Murphy’s Hockey Law: Leftovers from a busy Thanksgiving week
Happy Holidays! Here’s hoping you had a great American Thanksgiving if you celebrated and that your holiday season is off to a good start! One thing for sure is that the Bruins started their holiday season and the second quarter of the 2015-16 NHL season off in grand fashion!
Since being called out by their head coach Claude Julien and by forward Brad Marchand following a sloppy 5-4 loss to the San Jose Sharks November 17, the Black and Gold have won five straight and now head to Western Canada for a three-game roadie that takes them to Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. The Bruins aren’t just winning, though, they’re finding ways to win through their resiliency and a return to their roots of the identity that made them a perennial Stanley Cup contender from 2009-2014.
Here are some leftover thoughts and rants from a Thanksgiving week that the Boston Bruins and their fans may look back on as a turning point in this season and at the very least, a sign of hope that the youth of this team has the potential to be consistent and successful in the NHL. Thanksgiving week also turned out to be a pretty eventful league wide, so there are some takes on NHL topics as well.
— As referenced above, following the loss to San Jose on November 17 Marchand decided — despite taking a bone-headed high-sticking call with 2:40 left in regulation — that there were too many passengers on the Bruins at the time, and it was his job to let the media know that. In a column two days later, I criticized the pesky winger for not including himself in that group of passengers after leaving his team shorthanded in the waning minutes as they tried to tie the game.
The Bruins have made it clear that they want the 27-year old Marchand to become a leader on this developing club, and he’s clearly accepted the challenge being more vocal with his teammates and the media. But my gripe was that leading doesn’t just mean saying the right things, it means including yourself when you’re part of the problem and it means leading by example on the ice, not taking bad penalties that hurt your team.
A few days after I wrote that piece, my cousin Brendan asked me what my “beef” was with Marchand? As I told Brendan, I have no beef with Marchand, I just do my best to tell it like I see it and at that time and many times before, I saw a player that just didn’t fully get it and who had no business calling teammates “passengers”.
Well, I have no problem eating crow or being proven wrong and since that game, Marchand not only has five goals, but more importantly he has found that thin line between being a successful pest and an irresponsible, selfish player again. He is leading by example and if there are others that are still passengers on this squad, then by all means should Marchand and the other leaders on the team call them out.
— A perfect example of Marchand walking the right side of the line between pest and being detrimental to his team was his performance against the Rangers this past Friday. While he didn’t register a point for the second straight game, his play helped lead to goals as he got in the collective kitchen of Rangers superstar goalie Henrik Lundqvist, head coach Alain Vigneault and the Rangers.
In the first period of the Bruins’ 4-3 win over New York, Marchand appeared to have interfered with Lundqvist on a goal by Patrice Bergeron at 14:15 of the period that gave the Bruins a 1-0 lead. The goal counted, and there was no challenge made by Vigneault. The Rangers bench boss later told NBC’s Pierre McGuire that he felt Lundqvist may have been out of the paint and that the referees said they wouldn’t have overturned it anyhow. But interference or not, Marchand had rattled the coach and his goalie.
Later in the third period, Marchand was called for interference as his knee made contact with Lundqvist’s head. But this time Lundqvist made sure he got the call this time, falling to the ice and rolling around. Marchand and Julien weren’t shy in voicing their opinions on what they felt was an embellishment.
“I thought it was a bit of a weak call,” Marchand said postgame to McGuire. “I mean he’s out of the crease and lightly gets touched, and it looks like he got shot out there.”
Julien referenced Lundqvist’s acting abilities.
“I know he does some acting on the side, but he doesn’t need to do it on the ice,” Julien said after the game.
That and the coaches’ varying opinions on Matt Beleskey’s hit on Derek Stepan in that game that left Stepan out indefinitely with broken ribs has resulted in an entertaining, playoff-like tit-for-tat between Vigneault and Julien/Marchand over the weekend. The fact Vigneault is still sour about that and apparently the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals once again shows that when Marchand is doing his job properly he can provide his team with a great mental edge over their opponents. When the Bruins and Rangers meet again on January 11, there’s a good chance that the Rangers will be more focused on settling the score with Marchand and that can only help the Bruins.
— Turn on Boston sports radio and there’s a good chance you won’t hear much Bruins or NHL talk, but when you do, there’s also a good chance some uninformed host will criticize Julien for being “too defensive-minded” or “conservative” or “boring” and definitely not credit him for the Bruins being a more “up-tempo” and “entertaining” team. The Bruins have been the latter two descriptions throughout the first quarter of the season but obviously even more entertaining when they’re winning like they are now.
But as fellow puck scribe Mick Colageo pointed out in this recent column, the main reason for their success, entertainment and ability to never be out of a game is not necessarily their new found potent offense and power play, but rather their return to the Julien style that gets unfairly knocked for preventing the team from scoring. If these naysayers needed more proof, their stale assessment of Julien is off base, Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi provided it after the game Friday.
