BOSTON — Brad Marchand had just one assist in the Bruins’ 5-1 win Saturday over the Avalanche. The No. 1 left wing logged 17:59 of ice time, less than he felt he played. He did not score at even strength.
But the eyes, more than the numbers, said Marchand was back at full strength for the first time this season.
“I thought that was the best five-on-five game he’s had all year long,” coach Jim Montgomery said. “He was a very determined hockey player tonight.”
Marchand is third on the team with 19 points. He trails only David Pastrnak (34) and Patrice Bergeron (20), both of whom have played eight more games. But 13 of his 19 points have been on the power play. As such, Marchand had been dissatisfied with his five-on-five performance. Because of his double hip surgery, Marchand has simply not reached his preferred level of conditioning.
Brad Marchand is fourth on the Bruins with 17 points. It’s a misleading sum. https://t.co/zXU22NxKER
— Fluto Shinzawa (@FlutoShinzawa) November 28, 2022
Whether he took a step toward peak fitness or adjusted his usual frenzied pace, Marchand looked like his old self against the Avalanche. He was hard on pucks. He extended down-low battles. He lifted opposing sticks.
All of this was clear in the first period. At 10:07, Marchand drew a hooking penalty on Jean-Luc Foudy. Later in the first, he was tripped by Dryden Hunt.
On the following power play, Marchand set up Pastrnak for the game-opening goal. After taking a pass from Charlie McAvoy, Marchand gained the offensive zone. The two played give-and-go, leaving Marchand with the puck at the bottom of the right circle. Marchand waited until Pastrnak reached his left-elbow office. When he did, the left winger threaded a seam pass. Pastrnak handled the rest.
“I felt better tonight,” said Marchand. “I think it’s just accepting where I’m at. More understanding the way I need to play, trying to play down low behind guys. Maybe shorten up the shifts. That’s one thing Monty’s talked to me about. Until I get back to where I normally feel I am, shorten up the shifts and being a little bit smarter about my game. If you get extended, it can affect you for another five or 10 minutes, depending on how long you’re out there. Just trying to be a little bit smarter about shift length, stuff like that.”
In the third period, Marchand initiated the Bruins’ fifth goal. Again, he did so by executing a possession entry. Moments later, Jake DeBrusk banged in the rebound of a Derek Forbort far-pad shot. Marchand was not credited with an assist, but his entry started the sequence.
It was a satisfying feeling for Marchand and his linemates to score at even strength. Montgomery matched the No. 1 line against Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen, Colorado’s top offensive duo. The Bruins got the best of the matchup.
“You have to be dialed in if you play against that team, that line, every single shift,” said Marchand. “They can break out and take over a game in one shift. I thought we did a good job there. Really tough to play against. The talent on that line is insane. I thought we felt good about the way we played. They have a few big injuries for their group. It definitely affects the way their depth is.”
Marchand still has room for improvement. That is bad news for the opposition. Even if the No. 1 line does not score, Marchand’s relentlessness turns opposing legs to mush. It makes a difference for the next line to roll out.
“It raises everybody’s intensity level,” Montgomery said of a clicking Marchand. “It puts the next line coming over the boards in a real good position offensively.”
Frederic punches through
Trent Frederic recorded his first two-goal game of his career. The No. 3 right wing tucked in a close-range pass from McAvoy in the first period. In the third, following another stout neutral-zone play by McAvoy, Frederic received a pass from Taylor Hall and beat Pavel Francouz.
“We’ve been seeing it coming for a while, from where he started the year in training camp to where he just keeps getting better,” Montgomery said. “You’re seeing the aggressive mindset offensively now. He’s taking pucks to hard areas. If he doesn’t have a play, he’s hanging on to it. We’re starting to see it a lot in practice.”
Chara returns to the ice
Zdeno Chara, 45, was the oldest player in the NHL when he signed his one-day contract with the Bruins and retired on Sept. 20. So it was with a degree of pleasure that Chara was reborn Saturday at Warrior Ice Arena as one of the younger ex-Bruins participating in the Chief Special Warfare Operator Nathan H. Hardy Memorial Game.
“I don’t like to use that word. But I guess that’s what it is,” answered Chara when asked about being a rookie in his first alumni game. “It’s nice, actually. It’s nice to be considered a young fellow.”
It was Chara’s first time on the ice since appearing in his 1,680th and final game on April 29. On Saturday, he started the charity game alongside Ray Bourque.
“Absolute honor,” Chara said of riding with a fellow iron man (1,612 career games). “Looking forward to it. Such a legend for the sport, for the city, for the organization. Even if it’s a charity game and a game for a good cause, it’s still a privilege and an honor to be on the same team with so many guys who played for a long time and did so many great things.”
Chara has not decided what to do with the next phase of his life. He has been busy at home in Boston with his wife, Tatiana, and children, Elliz, Ben and Zack. Chara has slimmed visibly from his 250-pound playing days.
“You try to keep yourself in shape and active and do things that keep you healthy and strong,” said Chara. “At the same time, you know you don’t need to do all that training as you did before. More trying to enjoy myself.”
Bourque is giving the 2022-23 Bruins two thumbs up. That they soared to the top of the league early without Marchand, McAvoy and Matt Grzelcyk signals to the legendary defenseman that the Bruins are deep everywhere.
“They’re a lot of fun to watch, I’ll tell you,” Bourque said. “Really impressed with their depth. It seems like that’s always a question when you’re coming into a season, your bottom six. This team has been tremendous in that department. They’re just on a roll. They really look legit. They’re solid in all areas, from goaltending out and their D. To do what they did since the beginning of the season with what they had to start with in terms of three key guys, regulars, out of the lineup, some big parts. To find a way to win and to play well really says a lot about this group. Not that you’re surprised. Because this group has done an amazing job for many years now. As a fan and an ex-Bruin, I think it’s fun to watch. Can’t wait to see what happens.”
High praise for Makar
Former UMass Amherst defenseman Cale Makar entered Saturday as the fifth-leading scorer among defensemen (23 points, including a league-best 14 on the power play).
“You talk about a player that’s blessed with everything,” said Montgomery. “He has compete. He has that anticipation, that hockey sense. He’s blessed with great feet. He’s blessed with being able to manipulate the puck with his hands. Then he can make finishing plays. You’re not going to deter him physically. So you’ve got to make sure that, A, if you’re late, you’re staying above him, that you’re angling him and you talk about stick on puck. Steering him to areas where he can’t beat you. Because if you try and go too hard at him when he has the puck, he is going to beat you. It’s a matter of how. It’s not a matter of if you’re going to stop him and make a big hit. I’ve never seen him take a big hit in the league yet. It’s because he has power. He has skating. He knows how to manipulate your feet.”
Montgomery even went there, of all places, when asked about Makar’s place in Bobby Orr’s singular category.
“No. It’s not,” Montgomery answered when asked if it was an exaggeration to compare the 24-year-old to the groundbreaking Orr. “Bobby Orr is in a stratosphere by himself. But if there’s anyone that’s ever going to come into that stratosphere, it’s going to be him from what I’ve seen.”
(Photo: Bob DeChiara / USA Today)