The Bruins' summer vacation is underway early after last night's painful home loss to the Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. You can pick any number of reasons from a lengthy list as to why this team, so good during the regular season and in Round 1 against the Detroit Red Wings, got knocked out by its archrival despite having two chances to advance to a third conference finals in four years. Here's one, in the form of a question:
What's the matter with Brad Marchand?
The Bruins' little ball of fire, who exploded onto the scene over the course of the Stanley Cup run in 2011 to the tune of 19 points (11 goals) in 25 games, then added another 13 in 22 playoff games last year, scored exactly zero times in 12 contests this time around. And it wasn't like he didn't have chances. In a postseason full of posts, crossbars, and missed wide-open nets, Marchand arguably had the worst luck of anyone, capping his long run of blown opportunities with a play last night on which he had the puck two feet in front of the net in the second period trailing 1-0 with Montreal goaltender Carey Price leaning the wrong way, only to lift it right over both Price and the goal.
Marchand plays the role of the pest, something every team needs. He buzzes around and agitates, trying to work his way into the heads of his opponents. It's been said that he compares favorably to Ken Linseman, who played four-plus seasons for the Bruins in the '80s and was nicknamed "The Rat." It would be a perfect alternative moniker for Marchand had it not already been assigned to someone else.
But the thing about players like Marchand and Linseman is that when they aren't producing, they don't just agitate the other team, they agitate their own. Marchand's antics are a lot easier to swallow when he's contributing to the Bruins' offense. When he's held scoreless in 20 consecutive playoff games, the length of his current streak, he's more of a hindrance than anything else.
Marchand took two penalties last night and while neither of them wound up hurting the Bruins and you could argue that both were cheap calls by the officials, it's safe to assume that each of them (a goalie interference call on which he was cross-checked right into Price and an unsportsmanlike conduct after he gave Price a snow shower early in the second period just as the Bruins had begun to build a little momentum at the end of the first) wouldn't have been made had his reputation not preceded him.
On top of that, dramatic streaks seemed to define Marchand's season. He finished with 25 goals, a more than solid total. But it took him 34 games to net the first five before tallying 11 in his next 14. It's difficult to pinpoint exactly when a player is going to get hot or go cold in any sport but Marchand has now fallen into deep freezes in consecutive playoff runs, which officially brings the idea that it's a pattern into play.
You could see him throughout the Bruins' 12 playoff games just trying to do too much. He frequently looked to skate through multiple defenders instead of dish the puck off or simply dump it into a corner. He misfired on goal so many times, it's no wonder he looked like he was holding his stick too tightly on last night's golden chance that he lifted over everything. Bruins radio analyst Bob Beers has said multiple times over the past couple of weeks that Marchand looked like he was fighting the puck and there really isn't a better way to describe what's ailed him.
Once the emotions attached to the Bruins' unexpected early exit from these playoffs subside, some careful decision-making regarding the future of the roster will have to be made by Cam Neely, Peter Chiarelli, and the rest of the team's front office. Jarome Iginla is an unrestricted free agent, as is Shawn Thornton. Zdeno Chara is another year older. The inability to finish chances as well as match the Canadiens from a skill level perspective needs to be examined. Some players will be jettisoned.
Will Marchand be one of them? He's on the books for three more years at $4.5 million a pop and he's only 26 years old. When he's producing, he's a valuable piece and over the years he's developed excellent chemistry with linemate Patrice Bergeron, who is only the Bruins' best, most valuable all-around player. He started the Bruins' incredible Game 2 comeback with a perfect pass to Dougie Hamilton to set up the first of four third period goals. There certainly are reasons to be patient with him.
But there are also plenty of reasons not to be. Marchand talked about playing with a lack of focus after last night's loss which, while commendable in its honesty, is also dumbfounding. Is the second line left wing's ability to consistently stay focused in the postseason really something the Bruins will feel comfortable having to worry about going forward?
It's a legit question, right alongside whether or not they've grown tired of the risk/reward ratio concerning his on-ice behavior vs. his production. Just a couple of many the Bruins need to answer on their longer-than-expected summer break.