“That’s a Boston Bruins game tonight,” Girardi said of the Bruins’ 4-3 come-from-behind win. “Just, you know, finishing checks on the forecheck. Like I said, [they were] very good in their structure in the defensive zone and the neutral zone, and we had to make some good plays to get through them at some points, but they had a few opportunities, very opportunistic and they made us pay.”
Given that Girardi has faced a Julien-coached Bruins squad in nine of his ten NHL seasons, doesn’t that dispel the “conservative” myth? ‘Nuff’ said!
— At this point, Bruins forward Loui Eriksson is probably the frontrunner for NESN’s 7th Player Award, but given that the pending unrestricted free agent could be traded before the award is given in April, rookie and East Longmeadow, MA native Frank Vatrano could end up bringing home the 2016 award. Vatrano has three goals — including the game-winner at Detroit November 25 — in eight games since being called up from AHL Providence. He has proved to not only be a tenacious two-way player but an offensive threat that can play in the clutch and could go down as one of general manager Don Sweeney’s best under the radar signings.
— Yes things are are clicking on all cylinders for the Bruins right now, and they’re currently in the final wild card slot in the Eastern Conference. However, as they proved last season, just because you’re a playoff team around Thanksgiving, doesn’t guarantee you’ll be one when the postseason starts in April. That’s why it’s likely Sweeney will be doing some wheeling and dealing before the February 29 trade deadline. As stated before Sweeney has Eriksson as a potential trade chip a contender may covet but what if he now thinks this team is 1-2 players away from not just securing a playoff spot but contending in the playoffs? Will he go into heavy buy mode?
If, before February 29 he decides he is a buyer, a player to target might be Blue Jackets center Ryan Johansen. Last week, TSN Insider Darren Dreger reported that the Blue Jackets aren’t shopping the 23-year old potential superstar, but they are entertaining and listening to offers. Columbus’ bad start, Johansen falling into the dog house of new head coach John Tortorella and the bitter contract battle Johansen and the team went through in 2014, have led many to believe the 2010 fourth overall pick could be had with the right return. For the record, Johansen told the media he believes he has a positive relationship with the Blue Jackets brass and his agent Kurt Overhardt told Murphy’s Hockey Law the same Saturday in an email.
“From our standpoint, we have a very positive relationship with the entire Blue Jacket staff, and any speculation otherwise is untenable,” Overhardt said.
But right or wrong the speculation exists, and the team is listening. So while the Bruins clearly need help on the blue line and that should still be a focus, could the Bruins and Blue Jackets get creative cap wise and orchestrate a trade? Would the Bruins not become an instant cup contender with David Krejci, Bergeron and Johansen up the middle. Going forward they would likely need to trade away the older Krejci (29) and keep Bergeron (30) and Johansen, or maybe Krejci is part of a trade for Johansen? Either way, Stanley Cup teams are built up the middle and the Bruins could secure the center slot for years to come if they brought in a young center like Johansen, who many consider a cornerstone player.
While the Bruins are not known to be one of the teams that have inquired about Johansen, many NHL insiders believe the Canadiens are definitely in the mix as general manager Marc Bergevin was already on the prowl for help before the injuries to Carey Price and Brendan Gallagher and has increased his efforts now. A 6’3, 218-pound pivot like Johansen is exactly what the Habs have been looking for for years and with the talented 21-year old Alex Galchenyuk already in the mix, such an acquisition could be the move that puts the Habs over the top.
— There’s no indication that he’s on the trade market right now or ever will be, but the situation with Penguins captain and superstar Sidney Crosby is at least worth watching. The Penguins are once again struggling and according to many NHL insiders, they lack a clear identity since firing Dan Bylsma as coach and Ray Shero as general manager and bringing in Mike Johnston to run the bench and Jim Rutherford to run the team as GM.
Over the summer and again recently a Penguins source mentioned Crosby as part of the problem in Pittsburgh which as one might expect, stunned this puck scribe. The source cited Crosby’s perfectionist personality as rubbing teammates and the coaching staff the wrong way at times. Just as Owner and President Mario Lemieux and Crosby recently shot down a report that the two had a falling out, this source denied it as well but as the old saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s fire.
If the Penguins continue to struggle, could we ever hear Crosby’s name on the trade rumor circuit? You can bet the Habs — who Crosby cheered for as a young boy in Nova Scotia — would be on the top of his wish list as teams he’d approve a trade to. Wild, random thought but would a Crosby for P.K. Subban trade ever make sense for both sides? The read here is yes but as of now that’s talk better served for fantasy or video game hockey!
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The Season’s Upon Us!