The long arm of NHL justice smacked down emphatically on Brad Marchand on Wednesday, suspending the veteran Bruins left winger for five games for a flying elbow he drove into Marcus Johansson’s head Tuesday night at the Garden.
The suspension, the longest of Marchand’s edgy career, will begin Thursday night when the Bruins face the Senators in Ottawa, provided he does not file for an appeal. If not, it also will include upcoming matches against Anaheim, St. Louis, Toronto and Detroit. He will not be eligible to return to game action until Feb. 7, the night the Bruins face the Rangers at Madison Square Garden.
Marchand, who accompanied the Bruins on an afternoon flight to Ottawa, was not available for comment. The club’s communications staff said he will speak to the media Thursday morning at the Canadian Tire Center in Ottawa.
The lone Bruin chosen for this weekend’s All-Star festivities, Marchand remains eligible to participate in the event in Tampa and is expected to fly there on Friday.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety, responsible for reviewing and meting out supplemental discipline in such cases, announced its decision shortly before 7 p.m. In the DOPS video review, it noted that Marchand is a repeat offender and, most important, maintained that he was the aggressor in the goal-front collision with Johansson, initiating contact rather than defending himself against a hit.
The unpenalized hit came with 1:59 remaining in the third period of the Bruins’ 3-2 victory, with Marchand and Johansson meeting up in front of the New Jersey net after Marchand pulled away from Johansson along the left wing boards and wristed a shot from the circle.
Video replay shows Marchand smacking the 27-year-old left winger with a right elbow to the head, the ex-Capitals forward knocked to his knees and appearing dazed. Reports out of New Jersey on Wednesday noted that Johansson suffered a concussion.
“I have no idea what happened,” Marchand, 29, said after the win, which extended the Bruins recent point streak to a league-best 13-0-4.
NESN color man Andy Brickley, a former Bruins winger, described the hit as a “flying, vicious right elbow” during the network’s broadcast.
The incident was the eighth “actionable” on-ice event in Marchand’s career, bringing to 19 the number of games he has been suspended. In two incidents, when not suspended, he was fined a total of $12,500.
Because the hearing was held over the phone, the suspension could not exceed five games, per terms of the league’s collective bargaining agreement.
With Marchand forced to sit out, Frank Vatrano is the logical choice to fill his roster spot, though perhaps not on the top line with Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. Left wingers Jake DeBrusk or Danton Heinen would be the more logical candidates.
Earlier on Wednesday, Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said he did not have a “strong opinion” on Marchand’s action, and half-kiddingly stated he wished Marchand had scored on the shot.
“Brad has taken a couple of hits this year, missed some [playing] time,” added Cassidy. “I absolutely agree a player should protect himself if they see it coming. How they do that is up to the league whether it’s legal or not.”
Cassidy said he didn’t believe Marchand delivered the hit “with any intent.”
“I don’t think he had a clue which player was coming,” he said. “I think he was preparing to get hit, so he was going to protect himself from a hit. That part of it is not unique to Brad. I think it is unique to most players in high-traffic areas.”
Rask to start in Ottawa
Cassidy said he will stick with his plan to have Tuukka Rask start in Ottawa, the club’s final outing prior to the All-Star festivities.
Rask turned aside 37 shots (a season high) in the 3-2 trimming of the Devils, and improved his mark to 15-0-2 (.941) over his last 17 starts. His last regulation loss was to Edmonton Nov. 26.
As of Wednesday morning, Rask (18-8-4 overall) ranked No. 1 in goals-against average (2.16) among tenders who had appeared in 30 games. His .923 save percentage ranked fifth, with Tampa’s Andrei Vasilevskiy leading the way at .929.
Forwards didn’t help
Upon review of the game tape, Cassidy was pleased with the work of his reconfigured six blue liners, the group rejiggered following Charlie McAvoy’s procedure Monday to correct an irregular heartbeat.
Cassidy will return with the same pairings in Ottawa:
Zdeno Chara-Brandon Carlo
Torey Krug-Adam McQuaid
Matt Grzelcyk-Kevan Miller
The defensemen were under attack throughout the first period Tuesday when the amped-up Devils poured 20 shots on Rask. By Cassidy’s eye, a large part of the problem rested with the Boston forwards, who were not proficient in rubbing out plays higher in the defensive zone or in the neutral zone.
“We had some turnovers by our forwards in the neutral zone,” said Cassidy. “Now these guys can’t get off the ice — their gaps are bad, because they assume we have the puck and we’re going to make a play with it.
“So I thought there was a combination of execution could have been better, and then a combination of poor puck management in the neutral zone, which put them under more duress. The two of them put together led to a lot of time in our end — a lot of shots on goal.”
McAvoy was missed
The Bruins aren’t expected to issue an update on McAvoy until early next week. He is expected to be out until approximately Feb. 5.
McAvoy’s absence Tuesday was obvious, with the defense having to navigate without one of their best puck movers.
“Losing Charlie hurts, because that’s maybe one of his greatest strengths — his ability to move the puck under pressure,” said Cassidy.
Cassidy traded texts with McAvoy Tuesday, soon after the 20-year-old was released from Massachusetts General Hospital.
“I’ll give him a call before we get on the plane,” said Cassidy, the club due to fly out of Hanscom/Bedford Wednesday afternoon. “He is feeling much better, feeling good about everything.”
The fact that it was a heart procedure, said Cassidy, naturally causes greater concern than an ordinary hockey injury.
“It’s your heart,” he said. ‘I think everyone is a little bit concerned at first, and even the procedure, you never know . . . but it went very well. And Charlie should come out of it as good as he went into it. Hopefully it is behind him.”
On the front end
The Bruins are now 22-3-4 (.828) since dropping a game below .500 (6-7-4) on Nov. 15 in Anaheim, and not surprisingly, in that span they’ve been tops in the league when it comes to time playing with a lead.
Prior to the game vs. New Jersey, the Bruins in their last 28 games had led on the scoreboard for 46.9 percent of the time.
Entering the game in Ottawa, they have played with a lead for a total of 821:51 over their last 29 games, and trailed only 257:19, better than a 3-1 ratio.
Day off for Acciari, Bergeron
Both Noel Acciari and Patrice Bergeron were held out of Wednesday’s practice. Acciari, said Cassidy, was sidelined with a lower-body injury, and Bergeron “was under the weather all day” Tuesday. Both are expected to play vs. the Senators . . . Anders Bjork was recalled from Providence . . . Once back to work following the All-Star break, the Bruins will play 34 games in the leadup to the playoffs, which begin the week of April 8. The next big date on the calendar is Feb. 26, the trade deadline. General manager Don Sweeney likely will be looking for experienced hands to add depth at wing and on defense, specifically the left side.