WASHINGTON — His lower lip swollen, an inch-long cut dotting his cheek, and with little interest in dwelling on the matter, Brad Marchand said he was sticking up for his teammates when he mugged Capitals center Lars Eller late in Wednesday night’s a season-opening rout.
“The celebration was unnecessary,” said Marchand, who was ejected at 13:54 of the third. “He took an angle in front of our bench and celebrated in a 7-0 game.”
Marchand said that with a face flushed from riding a stationary bike, his assignment while his teammates slogged through the final minutes of the blowout. While on the bike, in view of reporters waiting near the visitors’ dressing room, Marchand was icing his right hand. With that fist, he opened up a gash on Eller’s head, first popping him in the face, and then on the dome.
It earned the oft-disciplined left wing 17 penalty minutes for instigating, fighting, and a misconduct.
“That’s good,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “He’s a proud guy. I think Eller was celebrating a little on a 7-0 goal. That’s his prerogative. Marshy let him know that’s not acceptable.”
Boston, after the worst season-opening in team history, visits Buffalo on Thursday night. Asked if the fight might spark a lifeless team heading into a back-to-back, Marchand tried to stop himself from cursing.
“It’s [expletive] one game,” he said. “It’s nothing. We’ll let it go and worry about tomorrow.”
Point to prove
Matt Grzelcyk has run power plays his entire hockey life, from Charlestown to Belmont Hill to Boston University to Providence. Last year, he got a taste of life on the Bruins’ second unit.
The big show is now his to run.
With Torey Krug out at least three weeks with a left ankle injury, Grzelcyk began his second year in the NHL as Boston’s first-string power-play quarterback. Cassidy knows No. 48 will not replicate No. 47, but he hopes Grzelcyk becomes a better version of himself with added responsibility.
“That’s the ask right now,” Cassidy said.
Grzelcyk has played 64 NHL games, same as teammate Charlie McAvoy, who keyed the second unit. Neither can match Krug’s experience (398) or know-how on the man-up.
Among defensemen last year, the 27-year-old Krug ranked third in primary assists (19), and eighth in goals (5), points (24), and ice time (261:23). He was 12th in total assists (19). According to Natural Stat Trick, Krug had 33 power-play scoring chances of his own (sixth-best among D-men).
The Bruins’ power play was the league’s fourth-most successful last season, humming at a 23.6 percent clip, but on Wedenesday night went 0 for 2.
Grzelcyk, who is as tall as Krug (5 feet 9 inches) but more slight of build (174 to 185 pounds), has some of Krug’s mobility. He does not have Krug’s heavy shot, though he trained to improve that this summer.
“Hopefully it’s something I can use to my advantage a little bit,” he said. “I’m just trying to make sure my entries are as clean as possible. It’s not easy, but those guys are such great players. I want to get the puck in their hands.”
🎥 @Matt_Grzelcyk5 on being ready for Opening Night and manning the point on the #NHLBruins first power-play unit: pic.twitter.com/BkzKHGCKXE— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) October 3, 2018
Among Krug’s talents are walking the line and to the half-wall, which lets Marchand flow toward his desired net-front spot; putting it on a tee for David Pastrnak at the circle; and finding Patrice Bergeron in the bumper.
“When I’m thinking too much, it’s a hindrance,” Grzelcyk said. “As long as I’m moving my feet and have my head up, I think plays will kind of open up. Obviously there’s some stuff we’ve talked about. But going out there with an open mind. Don’t want to overthink it.”
In 68 minutes of power-play time last season, Grzelcyk landed eight shots. Krug was one of the top triggermen from the point, landing 56 shots in 261-plus minutes, almost double the frequency of Grzelcyk.
“He’s a facilitator,” Cassidy said. “He’s not going to overhandle it. He doesn’t want any more responsibility than let’s push the puck to the right area, find the right person. Then we saw pockets where he did take some initiative and be a little bit selfish. Hopefully that grows into the appropriate shot selection vs. getting the puck to those top guys.”
With Krug’s steady hands running the show, the Boston power play made its chances count. According to Natural Stat Trick, Boston ranked 15th in the league last season in power-play shots attempted. Its shooting percentage was eighth-best.
Left to right
Cassidy feels the switch is an easy one. He could move Danton Heinen back to the spot he played last year as a rookie, third-line left wing, if things aren’t working out on David Krejci’s right side.
But with Donato taking Heinen’s old spot, Cassidy is hoping both players settle in.
“That’s the plan,” Cassidy said. “We know we have that club in the bag. Hopefully they both settle in where they are.”
While Donato is playing his natural left side on the third line, Heinen is playing the off wing as a second-liner. He will have to get comfortable with the nuances of playing pucks off the wall, catching passes in the neutral zone, and protecting the puck on that side.
Krejci, with 769 games under his belt, will drive the line. Left wing Jake DeBrusk brings speed and finishing ability. Heinen contributes some of everything, not unlike former Bruin Loui Eriksson.
“Make the plays that are available to him, complement that line, get on the forecheck,” Cassidy said of Heinen’s responsibilities. “He’s a pretty responsible player away from the puck.
Donato, a Scituate native and son of former Bruins winger Ted Donato, is well aware of the Bruins’ failures against the Capitals. Washington has won 13 in a row against Boston, dating to Oct. 11, 2014, when Ryan Donato was a senior captain at Dexter School. “Yeah, unfortunately,” he said. “I’ve obviously been a Bruins fan for a long time, so I know the long history.” . . . The Bruins’ extras were defensemen Urho Vaakanainen and Steven Kampfer and forward Anders Bjork . . . Grzelcyk’s former Boston University teammate, Jack Eichel, was named captain of the Buffalo Sabres. “Great honor,” said Grzelcyk, a BU captain from 2014-16. “Even though he was a freshman at BU [in 2014-15], he was growing into become a leader.”
Matt Porter can be reached at email@example.com.