Brad Marchand

The great line nobody is talking about

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When we think about the best lines in hockey, our mind immediately goes to the Bruins’ perfection line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron. Or we think of the trio in Colorado made up of Mikko Rantanen, Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon. Those are the two best lines in hockey right now, but there’s three players in Montreal that are being overlooked.

Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar and Brendan Gallagher aren’t superstars in the same way that Bergeron, Marchand, Pastrnak, Rantanen, MacKinnon and Landeskog are, but they’ve made up an important line since the start of last season. Not only does that line match up against the opposition’s best forwards, they usually tend to dictate the terms of the game night in and night out.

General manager Marc Bergevin deserves a lot of credit for helping create this line. Yes, Claude Julien put them together, but Bergevin went out and acquired two of the three players when they weren’t exactly in high demand. Gallagher was drafted before Bergevin arrived, but Danault was acquired, as a prospect, from Bergevin’s former team, the Chicago Blackhawks. And Tatar was thrown into the trade involving Max Pacioretty by the Vegas Golden Knights.

Individually, their offensive numbers don’t pop. Danault has nine points in 15 games, while Tatar and Gallagher both have 13 points in 15 games. But take these three players, put them together and watch them dominate.

Danault has played over 156 minutes with Tatar and almost 170 minutes with Gallagher this season, according to Natural Stat Trick. When the trio is on the ice together, they control nearly 60 percent of the shot attempts. Again, keep in mind that they nearly always draw the most difficult assignment of the night.

Last night, at even strength, the trio matched up against the vaunted Perfection Line for most of the night. Keep in mind, the Bruins were playing their second game in two nights, but that still doesn’t take away from the job the Danault line did against them.

Pastrnak managed to score a power-play goal in the first period, which Bergeron helped set up by winning the offensive-zone faceoff. But Marchand saw his 13-game point streak come to an end.

Check out this go-ahead goal by Tatar. Before the puck goes into the net, it was Gallagher that forced the puck away from Pastrnak in the neutral zone. The Canadiens went the other way in transition and they end up scoring. That came just moments after the Bruins’ winger tied the game.

31 seconds later, Paul Byron made it 3-1.

That’s what this three-man unit does for the Canadiens. When Claude Julien starts a period, he usually turns to them. When he needs an energetic shift to spark his team, he turns to them. More often than not, they deliver.

“They’re pretty easy players to play with,” Gallagher said of Danault and Tatar last month, per the Montreal Gazette. “For me, they seem to find me quite a bit and that’s probably why I end up with more shots. They’re very good playmakers and for me to kind of stick to my game is kind of what I try to do.

“I think the three of us enjoy playing together, we enjoy the challenges that the coaching staff gives us every game. That’s something that we’ve had to embrace and I think it’s been good for all three of us.”

The Habs have players with more individual talent. Max Domi, for example, led the team is scoring with 72 points last year and Jonathan Drouin can do things with the puck than most players can only dream of. But these three, when together, are the team’s engine.

Without their chemistry, there’s no way the Canadiens are as good as they are right now. Montreal will have to continue scratching and clawing for every point in the standings, but they can do so knowing they have this group of three leading them into battle every night.

So yeah, they probably won’t get the recognition they deserve nationally because they aren’t the biggest names in the game (they don’t even have a nickname yet), but they have to be considered one of the five best lines in hockey right now.

MORE: Habs’ Domi using special sticks to further diabetes awareness

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.

The Buzzer: Penguins have no answer for Bruins’ Marchand

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Three Stars

1. Brad Marchand, Boston Bruins

Almost every night, there can be fierce debate about who deserves the first star, and all the great players who couldn’t quite make it in the top three.

A lot of times, when Marchand is involved, it’s difficult to tell if there’s a single member of his line that deserves top billing, as David Pastrnak is off to a blistering start, and Patrice Bergeron is … well, Patrice Bergeron.

This was not one of those times. Pastrnak and Bergeron certainly contributed to the Bruins’ hard-fought, hard-skated win against the Penguins on Monday, but Marchand stood high above everyone on that ice surface — and on the night overall. He scored a ridiculous five points (two goals, three assists), giving him 28 points in 14 games this season. Pastrnak is one step ahead of Marchand overall in 2019-20 with 29 points, but Pastrnak “only” scored a goal and an assist on Monday (the slacker).

David Krejci is worth mentioning, as well, with two assists.

2. Jean-Gabriel Pageau, Ottawa Senators

There will probably be instances of “Well, someone has to score” with the Senators top line, including when the constellation involves Pageau, Brady Tkachuk, and Anthony Duclair.

