Marchand Searching for a Spark
BostonBruins.com - You'll often hear Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien say phrases like "Tuukka's been Tuukka" and "Bergy was Bergy" to gathered reporters, like he did amidst the start to the season, with Tuukka Rask being his sharp self and Patrice Bergeron appearing to have not missed a beat.
The remarks come because of the expectations placed on those in the Black & Gold, knowing what defines these B's personalities and how that translates onto the ice.
And right now, Coach is likely looking forward to the next postgame press conference when he can say "that's the Brad Marchand the we know."
"Brad competed harder tonight and seemed to be a little bit better for me," Julien told the press, following the Bruins' 3-2 loss to Detroit on October 14, which marked Marchand's second straight game playing on the third line with Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron.
Marchand fired four shots on goal, including two right at the start, and was pegged to fill in for Milan Lucic for a shift late in the game when the left winger's skate needed a repair.
He had jump in his game, but the winger is continuing to work towards where he wants it to be.
"I think I was just pushing a little hard and maybe trying to do a little bit too much and with Kells and Jordy, they’re both hard working guys and keep it pretty simple so it’s more just getting back to the basics and getting back to my roots," said Marchand, who has one goal through the first five games of 2013-14.
"He’s been fighting it the last little while here," Julien had said after the B's 3-1 win in Columbus, in which he first made the line switch, moving Smith alongside Bergeron and Eriksson, who ended up scoring the game-winner just 49 seconds after the change.
"Sometimes you have to take a guy away from where he is and take some of the pressure off. It’s not because he doesn’t want to do well – in his mind, he’s trying."
"He’s fighting it, there’s no doubt he’s fighting it and as a coach you make the change that you think is right in order to win a hockey game. So we know how good he can be, right now he just has to fight through it and find his game."
That's exactly what we saw Marchand doing against Detroit, playing more of his North-South game that the B's bench boss likes to see, as opposed to him trying to do too much. "Simple is sometimes better," says Julien.
So, is Coach concerned about the slower start?
"No, not at all. I think that happens to every team, every player at some point. Not at all. We know what Brad is and Brad’s always produced well for us. Slow start, he may not be at his best, but at the same time it doesn’t make him a bad player."
"You have to allow him the opportunity to find his game and it’s not like he doesn’t care; sometimes it’s putting a lot of pressure on yourself. Sometimes you just have to go out there and play and not think as much, and that’s what we’re encouraging him to do."
When he's at his best, he's moving his meet, driving the net and pestering the opposition, while not crossing the line.
"Yeah it is," he said following Monday's game, when asked by a reporter if it's a fine line between being emotionally engaged and not getting suspended. "I think it’s very easy to tell that after my suspension [five games in January 2012 for clipping Sami Salo] I’ve calmed down a lot in that area. It is tough, I don’t want to be sitting out 8-10 games if I do something wrong again. So you do have to juggle that but at the same time I have to do my job and just try to play physical when I can."
But Brad's spark doesn't necessarily come in the form of physicality, like it does with Lucic's hard-hitting nature, or Shawn Thornton's ability to ignite his teammates by dropping the gloves.
When the winger's going, he an agitator, and considered a hot commodity.
Like during the 2013 Eastern Conference Semifinal against the New York Rangers, when he agitated Derick Brassard enough for him to drop the gloves, but kept buzzing around the zone and nearly scored at the end of his shift. Or in Game 2 of the Conference Final, when he had some words for Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke to the side of the play, and then sped off to the races and fired in his second goal of the game in the eventual win.
"Him doing stuff like that is him leading. Him playing the way that he’s playing, the way he’s capable of playing, is him leading in his own way," Bergeron said. "And he does some little things on and off the ice that brings the guys together and you need that."
Really, for the one his teammates call "Marchy," his spark is still there - you see it in the locker room, and the way his new teammates are already accustomed to the chirping and sharp personality; he's just working to resurface it on the ice.
"I would hope that he would never lose the ice to his game, I don’t think he will," General Manager Peter Chiarelli said, prior to the start of the season.
"One of my themes going in to this year because of the turnover, was that some of these players now, it’s time to inherit some of the leadership."
"That doesn’t mean that you have to have a letter, it doesn’t mean that you're in the leadership group, it just means that it’s time to saddle up a little bit more. I would say Brad would be one of those guys and I think he is willing and looking forward to taking that on."
For Marchand, he's not expected to be a leader like Bergeron or Zdeno Chara, but in his own way, with his own flair.
"I think, I'm not the serious guy off the ice, I like to have fun and joke around a bit but I think there’s a time where everyone has to be serious and I think we all in this room know when that time is," said Marchand.
"And on the ice I think it's more just about the work ethic and trying to play the way they want me to play and just play hard."
With only five games gone in the 82-game season, there's a long regular season road ahead, and plenty of time for Marchand to get on a roll -- and get into the opponent's head.
"His first year, he said he’d score X amount of goals and he did that. He wanted to show that not only was he an agitator but also a good hockey player, so, to me his reputation, his identity has been forged," Julien said before the season.
"He’s got to continue producing and he’s got to continue trying to get guys off their game when it’s deemed right."
"He’s an agitator, always will be, and we want him to be that."
Right now, Marchand's looking to get back to that.
And just as Julien is not concerned with his start, neither is a Bruin that's been around longer than the spoked-B itself.
"Marchand, you don't have to worry about him," Milt Schmidt told me Monday, with a smirk, when talking about this year's team. "I think he's going to start pretty soon."
Heading into Game No. 6 on the season, the winger knows what he needs to do.
"I just have to have faith in myself and get back to the game."