CHICAGO -- In the middle of December, Brad Marchand couldn't buy a goal as a slump dating back to last year's Cup finals continued. The only way he would get into the highlights was for acting like a punk against the Canucks and ticking off the Flames with a bad hit.
In the 14 games since, the Bruins have finally started to see traces of the player that led them in goals last season and put up 28 two seasons ago.
In the span of 69 seconds Sunday, Marchand scored two goals to give him two more points than he did in the entire 2013 Stanley Cup finals. The goals were his eighth and ninth of the last 14 games, which had followed a no-show performance in last season's finals and a horrid start (five goals in 34 games) to begin this season.
Marchand isn't surprised to see that his numbers have turned around following the Dec. 14 meeting against the Canucks. He was the center of attention over those few days, as his Cup gestures on the ice against the Canucks drew criticism from both his coach and his general manager, while a hit in the following game against the Flames resulted in Curtis Glencross calling him out for being a dirty player.
Though things weren't looking good for Marchand at the time, he could see good things coming. Despite all the criticism he got for what he did against the Canucks, he said that game was where his season started to turn around.
"I mean, that was definitely the game where I felt most involved," Marchand said Sunday. "I didn't have any points that game, but I could have had a few. I just felt like I was more into the game, and that's what I was struggling with at the start of the year. My mindset wasn't really there, and ever since then, I've been back into it.
“Maybe it was all the trouble I got into there like good old times, but it's nice to be back."
The fallout from Marchand kissing his ring finger and raising an imaginary Cup continued right on into the next game when hit Flames forward Sean Monahan from behind the next game and drew some angry words from Glencross.
“He’s a dirty player,” Glencross said. “We’ve seen it from him how many times a year?”
At that point, the offensively potent Marchand finally showed up. He put up two goals the next game against the Sabres, then scored in two of the next three games. He kept it up from there, leading right up his current three-game goal streak (4 G, 1 A).
Though the last month has been a step in the right direction for Marchand, he spent the last three seasons establishing that he can produce consistently, so this stretch should be viewed as an overdue arrival more than anything else. He at least seems to be back to his old self, as he's skating, going to the net and shooting more. Plus he isn't turning the puck over in the neutral zone, which he did at an alarming rate early on in the season.
In the first 34 games of the season, Marchand averaged 1.52 shots on goal per game. In the last 14, he's averaged over an entire shot more than that, putting 2.64 pucks on net a night. The biggest difference Patrice Bergeron has seen is his skating.
"His jump, he's got that step in his legs right now," Bergeron said. "Obviously he creates a lot of things by doing that, and by getting himself open. We're trying to feed off of him right now."
Reilly Smith’s performance also might have something to do with it, as the Marchand-Bergeron-Loui Eriksson line never really caught fire as it tried to form chemistry with Eriksson going in and out of the lineup with concussions. The trio of Marchand-Bergeron-Smith has been strong, as was evident Sunday when Bergeron fed Marchand on his first goal and Smith had the lone helper on the second.
This is the first season of a four-year, $18 million dollar deal that Marchand signed prior to last season's lockout. Five goals in 34 games would have been fine for a lesser player on a smaller salary, but his start to the season and his numbers combined for a classic case of underachieving. Of course, he isn’t the only Bruin to experience that.
Last season, Milan Lucic was dreadful in the regular season after signing an extension that would give him $6 million a year beginning this season. Lucic turned it around in the playoffs and, despite appearing to be on the tail end of a recent slump (three goals in his last 20 games, one of which was Thursday), has been his old self this season.
Based on how Lucic got out of his funk, Marchand knew he'd get back to scoring eventually, and he had Lucic to talk to during his struggles.
"Yeah, I think I talked to everybody," Marchand said. "Everybody was trying to help me out and talk to me at different times, so when things started going right I was just trying to take it game by game. That's all you can do.
"We've all been there in our careers. We've all been through ups and downs, but it's nice to have the support around me that I do. I know all the guys on our team feel the same way."
Not having a productive Brad Marchand hurt the B’s in a Stanley Cup finals that saw five of the six games essentially come down to a goal (Dave Bolland had an empty-netter in Game 5). If the Bruins want to realize their full potential this season, they’ll need the dark days of Marchand’s 2013-14 season to remain behind him.