Sometimes, the better team just doesn’t win. That’s not to say that the data we lean on to support the dominance we observe is wrong, or that platitudinous elements like heart, character, and grit can will a victory. It’s just that occasionally the unexpected happens. Thus it’s the Montreal Canadiens who have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final, not the mighty possession juggernaut Boston Bruins.
So the finger pointing begins. Boston’s problems in Game 7 were many. Zdeno Chara did not appear to be himself, the Canadiens outworked them at even-strength, and Carey Price was outstanding in the Montreal net. It’s actually remarkable that the Eastern Conference semifinal went seven games, given that the Bruins dominated most of the series. Their troubles, though, began with a lack of goal scoring. The Bruins averaged over 33 shots per game in 12 postseason contests, but they sat near the bottom of the pack in goals per game. Despite dominating the possession game in 5v5 situations for most of the playoffs, the Bruins scored 30% of their goals while on the power play.
Offensive contributions from normally reliable sources like David Krejci and Brad Marchand were nowhere to be found.
Marchand, who holds a career shooting percentage of 15.6%, will take his share of criticism for failing to find the back of the net. Some criticisms of Marchand’s game will be fair. He admitted following Game 7 that his reputation got the better of him on an unsportsmanlike conduct call early in the second period after he sprayed Price with snow. Marchand’s dirty tactics can often lead to throwing an opponent off his game, but the Canadiens did well to ignore his tendency to try and rile them up. He went as far to sneak in a punch to Tomas Plekanec’s head prior to a draw while the official was looking the other way. Again, maybe it’s something that works now and then, but it had zero impact in this pivotal winner take all game.
While his effectiveness as an agitator and his goal scoring ability were largely absent commodities this postseason, Marchand was still a very good player for the Bruins. It doesn’t take a data scientist to tell you that Marchand benefits from skating with Patrice Bergeron, but that shouldn’t diminish his value as a legitimate top six forward on a very good Bruins team. Marchand is a fantastic complement to Bergeron’s playmaking ability. He’s a very responsible player away from the puck and through the neutral zone. Marchand is by no means a first line player without a boost from Bergeron, but he’s a reliable source of forward puck movement when placed in the right situation.
Like he did in the weeks and months following last summer’s Stanley Cup Final loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli will seek ways to improve his hockey team even if it means selling assets (see: Tyler Seguin, 2013). The trade that sent Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button to Dallas in exchange for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow was very much a ‘win-now’ while keeping an eye on the future type deal. Regardless, it’s viewed as problematic after Boston’s failure to win now.
Although there’s little comparison to be made in terms of their ability and playing style, let the experience of trading Seguin serve as a lesson to hang on to those pieces that make you better and stay the course with Marchand.
Marchand isn’t the type of player who will bring in a return like the Seguin package. Of course, if there’s a GM out there willing to pay for Marchand as a near-elite talent then you make that deal. It’s unlikely, though. Marchand is a good, not great player, and both he and the Bruins have found success in deploying him in an effective manner.
Some of the magic from 2011 just isn’t there anymore. Claude Julien and the Bruins employed an expired fourth line and suffered from a case of running into a hot goalie. They’re a great team and Brad Marchand has his place there. There’s no need to take the nuclear approach this summer, but some patch work should have the Bruins right back near the top of the Eastern Conference next season.
Feature photo courtesy of USA Today/Bob DeChiara