BOSTON (CBS) – The Bruins are spinning Brad Marchand’s early-season struggles as just a slump that every player goes through at one point or another.
And for their sake, you hope the spin turns true.
Of course, you know from coach Claude Julien’s actions that there’s a little more concern from the coaching staff and front office over Marchand’s start – one goal in the Bruins’ first five games – than they’d typically have over an average regular-season dry spell. Julien’s not one to go off on a line-juggling fiesta, yet it took just until the third period of the fourth game of the season for Julien to switch Marchand and rookie Reilly Smith. A lineup with Marchand and Patrice Bergeron on separate lines has been rarer than affordable parking near TD Garden. So the worries about Marchand’s game obviously run deeper than just tough luck or a lack of finish.
Marchand’s troubles wouldn’t be so disconcerting if they didn’t go back further than the start of the 2013-14 season. And they’re reflected in more than just his lessened production.
Marchand famously failed to record a point in the six-game Stanley Cup finals against Chicago. He produced 4-6-10 totals in the middle two rounds against Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers, but he was goal-less in seven games (three assists) in the first round against Toronto and finished the regular season with four goals in his last 12 games.
Mixed into that 12-game stretch from the end of last season was an elbow to the head by New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov. The hit landed Marchand on the sidelines with a concussion for two games. Whether he wants to admit it, he hasn’t been the same player since that night. Marchand’s nose for the net, his confidence making plays in attacking areas of the ice and, most important, his ability to protect the puck on the cycle and on the rush have all tapered off since last April. The “nose-faced killah” seems a little less willing to stick his nose in where it might get a little bruised.
You can detect not just a confidence crisis from Marchand, but also an excitement from opponents that know they can take the puck from Marchand or rush him into a play when he’s coming down the ice.
Luckily for the Bruins, it’s still early in the season. And unlike last summer when he chalked up his struggles against the Blackhawks to Chicago being too good defensively, Marchand’s admitting now that he has a problem.
“I’m not blind, I know I don’t have the most skill in the league and I just have to have faith in myself and get back to the game,” he said after the loss to Detroit on Monday. “I mean, when I’m successful I just get a little – you know you get in that summer hockey routine and I kind of dragged that in to the season a bit. So I have to get away from that and get back to playing good hockey.”
The summer’s over and so is the honeymoon. Marchand’s fall to third line can either be the first step on his road to the fourth line or the press box, or it can be the wakeup call that gets him playing like the two-way force and agitator the Bruins need him to be among their top six. Even if his shots don’t find the back of the net, he has to be a tougher player to play against.
So far the club has had his back and the spin game has been in full force. Now it’s up to him to turn the situation back in the right direction.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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