s the fork in the road where the inalienable Bruins goaltending facts and some good, old-fashioned speculation go their separate ways.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to happen, but the addition of Halak for multiple years also opens up the possibility of trading away Rask if the right deal comes across Sweeney’s desk. The $2.75 million per season that the Bruins are paying Halak is the going rate for a top-of-the-line goalie, but it now also means the B’s are paying just under $10 million per season over the next two years for their goaltending tandem. That’s a whopping 12.5 percent of the $79.5 million in salary cap space, which is much less than either of the teams in this spring’s Stanley Cup Final (Vegas paid $6.4 million for their goalies and Washington paid $7.6 million for the Braden Holtby/Philipp Grubauer combo) shelled out for their goaltending.

In fact, only Montreal is spending more money on goaltending than the Bruins this season thanks to the awful Carey Price contract, and – along with the Bruins -- only the Panthers, Canadiens and Avalanche are paying north of $9 million in cap space for their goalies next season. For a Bruins team that was just barely in the NHL’s top-10 in save percentage and where the goaltending wasn’t really a demonstrable strength in the playoffs, that feels like a lot.  

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Rask has a limited trade clause for this upcoming season where he can be traded to eight NHL teams, and that “can be traded to” list gets bumped up to 15 teams in the following season. The Bruins did everything possible last season to make sure that Rask was mentally and physically rested with the 54 appearances, which was right around the targeted 55-60 games the Bruins had him penciled in for at the start of last season.

But even after all that rest and being given the high maintenance treatment, Rask still responded with a shaky postseason that was the worst statistically of his career. The 2.88 goals against average and .903 save percentage were the worst playoff marks of his NHL career, and Rask was an absolute disaster in their Game 7 showdown with the Maple Leafs. If the Bruins hadn’t completely shut down Toronto in the first half of the third period where they didn’t allow a shot on net (and didn’t allow Rask to even be a factor in the balance of that game), they probably wouldn’t have even advanced beyond the first round prior to their second round smack-down at the hands of the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Rask was better in the second round vs. Tampa and added to his career highlight reel when he angrily fired a broken skate blade at the boards, but there are still some of the very same, nagging questions about Boston’s top goalie when it comes to big games.   

So why not start to explore what Rask could yield in a hockey trade, and even pull the trigger if the price is right given that Halak is there as a proven starting goaltender? There has been plenty of talk about Torey Krug being on the move if the right trade comes up to fit Boston’s needs, and there’s no reason why Boston’s All-Star, $7 million a year goaltender shouldn’t be part of that roster improvement conversation as well.

Nobody is saying to ship Rask simply for the sake of doing it, and clearly the Bruins would need to find themselves a young goalie they could groom as the eventual No. 1 guy to go along with the older, declining Halak. But the signing of Halak officially opened the door for the Bruins to at least toy with the idea of moving Rask in a good hockey trade to a team desperate for goaltending help (Carolina, the Islanders and the Flyers immediately come to mind), and that might not be such a bad thing for the Black and Gold.  

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