Will Brad Marchand Regain His Touch During the Boston Bruins' Road Swing?

Al DanielCorrespondent IIOctober 16, 2013

TAMPA, FL -DECEMBER 28:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins skates with the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning at the St. Pete Times Forum on December 28, 2010 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images)
Scott Audette/Getty Images

Brad Marchand and the Boston Bruins took off Wednesday morning for Florida, where they shall spend the entire second half of this calendar week.

No time like the present for the fourth-year NHL forward to clear his head and start ushering a choppy start to 2013-14 out of mind.

Thursday night’s visit to the Panthers will be Boston’s second road game out of six overall to start the season and will immediately precede a weekend excursion to Tampa. So far, the team’s only other venture away from TD Garden was a rapid, two-way trip to and from Columbus.

It was then and there that Marchand’s lull came into full view as he brooked a reassignment to the third line from his usual partnership with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson.

He continued to skate with Chris Kelly and Jordan Caron until the latter half of the third period in Monday’s home tilt with Detroit. Afterwards, he worked one shift with Jarome Iginla and David Krejci and then his last two with Kelly and Gregory Campbell.

The rearrangement yielded mixed results. As quoted by Joe Haggerty of CSNNE.com, Bruins head coach Claude Julien offered that Marchand “competed harder tonight and seemed to be a little bit better for me.”

If his stat line is any indication, Marchand did perform better in the form of a season-high four shots on net out of six attempts. However, he also gave two pucks away, matching the pair of unfavorable turnovers he had spilled on opening night versus Tampa Bay.

In addition, he experienced the first game-to-game change in his plus-minus rating of the season, losing one point under that heading. Although five games is generally not a reliable sample size, that development does make Marchand the Bruins’ lone top-nine forward with a negative rating so far.

By the same token, he can kick quick, effective ice chips over this early downturn by replenishing his standard persona over the team’s first multi-game road trip of 2013-14.

The southern swing between Wednesday and Saturday amounts to a pattern of a travel day, a game day, another travel day and another game day. The Bruins will follow that with three straight off days before dropping in on the Buffalo Sabres next Wednesday, Oct. 23.

If nothing else, that itinerary should give Marchand enough time away from home, and in a vocational vibe, to productively mull over what he has said to the New England hockey press corps.

As Joe McDonald of ESPN Boston relayed in his account of the Bruins’ Monday matinee loss to the Red Wings, the 25-year-old winger insisted that “I was pushing too hard and maybe trying to do too much.”

If that is an accurate self-assessment, then a longer flight out of town and a longer, uninterrupted stretch in different scenery is one option for a cure. The itinerary enhances his opportunity to absorb and digest that evaluation and use each on-deck game as a chance to pave a turnaround route.

In addition, per Amanda Bruno of Mass Live, Marchand admitted that his five-game suspension at around the halfway point of his sophomore season may still be taking a residual effect, stating “I don’t want to be sitting out eight to 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.”

He makes a valid observation that happens to be compatible with another statistical column. At the five-game mark, Marchand is tied with Bergeron for No. 15 on the team with two hits, ahead of only Eriksson and Torey Krug, who each have none to their credit.

In the 2012-13 regular season, he was No. 14 among Boston skaters with 38 checks in 45 games. He finished No. 11 on the Bruins in 2011-12, the year of his injurious indiscretion against Vancouver, with 72 hits in 76 games.

But as a rookie, Marchand placed eighth overall in that column with 89 hits in 77 appearances. That means 17 more checks in Year One than in Year Two, despite accumulating 262:32 fewer minutes of ice time (1,076:47) than he would in 2011-12 (1,339:19).

Furthermore, at least as best the record can show, his physical frequency has lessened and position among team leaders has dropped with each successive season, including the wee stages of 2013-14.

Incidentally, his offensive production rate increased from 2010-11 to 2011-12 to 2012-13, but now his shortage of sting and sandpaper may be an issue, hence the reassignment on the depth chart.

The solution is not an extreme transformation to Milan Lucic form—i.e. swelling up his hit total to the deep triple digits. Most of Marchand’s grunt work will go down with no formal statistical record.

The solution is, however, a return to the size-defying willingness to engage and agitate in moderation. The same approach that generated his initial rookie ripples and that could supplement his scoring accordingly.

Sooner or later, the Marchand-Bergeron-Eriksson troika is all but bound to reassemble. When it does, it will be on Marchand to dig and dish up his share of bruises so as to apply pressure and help make protracted puck possession possible.

Only by those means can he join Bergeron and Eriksson in completing a dependable line for Julien.

Marchand’s comment to the likes of the aforementioned Bruno signifies his awareness of that notion. He thus has all of the means to make this road trip an early turning point in his 2013-14 campaign.

Whether or not he will is, as always, another matter. Marchand’s mind needs to match his mouth and he needs to follow through without hesitation.

Anything shy of, as it were, moral production―that is, creating chances and a general rhythm through gritty pressure―against the Panthers and Lightning could arguably warrant another try at sitting down and letting the situation sink in.

That version of reflection, if it reaches the table, might need to take place in a press box when the Bruins visit Buffalo and/or return home the next night.

Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com


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