By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — Let’s get this straight at the top: Brad Marchand doesn’t get suspensions because he has a reputation for reckless behavior; he crosses the line and injures opponents, and that earns his suspensions.

There is no chicken-or-the-egg conundrum here, we know what comes first. This is more a tale of a leopard that can’t change its spots, except we’ve seen this leopard go long stretches with spotless skin and thrive as one of the premier scoring wings in the NHL.

Now it’s just a matter of Marchand keeping those spots off of him for the rest of this season, the playoffs and beyond. His quest will start Wednesday when he’ll return to the lineup after a five-game ban that resulted from his elbow to the head of New Jersey’s Marcus Johansson on Jan. 23.

Johansson hasn’t played since because of a concussion; Marchand will serve the final game of his suspension Tuesday in Detroit.

“It’s tough. I’ve tried for a while now to kind of get away from that role and just can’t seem to escape it. I think obviously you look at the last few years, I’ve turned into a decent player and it’s tough to be branded with that name consistently,” Marchand, who’s nine goals away from reaching 30 goals for the third straight year, said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Monday.

“Obviously it’s from my own doing but it’s tough to escape it a bit.”

The Bruins have to hope that what was obvious to Marchand while talking to the media remains obvious to him on the ice moving forward. There’s still been some excuse making in relation to Marchand’s sixth and longest suspension, with coach Bruce Cassidy again bringing up the “self-defense” defense Monday, and Marchand doing little to disown it when questioned about how he’ll “protect himself” without crossing the discipline line in the future.

Marchand viciously elbowed Johansson with little to no provocation and if the 29-year-old felt he needed to prevent or avoid a hit, there was a myriad of ways he could’ve done it without injuring his fellow NHLPA member. Instead he chose the way that reinforced his reputation.

Marchand’s a star now, as evidenced by his production and his selection to last month’s All-Star Game, and he has to start acting like it. He’s going to have the puck, to be effective with it he’s going to have to protect it and take it to the net. There will be sticks and bodies flying at him and he’s going to have options for how to react.

There are forearm shivers like the one Ryan Spooner laid out Toronto’s Dominic Moore with while protecting the puck late in the Bruins’ 4-1 win on Saturday. And there are acts of violence like Marchand’s that can’t be condoned.

In talking about how Marchand should handle himself, Cassidy brought up a couple of the game’s other bright stars.

“I’m sure [Sidney] Crosby goes through it every night, [Connor] McDavid does now, and different players throughout the league,” the coach said. “Whether they get more rope to get away with it or not is a discussion you could have but he’s not in that position unfortunately so he has to be mindful of that.

“Having said all that, it comes back to Brad in that moment. Finding a way to do it within the rules. We’ll see I guess.”

It won’t be hard for Marchand to rehabilitate his image. He just has to stop low bridging, slew footing and elbowing. Crosby, McDavid, Patrick Kane – all get a little more leeway to play physically, mostly when they’re trying to make the plays that make them great. If Marchand actually commits a borderline illegal act, but he does it in protecting the puck during a creative move, he’ll get the benefit of the doubt from the Department of Player Safety. DOPS is not in the business of keeping the NHL’s best players off the ice.

But the hit on Johansson was idiocy, plain and simple, much like the hit he threw high at John Tavares earlier this season. That hit didn’t even earn him a hearing, so it’s obvious DOPS is not out to get him.

Marchand should just go out and play his game. He can use his speed, his shot and creativity to punish opponents for just being on the other team or for trying to goad him into trouble. He can continue to yap at his foes and he can mix it up physically in front of the net and in the corners. Penalties will be called, but suspensions are earned with egregious hits that should be part of anyone’s game – let alone a player who every night seemingly climbs the ranks of the Bruins’ all-time best scores.

If Marchand wants to change his reputation, all he has to do is play and produce the way his idea of a model player would play. Be a lion, not a leopard.

 

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