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.

Deutschland Cup roster provides early look at U.S. men’s Olympic hopefuls

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The 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea are 111 days away and we got our first look at some of the names who will compete to be on the ice on the men’s side vs. Slovenia for USA Hockey’s opening game.

There were 29 players named to the U.S. roster for next month’s Deutschland Cup where the Americans will take on Slovakia, Russia and Germany. Tony Granato will serve as head coach and Chris Chelios, Ron Rolston, Scott Young and Keith Allain will serve as assistants. Of the 29 players, 21 have played in the NHL and are names you probably recognize.

FORWARDS
Ryan Stoa
Mark Arcobello
Chad Kolarik
Andy Miele
Brian O’Neill
Brian Gionta
Jim Slater
Dan Sexton
Broc Little
Sean Backman
Drew Shore
Ryan Malone
Ryan Lasch
Robbie Earl
Garrett Roe

DEFENSEMEN
Chad Billins
Bobby Sanguinetti
Tom Gilber
Ryan Gunderson
Noah Welch
Matt Gilroy
Jonathan Blum
Matt Donovan
Mark Stuart
Dylan Reese
Mike Lundin

GOALTENDERS
Ryan Zapolski
Brandon Maxwell
David Leggio

The biggest names on the roster are 38-year-old Gionta and 37-year-old Malone, who have 1,653 games of NHL experience between them. It’s a veteran list, with an average age of 31.

“There’s a lot of guys here that know how to play and have been successful players and have found a niche for themselves in their career at various stages,” U.S. general manager Jim Johannson told Stephen Whyno of the The Associated Press. “The Deutschland Cup for us is a little bit to find some separation of these guys, whether that’s pure pace of play or performance.”

USA Hockey submitted a list of 81 eligible players to the IIHF and there is the possibility of seeing a handful of NCAA and AHL players not playing in the Deutschland Cup skating in Pyeongchang. A final 25-man roster is expected to be announced around Jan. 1.

Canada previously announced two pre-Olympic rosters over the summer and participated in the Sochi Hockey Open and Tournament of Nikolai Puchkov in August.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Where do LA Kings go after Jeff Carter injury?

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The Los Angeles Kings continued their hot start to the season Wednesday night but lost a big piece of their offense in the process.

During their 5-1 win over the Montreal Canadiens, forward Jeff Carter suffered a lower-body injury in the first period and did not return. A team source told Jon Rosen of LA Kings Insider that it’s “going to be a little while,” and TSN’s Bob McKenzie Tweeted Thursday morning that Carter was cut by Jeff Petry’s skate and he’s hearing it will be “multiple weeks” before a return is possible.

Carter has three assists in six games this season and has been key cog in the productive “That ’70’s Line” with Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson. The Kings are off their best start in franchise history at 5-0-1 and are the only remaining NHL team yet to lose in regulation.

With Carter now gone for the foreseeable future, where does this leave LA’s center depth? After Anze Kopitar, it’s quite a drop off. And you wonder if the short-term solution here is signing Brooks Laich, who wasn’t signed after attending training camp on a tryout deal but has continued to practice with the club. He’ll come cheap and as long as they don’t need to fill that void for far too long, Laich is a veteran who’s familiar with the organization. He’s a decent first try to take over that spot before general manager Rob Blake needs to look down on the farm or to someone on the outside.

Blake, who’s expected to address Carter’s situation sometime on Thursday, has time to figure out his next move(s) with the Kings off until Saturday when they begin a six-game road trip.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

US women’s hockey team gets Wilma Rudolph Courage Award

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NEW YORK (AP) — The U.S. women’s hockey team received the Wilma Rudolph Courage Award on Wednesday night at the Salute to Women in Sports hosted by the Women’s Sports Foundation.

In April, the hockey team won its fourth consecutive world title and seventh in eight tries. The U.S. beat Canada 3-2 in overtime in the title game in Plymouth, Michigan. The team had threatened to boycott the world championships on home ice last spring before USA Hockey agreed to improved salary and benefits.

Former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice received the Billie Jean King Leadership Award at the 38th annual gala. Rice, a professor at Stanford and former tennis player and figure skater, was recently selected to lead an NCAA commission to study college basketball after a federal investigation uncovered bribery and fraud.

Stanford women’s basketball coach Tara VanDerveer also was honored. The longtime Cardinal coach reached 1,000 NCAA career victories in 2017.

Minnesota Lynx star Maya Moore and Olympic swimming sensation Katie Ledecky were selected sportswomen of the year.

‘Hawks were ‘as close to brutal as you can get’ against Blues

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The Chicago Blackhawks have been relatively good this season, but head coach Joel Quenneville was far from impressed by his team’s performance in Wednesday night’s loss to the St. Louis Blues.

The Blackhawks found themselves down 1-0 after one period and 3-0 after two periods. To make matters even worse, they managed just eight shots on Blues goalie Jake Allen through 40 minutes.

They finally managed to score two quick power play goals late in the third period, but it was too little too late.

“That was a bad start and a bad middle,” Quenneville said after the game, per the Chicago Sun-Times. “That was as close to brutal as you can get. They played well and we were brutal.”

Yea, Quenneville wasn’t happy.

The possession chart from the game (via hockeystats.ca) gives us a pretty clear look at how everything unfolded during Wednesday’s game.

The Blues (dark blue) built up a pretty comfortable lead in possession until the ‘Hawks (light blue) turned it on late in the game. Where was that urgency in the first two periods?

After going 3-0-1 in their first four games of the season, Chicago has now dropped two of their last three contests.

They’ll have a chance to get back on the horse right away, but don’t expect it to be easy for them. They’ll host the Edmonton Oilers, who have struggled out of the gate, tonight. Still, stopping Connor McDavid won’t be easy.

They’ll conclude their three games in four nights stretch in Arizona on Saturday night. The ‘Hawks will then head to Vegas on Tuesday before playing back-to-back games against Nashville and Colorado on Friday and Saturday.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

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