It was a minor surprise to see that Jordan Caron was in the Bruins’ lineup Monday night in Carolina in place of Shawn Thornton, but seeing him on the second line by the end of the game was what really raised eyebrows.
It wasn’t that top-six time for Caron was a major shock -- he was a second-liner for the Bruins three years ago -- it was that Brad Marchand, who has rewritten the book on ups and downs (and has gone heavier on the latter) this season, was demoted to the fourth line.
It was only half a period, sure, but for a guy who said after the game that the third period was about “putting the final nail in the coffin” and that the Hurricanes were an explosive team capable of coming back, Julien was focused on sending a message to No. 63 in the final period as well.
Marchand had appeared to have turned a corner in recent games, and though he wasn’t terrible Monday, he showed signs of regression from recent efforts. The 25-year-old had no shots on goal and a pair of turnovers and was on the ice for the Bruins’ flukey goal against late in the first period. The turnover that likely did him in was a defensive-zone mishap in the early minutes of the third. It was far from his worst game of the season, but it was far from his best.
So, for a half a period, Julien put Marchand in his place -- or rather, his former place. The former Merlot Liner was dropped to the fourth line to reunite with Gregory Campbell, his center from three seasons ago, while Caron took shifts with Patrice Bergeron and Loui Eriksson.
If there’s a message to be inferred from the move, it’s that Julien is tired of waiting for Marchand to look like the player he was when he scored 28 goals as a steady two-way player two seasons ago. Even with Marchand's skating improved in recent contests, Julien isn’t interested in the player's whole game taking steps forward and, inevitably it seems, turnovers backward.
The stats are troubling, but it’s the turnovers that make Marchand’s season so perplexing. He came into camp in shape but wasn’t skating well. Eventually, his skating got there and he started going to the net more. Yet where does becoming turnover-prone come into this? How does that just happen to a player who spent the early years of his career showing that in addition to being a scorer, he was a strong defensive player?
Whether in his own zone or the neutral zone, Marchand simply hasn’t been smart with the puck. Living up to past seasons aside, that’s an easy way to make Claude Julien uneasy about playing you against other teams’ top lines.
Has it gotten so bad with Marchand that he should be moved down the lineup for a few games again, like he was when Julien had him on the third line for four straight games last month? It’s a tough decision to make, especially when you consider that Chris Kelly’s line with Reilly Smith and Carl Soderberg really seems to be gaining traction.
Should he be given a game in the press box as a healthy scratch, like Milan Lucic was given last season when he was struggling? Julien scoffed at a question about it earlier in the season, but said he would take such nature if he felt things had come to that.
Instead, the Bruins are better off riding this out with Marchand on Bergeron’s line. That line needs to hit its stride at some point, as David Krejci’s line has carried the top-six for the B’s as Eriksson has gotten adjusted to a new system. The production’s been there for Eriksson of late (points in six straight games), but even with Marchand playing better for a stretch last week, things still appear to be touch-and-go with him.
As Julien showed in the third Monday, he isn’t happy still having to wait for things to click for Marchand. With 20 games in the books, the Bruins are just a little less than a quarter of the way through their regular-season schedule. At this point, with just three goals, the former 28-goal-scorer has cemented that this won’t be one of his better statistical campaigns. He won’t be hitting 30 goals, and at this point 20 might even be a struggle.
Something has to give at some point. The goals have to start coming, and the turnovers have to find their way out of Marchand’s game. All that’s clear is that after appearing to turn a corner last week, Marchand isn’t out of the woods yet. The last place he should want to be is in Julien’s doghouse.