That trio didn’t really need such caveats on Monday against the up-and-down Rangers. Tkachuk had a two-point night of his own (1G, 1A), but the pesty Pageau scored both of his points on goals, and had a nice spread of stats overall: +3 rating, three shots on goal, 8-8 on faceoffs, two hits, three blocks, and, of course, a penalty.

Rangers fans can take solace, at least, in Kaapo Kakko being involved in both of their goals (1G, 1A).

3. Matt Duchene, Nashville Predators

Like Pageau, Duchene scored two goals on Monday. I’m giving JGP the slight edge because, well, one of Duchene’s goals probably shouldn’t have counted. Consider this error the blooper of the night:

Considering that Duchene was far offside on a controversial goal against the Predators that helped inspire a greater push for video reviews, it seems like the speedy center just seems to get these occasional breaks. Luckily, he’s good even when the goals and assists are beyond debate; despite a four-game pointless streak heading into Monday, Duchene has 13 points over his first 14 games as a member of the Predators.

Highlight of the Night

Since we already covered Connor McDavid‘s coast-to-coast goal in a post that didn’t feature Space Ghost, let’s enjoy that impressive game-winner by Marchand:

Marchand’s other goal against Pittsburgh might have been even more impressive, but the above one was the more momentous since it won the game.

Factoids

  • The Marchand/Pastrnak stats are … pretty out of control. NHL.com’s Matt Kalman collected some of them. Marchand is the first Bruins player to collect two different five-point games through his first 14 games, and NHL PR notes that Marchand recorded just the 10th instance of doing so since 1986-87. Mario Lemieux had three five-point outings through such a span twice, Wayne Gretzky collected three five-point outings once, and everyone else did it twice. Marchand’s 13-game point streak is also rare for the Bruins.
  • NHL PR also notes that Pastrnak is the second Bruins player in history to post multiple 12+ game point streaks before their 24th birthday, joining Bobby Orr, who did it three times. Pastrnak’s done it twice, and his 24th birthday isn’t until May 25, so he at least has a chance to tie Number Four’s … three.
  • Fun #specificstat from NHL PR: John Marino of the Penguins is the second player in three seasons to score their first NHL goal in their home state. Ryan Donato, also of Massachusetts, was the most recent to do it.
  • Darcy Kuemper‘s more reliable than (insert the car you find most durable).

Scores

BOS 6 – PIT 4
OTT 6 – NYR 2
NSH 6 – DET 1
ARI 3 – EDM 2 (OT)

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Bruins beat Penguins, may have dodged bullet with McAvoy

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As thrilling as it must have been for the Boston Bruins to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in an often-thrilling 6-4 game, the victory might have felt hollow if they received bad news about star defenseman Charlie McAvoy.

When the game was still 4-4 in the third period, McAvoy slid into his own net, and hit his head against the post. He was clearly in pain from the hit, and left the contest. Considering McAvoy’s recent history with concussion issues, it was a scary sight for the Bruins.

It’s early, but the Bruins might be able to let out a sigh of relief, as head coach Bruce Cassidy believes that McAvoy is only dealing with a cut, according to 98.5 The Sports Hub’s Ty Anderson.

With plenty of injuries, things can seem worse than they first appear. That’s especially true with concussions or concussion-like injuries, but here’s hoping that it really is just a cut, or some other smaller issue.

One thing we don’t need to wait on is how great a game this was for the Bruins, particularly their top guys.

This was a seesaw matchup. The Bruins finished the first period up 2-0, and added to that lead with an early 3-0 tally in the second. The Penguins then fired off four consecutive goals to end that middle frame. Brad Marchand found Torey Krug for an odd-angle goal to tie things up 4-4 in the third period, and then Marchand found enough space to beat Tristan Jarry for an exhilarating game-winner, with an empty-netter eventually inflating the difference.

The Penguins must feel frustrated to put forth such an effort and leave Boston without even a pity point beyond regulation, but that top line of Marchand, David Pastrnak, and Patrice Bergeron simply won’t be denied.

Pastrnak’s point streak is now at 12 games, while Marchand’s on a career-best 13-game run. It’s bewildering to imagine Bergeron as maybe the least dangerous player on any trio, yet that’s arguably the case for Boston. We saw another example of the Bruins’ embarrassment of riches on Monday:

At this point, it feels like injuries have as strong of a chance of slowing this team down right now as even a spry opponent like Pittsburgh. With that in mind, the Bruins have to hope that McAvoy’s early positive news is not just optimistic, but also accurate.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Stunning numbers from first month of NHL season

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During the 2019-20 NHL season we will take an occasional look at some stunning numbers from around the league. Here is what stood out to us throughout the month of October. 

