BOSTON (CBS) — Over the past few years, a lot has been said about Brad Marchand in the hockey world, and a fair amount of it was far from positive.
On Thursday night at the TD Garden against the Maple Leafs, though, the only thing you could really say about him is that he played a near-perfect all-around game for the Bruins.
Through the first chunk of the shortened season, Marchand caught the league by surprise by ranking among the league leaders in goals scored. But just because he’s fallen out of the top 10 in that category doesn’t mean he stopped helping his team, and he continues to find new ways to do it.
The first on Thursday came late in the first period. Marchand sidestepped a hip check from Korbinian Holzer near the offensive blue line before out-muscling the Leafs defenseman (who has about six inches and 20 pounds on him) in a puck battle along the boards. Marchand had the presence of mind to look up and see a streaking Tyler Seguin, so he kicked the puck to his linemate. Seconds later, Patrice Bergeron was jamming home Seguin’s rebound, and the Bruins led 1-0 less than a minute before the first intermission.
Marchand later introduced a trait which he’s not often given much credit for having: composure. Labeled as an “agitator” in his first couple of seasons — and rightly so — it’s rare to see him be the coolest head in a confrontation on the ice.
Yet that was the case roughly seven minutes into the second period, with the game tied 1-1. Leafs forward Clarke MacArthur sought out Marchand, gave him a hard shove with his stick and looked ready and willing to initiate what would have been a fight not many expected to see when they arrived at the rink (the duo has a combined five fighting majors in the NHL).
Marchand, however, politely (or not-so-politely) declined, instead opting to rush up the ice past MacArthur, where he picked up a loose puck which bounced over MacArthur’s stick near the blue line, carried into the zone and chipped a pass to Seguin, who had plenty of space to operate before firing a shot past goaltender Ben Scrivens.
“Right now, it’s not really on the top of my list to fight. I think I’d rather be out there just playing the game,” Marchand explained of his confrontation with MacArthur. “He told me his coach [Randy Carlyle] sent him out after me [because] he didn’t like how I was playing. It was good karma for us, we ended up scoring on the play.”
With the game already won, though, there was still a little bit of room for the pest in Marchand to find its way out.
“Just another tough one for them,” he said.
Marchand finished the game with the two assists, just two games after registering three helpers Sunday night against Montreal. That’s all after he registered just three total assists in his first 17 games of the year. He now has 12 goals and eight assists playing alongside Bergeron and Seguin, and Julien expressed little surprise that Marchand has matched his linemates’ talent levels.
“I think Brad is a real good player,” Julien actually said before Marchand’s performance on Thursday. “He probably doesn’t get enough credit because of his demeanor on the ice, how he’s a bit of an agitator. Certainly, that kind of tarnishes a little bit of the good things he does, but that’s what makes him a great player. He’s a very emotional guy, likes to get under people’s skin sometimes, but as long as it doesn’t interfere with the skill level that he has, he’s a great player, good passer, great goal scorer and he has a quick release. He’s a real good player. I think he’s an even better player than what people perceive him to be.”
Of course, parts of those perceptions aren’t created out of thin air, and even in Thursday’s game, there were distinct Marchand moments. He ended up going to the penalty box and taking Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf with him after a mutual mauling session early in the second period, and he later drew a cross-checking call on Phaneuf early in the third. Without even having to include Phaneuf and MacArthur, there likely weren’t many Toronto players eager to ask Marchand out for a bite to eat after the game.
But aside from his normal work, Julien also made sure to praise Marchand for doing the little things — little things that not-coincidentally led immediately to huge goals.
“The goals that [Bergeron and Seguin] scored were, besides the empty-netter, pretty indicative of what we’ve asked of our players,” Julien said. “The first one was a great effort by Marchand, right in front of their bench, battling for the puck in front of their net. He had two guys around him and finally let Seguin get loose with the puck and he did a great job of taking it to the net and cutting in. … Another one again, Marchy does the work along the boards, chips it past their pinching D and makes a great pass to Seggy again. So, it was just one of those games that that line did a great job as far as getting pucks past their [defensemen] and working through it and doing the grunt work.”
The reasons for Marchand’s maturity are numerous, but skating next to Bergeron for so long may be the strongest influence.
“He’s incredible,” Marchand said of his center. “He’s an elite player in this league, and you saw he played for the Olympic team, and he’s got a Cup, and he’s won at every level and it’s because of how great of a player he is. When you have your top scorer playing defensively the way he does, it’s very encouraging, and it makes a lot of guys follow.”
Marchand’s long been a useful, productive player for the Bruins, and they likely wouldn’t have won the Stanley Cup without his 11 playoff goals and uncanny ability to get under the skin of opponents, particularly the Canucks. Now with his all-around game continuing to mature, the rest of the league is discovering what’s been known for a while in Boston. Marchand can play, and the development of his all-around game is a major reason why that Seguin-Bergeron-Marchand line has been nearly unstoppable all season long.
He’s gotten plenty of publicity for his goal-scoring, but what Marchand did on Thursday night proved his value to the team and his line goes far beyond just making the highlight reel.