Boston Bruins: How Badly Have They Missed Brad Marchand?

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Boston Bruins: How Badly Have They Missed Brad Marchand?
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Discounting shootout strikes and empty-netters, the Boston Bruins outscored their opponents, 14-13, whilst compiling a 3-2-0 record during top-six winger Brad Marchand’s five-game suspension.

Translation: The Bruins boast an overall winning percentage of .686 and an average margin of victory of 1.58 goals. But they could only gain 60 percent of the allotted points, needing to resort to a shootout for two of them, and beat their collective adversaries by 0.2 goals in the protracted absence of a leaned-on forward.

To be a little less technical, dating back to the infraction that relegated Marchand to the sidelines, the Bruins are really 3-3-0 and have fostered a 15-15 scoring differential without him.

After being tossed for clipping Vancouver Canucks’ defenseman Sami Salo in the second period of a January 7th tangle, Marchand left his mates to kill a five-minute major in hopes of merely preserving a 2-2 knot. Instead, that deadlock devolved into a 4-2 deficit courtesy of two Vancouver power-play goals, spelling the difference in an eventual 4-3 drawback.

Part of the Bruins’ shortcoming can be attributed to the ejection of Milan Lucic earlier in the day, but the impact of Marchand’s penalty was plain enough on its own.

Over the subsequent suspension, in which Boston lost to each of the Eastern Conference’s two bottom-feeders from Carolina and Tampa Bay, special teams were again a culprit. While the Bruins made it through a whole three-game Southeast Division road trip without authorizing a power-play goal, they did not do much to exploit the Hurricanes or Lightning on the other side of the spectrum.

Tampa and Carolina are two of only six NHL teams with a penalty-killing success rate under 80 percent. Yet over those two matches, the Bruins’ extra-man brigade whiffed on a cumulative five opportunities and eight shots on net. And by night’s end, they had failed to either grasp or maintain a lead and officially relinquished both games on an empty-netter.

Did the loss of one, and later another, regular make the difference? That theory is certainly difficult to discredit.

To date, Marchand is averaging two minutes and 27 seconds of power-play ice time per game. Top-six stand-in Benoit Pouliot, on the other hand, skates on the man advantage for a nightly median of 53 seconds.

In Marchand’s absence, while filling his regular second-line spot at even strength, Pouliot elevated his man-up duties to 1:53 against Winnipeg, 3:21 versus Montreal, 1:38 in Carolina, 1:04 at Florida and 2:44 against Tampa Bay.

To his credit, he did bury his first man-advantage point as a Bruin, when he finalized last Tuesday’s 5-3 triumph over the Jets. But aside from that, along with an even-strength assist on Patrice Bergeron’s icebreaker in Florida and Bergeron tallying a five-on-three strike that same evening, neither Pouliot nor the power play made much of a splash over the last five games.

Once again, it didn’t help Boston’s cause to be missing another key forward in its last two ventures. Rich Peverley, second on the team behind Zdeno Chara with 2:59 worth of power-play time per night, missed both halves of the Sunshine State swing due to a personal matter.

If that, combined with Marchand’s suspension, did not excuse the Bruins’ letdown, it at least served to explain why they could only convert when they had a two-man advantage on the Panthers. For back-to-back game nights, they were essentially missing 20 percent of their power-play regulars.

Peverley’s deletion from the lineup also meant doubling the depletion of the third line, from which Pouliot had ascended to plug the Marchand void. The already struggling pivot, Chris Kelly, was inevitably sandwiched by a pair of unripe wingers in Jordan Caron and Zach Hamill, who have simultaneously suited up for only six NHL games.

Peverley or no Peverley, the third line mustered a mere two points during Pouliot’s promotion. Peverley pitched in an assist against Winnipeg and Caron shrewdly capitalized on a serendipitous bounce to tuck in a goal en route to a 2-1 victory over the Canadiens.

Meanwhile, the newfangled Bergeron-Pouliot-Tyler Seguin alliance combined for a 5-5-10 scoring log, for a nightly median of one goal and one helper. But that appeared to dry up in Tampa as all of the Bruins’ points came from first-liners Nathan Horton and David Krejci, three defensemen and fourth-liner Daniel Paille.

To be sure, it was predominantly a coincidence that the only tangible contributors resided in the two forward lines that have remained intact for the past week. Even so, the unfolding of Tuesday night’s 5-3 falter did nothing but signal that normalcy cannot return to Claude Julien’s depth chart soon enough, which it should Thursday night in New Jersey.

Who knows? Maybe if Marchand were available and Pouliot were permitted to lend more seasoning to his usual unit, the Bruins would have found that elusive two-goal lead in Carolina or go-ahead goal against the Lightning. Maybe they would have put away the Panthers in regulation.

If that sentiment survives in the atmosphere of Julien’s dressing room, then Brendan Shanahan’s disciplinary approach ought to instill a healthier dose of responsibility to the likes of Marchand.

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