Carrying the offense, Edmonton edition: Let’s start with Edmonton’s insanely dominant duo of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl because right now there is nobody — NOBODY — in the NHL better than them.

Not only are they both among the top-five point producers in the league individually (again), they have (again) completely driven almost all of the offense for the Oilers. And when I say “all” that is not meant to be an exaggeration. There is almost no offense in Edmonton when these players are not on the ice. So far this season the Oilers have scored 42 goals. At least one of McDavid or Draisaitl has been on the ice for 33 of those goals, while they have both been on the ice for 31 of them. That means one of them has been on the ice for 79 percent of the team’s goals, while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every one of those goals they have been on the ice for. This is somehow even more top-heavy than last year’s team.

On this same date last year One of McDavid or Draisaitl was on the ice for 75 percent of the team’s goals, while one of them scored or assisted on “only” 68 percent of them.

Carrying the offense, Boston edition: The Bruins have their own dominant top line with David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron carrying their offense. The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the big one here, having been on the ice for 28 of Boston’s 42 goals (66 percent) while at least one of them has scored or assisted on every goal with them on the ice.

Carlson’s start among the all-time best: With 23 points in the Capitals’ first 14 games John Carlson is off to one of the best offensive starts we have ever seen from a defensemen. Since the start of the 1979-80 season the only defenders with more points through their team’s first 14 games are Al MacInnis (27 in 1990-91) and Paul Coffey (24 in 1988-89). He is one of just 12 player to have at least 20 points through their team’s first 14 games, with the other 11 all doing it between 1980 and 1991 when the league was a goal-scorer’s dream.

No puck luck for Simmonds, Barrie: Toronto’s Tyson Barrie and New Jersey’s Wayne Simmonds currently hold the league for “most shots without scoring a goal.” Entering play on Friday Barrie has put 36 shots on goal without scoring, while Simmonds is still searching for his first goal after 34 shots for the Devils. No other player in the league has more than 28 shots without a goal, while Simmonds is the only forward with more than 25 without a goal.

Jonathan Quick‘s struggles are concerning: He is tied for the league lead in goals against with 36 entering Friday alongside Sergei Bobrovsky and David Rittich. For as much as the other two have struggled they have played in 11 and 12 games respectively. Quick has given up his 36 goals in only eight games. He has played 100 fewer minutes than Bobrovsky and more than 250 fewer minutes than Rittich.

Still the power play specialist: Buffalo’s Victor Olofsson still has one of the league’s most bizarre stat lines through the early part of his career, having scored eight goals in the first 19 games of his career (including six in 13 games this season). Every single one of those goals has come on the power play. Zero even-strength goals.

A very one-sided trade: Let’s check in on that James Neal for Milan Lucic swap. Neal has scored 12 goals in 14 games for the  Oilers. Lucic has zero goals and 18 shots on goal in 15 games for the Flames.

No lead is safe in New Jersey: Expectations were high for the Devils after a massive offseason, but with just two wins in their first 10 games they have been a pretty big disappointment. Things might be different if they could actually finish a game. Four of their losses this season have come in games where they held a two-goal lead at some point in the game, including a couple of third period leads. They can start the game, they just can not finish it.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

NHL Power Rankings: Pastrnak, Marchand carry Bruins to top spot

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The Boston Bruins may have their share of question marks, but if you are going to be a top-heavy team you better have one hell of a top line and a darn good goalie to help mask whatever flaws your roster may have. Fortunately for the Bruins, they have both of those things.

Their top line of David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand, and Patrice Bergeron has been the ultimate game-changer in the NHL this season, and when you sprinkle in some great goaltending from the duo of Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak it has helped power them to an 8-1-2 start and the top spot in this week’s PHT Power Rankings.

The Pastrnak-Marchand duo is the one grabbing headlines here. Entering play on Monday both players are among the top-five point producers in the league, while they rank first and second in points-per-game. They each have eight points apiece (in only three games) over the past week alone. When they are on the ice at 5-on-5 for the season the Bruins are controlling 60 percent of the shot attempts and outscored teams by a 14-4 margin. When neither player is on the ice those numbers drop to 49 percent (shot attempts) and a minus-2 goal differential (8-10). They are as dominant as a line can get.

Is it a sustainable way to win? Probably not, and eventually they will need some help. But the Bruins have time to address the depth issues again, and there is certainly room for improvement from within. For now, though, they get the top spot.

Where does everyone else fit this week? To the rankings!

1. Boston Bruins. The forward depth after the top line is a concern, but we have said this for about two years now and it never seems to slow them down.

