Is Bruins’ Brad Marchand turning into a pass-first player?
Brad Marchand can dish the puck and stickhandle deftly in cramped quarters, but his reputation around the NHL — beyond his blend of charm and irascibility — centers on his shot and goal scoring.
The Bruins’ top left wing has a quick release and a Pavlovian-like impulse to let it rip, with an average of 2.75 shots per game over the last two seasons (148 games) and 73 total goals.
Two games into the new season, Marchand has landed but one shot. Sure, it’s a tiny sample size, and no one much cared Thursday that Marchand was blanked when he equaled a career-high four assists in a 4-0 whitewashing of the Sabres.
Could it be that Marchand, who typically rides with linemates Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, is adopting more of a pass-first mentality?
“He might be,” mused coach Bruce Cassidy, following his club’s workout in Brighton late Saturday morning. “I noticed he hasn’t shot the puck as much as he normally does, so that could be in the back of his mind. I’d say it’s early and probably one of those situational things the other night — how it played out. “
Marchand, a downsized scoring dynamo, established career highs for assists (46, 51) over the last two seasons. League-wide, his 51 helpers last season ranked tied for 24th with crafty Florida center Aleksander Barkov. Among left wingers, only Johnny Gaudreau (60), Artemi Panarin (55), and Taylor Hall (54) recorded more assists.
Keep in mind, Bergeron and Pastrnak are hardly shy in the shooting department. Marchand may have 408 shots over the past two seasons, but each of his brothers in firepower has more — Bergeron with 526 and Pastrnak with 508. Unless the league makes it a two-puck game, someone on that trio has to be the passer and not the shooter.
“I suspect he’ll be back to shooting,” noted Cassidy. “He wants to score . . . [in Buffalo] those were the plays that were in front of him. I am glad he is making them. I don’t think he was known as a playmaker for a long time and I think he has grown that into his game. He makes some nice little area — I don’t want to say touch passes, but . . . ”
Cassidy then went on to recount passes Marchand made in Buffalo, one to Bergeron, another Zdeno Chara, and yet another to David Krejci.
“So he’s got the ability to make those little area plays,” said Cassidy, who first coached Marchand at AHL Providence, the year he turned pro out of the Quebec League, “that maybe years ago he might not have had as much skill.”
The win in Buffalo, fresh off the 7-0 flop the night before in Washington, has Cassidy leaning toward rolling out the same lines Monday when the Senators visit.
All of which means newcomer Chris Wagner, who opened as a fourth-line right winger in D.C., likely will watch from the press box. Wagner sat in Buffalo, allowing ex-Notre Dame standout Anders Bjork to play his first game since blowing out a shoulder in January.
“We took Wagner out the other day, and really that’s no fault of his own,” said Cassidy. “I thought he played [in Game 1] as advertised. We just wanted to get Bjork in, with his speed, and Wags became the guy because I have some loyalty to the guys who were here last year. And I told him that, flat out, that there is a little bit of loyalty and guys are allowed to play themselves out of the lineup first. So we had a shutout . . . and I don’t want it to snowball for Wags, but at the end of the day we have to play the best lineup.”
Cassidy said he also is leaning toward keeping to his initial plan, which would have Tuukka Rask in net vs. the Senators. Rask, yanked after giving up a five-spot to the Capitals, then likely would start Thursday vs. the Oilers and Jaroslav Halak Saturday night in Boston vs. the Red Wings.
Game of adjustments
First-round pick Urho Vaakanainen, assigned Friday afternoon to the AHL, played his first regular-season pro game that night with Providence, a 4-2 loss to Hartford. Vaakanainen picked up an assist.
The plan is for Vaakanainen, 19, to remain in the AHL, which leaves Steven Kampfer, obtained in the swap that sent Adam McQuaid to the Rangers, on the roster as the No. 7 defenseman.
Vaakanainen has played his entire career in Finland, and will need time to adjust to the smaller ice surface in North America, the widths of the rinks squeezed by 15 feet.
“He needs to play,” said Cassidy. “We’ve been consistent with that with all our young guys. But for him it’s even more important, the North America game. We saw that he can handle some of the other parts, but smaller rinks and heavier forechecks, he’s just got to get used to it. I didn’t see the game [in Providence], but I was told that was new for him. It’s a little more helter-skelter down there, a little more aggressive forecheck, and that’s an area he’ll have to learn to handle.”
Through two games, the Bruins have suffered a lopsided disadvantage in the number of power plays. The Capitals and Sabres totaled eight chances on the advantage and the Bruins only three.
Such a disparity often indicates that a team isn’t skating well enough to draw penalties.
“Usually, if the trend continues, I’d say yes,” said Cassidy. “I thought we deserved a few in the third period the other night [in Buffalo] when we were up three goals, didn’t get the calls. I thought we were skating well enough there to get a few. Washington, I don’t think we did anything, we got what we deserved that night. But yeah, if you want to get on the power play, you have to get to the net, pucks to the net, people to the net, so you are creating some anxiety for the other team.”
Ex-Dartmouth forward Lee Stempniak, invited to training camp, skated in the workout but remains without a contract. Cassidy said Stempniak remains here “by design,” allowing the Bruins to assess more fully their forward corps over the next three home games.