Keith Ballard;  Brad Marchand

Brad Marchand finds right balance between agitation and offense

When people discuss pests or agitators, most of those players count as “double-edged swords” for their teams.

Just look at the roller coaster career of New York Rangers nuisance Sean Avery, the most notorious character for reasons that rarely have much to do with his on-ice play. Avery’s big mouth and nefarious attitude often find him in the penalty box and sometimes provides competition with unwanted motivation. That being said, he can also be an impact player when his head is on straight and the bounces go his way.

The problem is, when you take that pestering aspect out of Avery’s game, he seems like a cat without claws. Simply put, he hasn’t found the proper balance between annoyance and productivity.

The 2011 Stanley Cup finals feature some of the league’s greatest examples of how to strike the right compromise. Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows might be infuriating at times, but they frequently benefit the Vancouver Canucks without taking a whole lot from the table.

Of course, those two Canucks skaters have had plenty of time to iron out the kinks in their pestering games. Boston Bruins’ pest Brad Marchand might be the most impressive example in this series; he’s already excelling at walking that difficult tight rope even though this is his rookie year in the NHL.

Sure, he’s had his regrettable moments like any other player of his ilk. Late in the regular season, he motivated the Toronto Maple Leafs with an immature (if ultimately correct) golf swing motion that ultimately backfired when the Leafs came back. He also had a less than great moment in Game 4 against Vancouver.

One of those things happened as he was skating away from the melee late in Game 4. As he coasted past the Vancouver bench with an official serving as a guide, Marchand wiped his hands in an exaggerated fashion — not a taunt with which the Canucks players found much pleasure.

“That’s something I shouldn’t have done,” Marchand said. “It was a little childish. They were yelling at me from the bench and that was just how I reacted. I kind of wish I didn’t do it.”

That being said, the motion didn’t light a fire in the dejected Canucks nor did it earn Marchand a trip to the penalty box. Perhaps riding that line involves a bit of luck, but it doesn’t hurt when you’re a legitimate NHL player. Marchand boldly claimed he would score 20 goals this season and seemed like he would be far off that pace with five goals midway through the season. Bruins coach Claude Julien reminded him of his claim and perhaps that pumped him up because he scored 16 in his last 39 games to hit 21 for the regular season.

He hasn’t slowed down in the playoffs, either. A great Game 4 performance propelled him into the scoring lead among postseason rookies, with his 15 points giving him a one-point edge on San Jose Sharks standout Logan Couture.

If you told the Bruins a rookie would be a key facet to their playoff run, they’d probably expect it to be Tyler Seguin. Yet while Seguin struggles to earn Julien’s trust and score with regularity, Marchand has become a fixture on the Bruins’ solid second line. His teammates have taken notice, too.

Marchand has already tied the rookie record for most goals by a Boston player in one playoff year; one more goal would move him into the top 20 in franchise history for a single postseason.

“He’s not a pest to his teammates, that’s for sure,” goaltender Tim Thomas said. “I think he’s a great player who brings energy and effort every night, basically — and that helps the team. The last two games, Game 3 and Game 4, he had huge goals for us, beautiful goals for us that were skill goals. On top of that energy and effort that he brings every night, he has skill.”

Despite all of these positive thoughts, Marchand is still working to harness his game. That means there will be steps forward and backward as his career marches on. We’ll see if he – and his team – take another step in the right direction in Game 5 tonight.

Friday’s loss serves as ‘harsh lesson’ for Blue Jackets

Jasper Fast, Nick Foligno, Henrik Lundqvist
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Late in the third period of Friday’s game against the New York Rangers, things were looking good for Columbus.

Brandon Saad, who the team acquired from Chicago this off-season, scored his first goal of the season to give his team a 2-1 lead with under four minutes remaining in the contest.

Unfortunately for the Jackets, that’s as good as it would get.

The Rangers responded with three unanswered goals from Oscar Lindberg, Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello to spoil Columbus’ home opener.

“When something like that happens at the end, I think we’re gonna be a better team because of it,” defenseman Ryan Murray told reporters after the game. “It’s a harsh lesson, but it’s a good one.

Luckily for Columbus, they won’t have to wait very long to try and get their revenge.

The Blue Jackets and Rangers will finish off their home-and-home series at Madison Square Garden on Saturday night, which might not be such a bad thing for Columbus.

“It’s good that we get another chance tomorrow,” Saad said after Friday’s game. “We were high on emotions (after the go-ahead goal) and they scored and it took the wind out of our sails, but we have to keep playing. We have to learn to keep doing our thing, regardless of the score.”



Kings GM says Mike Richards went into ‘a destructive spiral’

Mike Richards

The Los Angeles Kings may owe Mike Richards money until 2031 (seriously), but in settling his grievance, the team and player more or less get to turn the page.

Not before Kings GM Dean Lombardi shares his sometimes startling perspective, though.

Lombardi has a tendency to be candid, especially in the press release-heavy world of sports management. Even by his standards, his account of Richards’ “destructive sprial” is a staggering read from the Los Angeles Times’ Lisa Dillman.

“Without a doubt, the realization of what happened to Mike Richards is the most traumatic episode of my career,” Lombardi said in a written summation he provided to the Los Angeles Times. “At times, I think that I will never recover from it. It is difficult to trust anyone right now – and you begin to question whether you can trust your own judgment. The only thing I can think of that would be worse would be suspecting your wife of cheating on you for five years and then finding out in fact it was true.”

Lombardi provides plenty of eyebrow-raising statements to Dillman, including:

  • He believed he “found his own Derek Jeter” in Richards, a player who “at one time symbolized everything that was special about the sport.”
  • Lombardi remarked that “his production dropped 50 percent and the certain ‘it’ factor he had was vaporizing in front of me daily.”
  • The Kings GM believes that he was “played” by Richards.

… Yeah.

Again, it’s a powerful read that you should soak in yourself, even if you’re unhappy with the way the Kings handled the situation.

Maybe the most pressing of many lingering questions is: will we get to hear Richards’ side of the story?