The first half of the 2021-22 season has brought its share of newsworthy moments, both good and bad, particularly in the last two weeks. Between Tuukka Rask’s retirement, Brad Marchand’s second suspension of the season, and the recent head injury to Patrice Bergeron, it has certainly been eventful around Boston.
As we move more securely into the second half of the 2021-22 season, the Bruins need to focus on playing smart and not making headlines for questionable decisions on the ice. Obviously, some things are going to be unavoidable. Hockey is an aggressive sport, and there will always be debate around some hits/plays. But the Bruins are in a precarious position right now. They’re sitting in fourth place overall with 57 points in 45 games. They need to focus on keeping their cool and not getting in their own way as we get closer to the postseason.
Bruins Must Remain Calm on the Ice
I want to make it very clear that passion isn’t a bad thing. Passion is great, and it shows when guys are playing with fire. There were several stretches last season where the Bruins seemed to be entirely lacking energy on the ice, and that is not ideal. But, when guys have too much passion, it can turn into recklessness on the ice.
The Bruins are currently the fourth most penalized team in the NHL. They’re averaging 4.30 penalties per game, trailing only the Nashville Predators, Arizona Coyotes, and Minnesota Wild. This is not ideal in any case, but the team’s penalty kill isn’t as dominant as it has been in past seasons. They’re currently ranked 11th in the league with an 82.4% success rate on the kill. Last season they were second in the league with 86.0% and in 2019-20, they were third with 84.3%.
The Bruins have had two suspensions this season, both from Marchand, and the latest one, is a big example of losing your cool on the ice and making a selfish decision. Now the Bruins are without their best player and the heart of their team for six games.
But Marchand is not the only Bruin who has lost their cool on the this season and taken a dumb penalty. Most of the players have at some point this season.
Now, there are moments that make headlines that are truly unfortunate accidents, like Taylor Hall’s hit on Nathan Mackinnon in their overtime victory against the Colorado Avalanche at the end of January. But, overall, with the Bruins dip in their penalty kill this season, they can’t afford to be taking the fourth most penalties in the league. In the second half of this season, they need to be focusing on keeping the passion in their game, but not getting sloppy and making headlines for questionable moments on the ice.
Legacies at Stake
With this past week’s suspension, Brad Marchand became the most suspended player in the history of the NHL. After not having one since 2018, he’s been suspended twice this season. When thinking about Bruins keeping their cool throughout the rest of the season, he is of course going to be one of the first players that comes to mind.
Marchand’s career is really incredible. At 33, he’s playing better than he was at 23, and given the year he’s had, he should be in the conversation for the Hart Trophy. He’s a classic underdog story, a guy who was considered under-sized when he came into the league, was drafted in the fifth round, and spent his time playing for the Providence Bruins in the American Hockey League (AHL). To go from a fourth liner to playing on one of the top lines in the NHL and scoring over 100 points in a season is truly an awesome story.
To call Marchand just a pest is a disservice to the sport of hockey. He is an incredible player, but his career has been overshadowed by his suspension history. The more he contributes to it in the second half of his career, the more people will focus on that rather than the incredible on ice performance.
Marchand needs to keep it together on the ice in the second half of the season, but Trent Frederic is another guy who really needs to be careful. He really took a number of bad penalties in their game against the Wild in January. He’s still a young player trying to find his footing in this league. He’s already garnering attention for being a guy who toes the line, but you also need to have the offense to go along with that and learn how to come up to the line without going over it.
Bruins Need a Strong Second Half
It has been a roller coaster of a season for the Bruins. There was a slow start, a COVID pause, and a fantastic January. These last two weeks have been much rougher between some bad losses, Bergeron’s injury, and Marchand’s suspension. While they are solidly in fourth place in the Atlantic and are seven points ahead of the Detroit Red Wings with three less games played, this is the NHL and things can change on a dime.
The Bruins need a strong second half of the season to build momentum again, rise in the standings, and go into the postseason with some confidence. In order to have a strong second half, they need their best players on the ice and they can’t be taking bad penalties that will test a penalty kill that isn’t what it was the last few seasons. They just need to keep their heads down and focus on the difficult schedule they have ahead. Up next, they face off against the New York Rangers who currently sit third in the Metropolitan Division.
There is only so much time left for the Bruins aging superstars. If they want any hope of truly contending for the Stanley Cup, they need to stay calm, focused, and play clean.