2. Colorado Avalanche. Mikko Rantanen‘s injury is a big loss but they should have enough to overcome it for as long as he is sidelined, especially after their big offseason to improve their depth.

3. Washington Capitals. They keep scoring goals and piling up wins and it still feels like they have another level they can still get to.

4. Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres can not collapse again. They can not do that again to a loyal fan base that has waited so long for something to get excited about. Do not do this to them again, Buffalo.

5. New York Islanders. This season was going to be a big test to see how much of last year’s turnaround was Barry Trotz and how much of it was the two goalies. Even with a different goalie in place they just keep right on winning. Seven in a row entering Monday.

6. Arizona Coyotes. After losing their first two games (and only scoring one goal) the Coyotes are 6-1-1 in their last eight and are averaging more than four goals per game.

7. Nashville Predators. Not very often you see two defenders leading a team in scoring, but that is the situation the Predators are in right now with Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis pacing their team.

8. Carolina Hurricanes. They cooled off a bit after their fast start, but they are still waiting for their top players to start filling the back of the net. Still a dangerous team in the Eastern Conference.

9. Florida Panthers. There is probably no team in the NHL that wants to ban the shootout more than the Panthers, consistently one of the league’s worst teams in the tiebreaker.

10. Edmonton Oilers. There is still a glaring lack of talent around the top four forwards, and that will eventually do them in.

11. Vancouver Canucks. Who knows how many games the Canucks are capable of winning this season, but this much is certain: With Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, and Quinn Hughes they will be worth watching every night.

12. Tampa Bay Lightning. What is mildly concerning about this team after 10 games is that they are one of the league’s worst teams in shot-attempt differential, a strong indicator they are spending way too much time defending and not enough time dictating the pace of the game. Something to watch.

13. Vegas Golden Knights. The results have been inconsistent but the process is there and the roster is still full of talent. They will put it together.

14. Pittsburgh Penguins. They are starting to get healthy and for the first time this season we might get to actually see what their roster was intended to look like. Evgeni Malkin said on Monday he’s targeting a Saturday return to the lineup.

15. St. Louis Blues. The Vladimir Tarasenko injury is a huge blow to the defending champs. He is this team’s game-breaker offensively and that is nearly impossible to replace.

16. Philadelphia Flyers. It is actually surprising they have collected as many points as they have given how poorly Carter Hart‘s season has started.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets. They may take a step backwards but they are not going to go away quietly.

18. Montreal Canadiens. Jonathan Drouin becoming the impact player Montreal hoped he would be when he was acquired a couple of years ago would be a big development.

19. Toronto Maple Leafs. They still have their share of questions on defense, but the biggest thing sinking them right now is goaltending. Frederik Andersen has not played up to his standard and Michael Hutchinson has been a mess in the backup role.

20. Minnesota Wild. They are starting to show some signs of life after a horrendous start. The recent schedule has helped, but beating the teams you are supposed to beat is a good start.

21. Calgary Flames. In the three years before joining Calgary Elias Lindholm scored 38 goals in 235 games. He already has 34 goals in 94 games with the Flames.

22. Anaheim Ducks. This team is going to need goaltending to carry it, and fortunately for them they might have the best duo in the league.

23. Winnipeg Jets. Given the way their entire defense disappeared on them in the span of six months they have probably overachieved a bit. They still only have two regulation wins all year and none since Oct. 10. Not a great sign.

24. Dallas Stars. They won a few games this week to maybe start getting back on track, but they did not look particularly good in doing so. Still a team with a lot of flaws.

25. San Jose Sharks. The goaltending still stinks and the rest of the team is not playing well enough to cover it up as it did a year ago. Bad combination.

26. Chicago Blackhawks. Playing one of the few teams that has been worse than them so far (Los Angeles) was just what they needed on Sunday. There are still a lot of problems with this team.

27. Los Angeles Kings. This is a bad team, but Jonathan Quick is giving up four-and-a-half goals every time he starts. How much longer can they continue running him out there even semi-regularly?

28. New York Rangers. If Mika Zibanejad has to miss any time that would make an already sluggish offensive team even worse.

29. New Jersey Devils. This team has already blown a season’s worth of multiple-goal leads. On the plus side, Jack Hughes has points in three consecutive games (five points total in those games).

30. Ottawa Senators. Do you know what the best news for Ottawa is right now? A lot of players that could be used as trade chips (Conor Brown, Anthony Duclair, Vladislav Namestnikov) are having decent starts.

31. Detroit Red Wings. If Steve Yzerman wasn’t already aware of how big of a job he had to do when he took over, he certainly does now.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.