COLUMBUS, Ohio — Brad Marchand, model citizen.
Laugh if you must. Smack your head and roll on the floor (be extra careful if you try both simultaneously). But it’s true. The Li’l Ball o’ Hate has lived up to the promise he made to himself when the playoffs ended last season. He has minded his manners, steered clear of the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, and now even has a reasonable shot of finishing with his first 100-point season.
Reminded of his continuing good deeds Tuesday, prior to the Bruins’ 7-4 loss Tuesday nighit to the Blue Jackets in game No. 70 of the season, Marchand kiddingly ducked out of an interview for a second and rapped his right hand on the dressing room wall.
No need to tempt fate with the playoffs set to begin April 10.
“You know, there is still a lot of time left,” said the reformed Peck’s Bad Boy with a slight chuckle. “It’s a day-to-day thing that you’ve got to be composed. I’ve had times where I’ve stepped out of line and kind of lost it a little bit, but it’s a split-second thing.
“Like I say, there’s a lot of time here to try to avoid some trouble, but, yeah, trying to work on it.”
The turning point came in Round 2 of last year’s playoffs vs. Tampa Bay when Marchand’s, shall we say, loose tongue came within a lick of getting him suspended. Colin Campbell, the league’s vice president of hockey operations, finally had enough when he saw Marchand slime the visor of Lightning forward Ryan Callahan. No more, said Campbell. Time to keep those lips sealed and tongue tucked.
In the previous series vs. Toronto, Marchand had given the Leafs’ Leo Komarov similar lip-smackin’ treatment. And when the Lightning finished off the Bruins in five games, a contrite Marchand, fearing his antics had at times commanded too much spotlight, said he planned to take a drier, more close-mouthed approach to 2018-19.
Thus far, mission accomplished. Although, Marchand said, it hasn’t always been easy to turn the other cheek.
“There’ve definitely been times when I’ve been a little fired up,” he said, “and felt myself kind of getting in the red zone where you can find yourself in trouble — you know, where you react a little more, and maybe I don’t do it if I am a little calmer. But it’s about being aware of situations, taking a breath, and trying to calm down.”
Coach Bruce Cassidy talked to Marchand repeatedly over the course of last season, not so much preaching to him about how to clean up his act, but to ask how he wanted to be remembered.
One of the game’s elite left wingers, he was in danger of his legacy becoming more about his antics than his trademark competitiveness and point production.
“When you’re out on the ice, things happen so quickly,” noted Marchand. “I mean, you’ve seen some suspensions recently where they’re just plays — you don’t know if a guy is coming in a certain direction and you are just trying to brace yourself.
“There’s just so many ways, and you have to be aware and be careful out there. Again, it takes a lot of focus.”
Equally impressive, along with his self-control, has been Marchand’s steady point production. He has proven able to keep his emotions in check and still put up goals and assists. He had two goals and an assist Tuesday to push his season total to a team-high 85 points, leading the club in assists (55) and his goal total (30) inching toward an idled David Pastrnak (31) for the team lead.
“Honestly, there’s definitely been a few plays where I definitely let up or swung away from guys,” said Marchand. “It’s the first thing that kind of comes to your head, ‘This could be a bad situation.’ So you kind of peel off.
“I don’t feel I am in as much, you know, as many battles or anything like that this year. I’m not chirping at all. I’m trying to avoid any situation that may lead to anything.”
Despite the absence of theater and histrionics, Marchand has a chance of reaching the 100-point plateau. He matched his career high of 85 points (reached each of the past two seasons) although it’s unlikely he’ll outpace the career-best 39 goals he potted in 2016-17.
“I mean, it’s a milestone, but at the end of the day it doesn’t really mean anything,” he said. “It would be cool to hit. But at the end of the season, it’s whether you win or lose.”
Cassidy, when asked about Marchand’s run of good manners, also feared the risk of tempting fate.
“Let’s not jinx him!” he said, the traveling press corps breaking into laughter.
If Marchand has had to hold back, it has escaped the coach’s eye.
“I think he’s been very good in that regard,” said Cassidy. “Usually he will come to the bench. Like [Evgeni] Malkin the other night, even though they’re winning, makes a great play and doesn’t score.”
Malkin, thwarted on his scoring attempt vs. Bruins goalie Jaroslav Halak, smacked his stick wildly against the boards.
“Marchy can get like that,” noted Cassidy. “His stick will be flying. But I haven’t seen that this year. Certainly some mumbling and coming to the bench, periodically, but nothing that looked like he was going to lose it.
“So good for him. He’s matured in that regard. He talked last summer about wanting to take those steps — and so far so good. We’ll keep an eye on it.
“But honestly, I haven’t seen anything where it’s been like, ‘Uh-oh, we’re going to lose him here, now rein him in.’ It’s been great. Shows in our point total. Shows in our win total. We need him on the ice.”