With the All-Star Weekend in the rear-view mirror, the second half of the season is set to begin. Unfortunately for us impatient fans, the Boston Bruins remain off until Saturday, Feb. 11, when they will match up with the Washington Capitals. While we wait on the return to action, my brain started spinning watching the past weekend’s festivities. Particularly, in the Breakaway Challenge, some of the league’s best talents demonstrated their creativity. While this exhibit was done in a controlled setting encouraging unrealistic moves, it sparked an idea in my mind about creative hockey.
For me, the most creative play in the offensive zone is the Michigan-style goal.
While the Michigan has been pulled off a few times in the NHL, with more examples coming from the Women’s game and the amateur ranks, it has never been completed by a Bruin. Some of that could have been due to the rigid system former coach Bruce Cassidy ran, instilling enough fear and indecision in younger players that they would never dare an attempt in a game, even if their skills allowed for it. Now that Cassidy has moved on to the Vegas Golden Knights and Jim Montgomery has stepped behind the bench, encouraging offensive creativity and unlocking these younger players, might we be nearing a Bruins’ Michigan goal? If so, who is most likely to pull off this highlight-reel play?
David Pastrnak is the most skilled forward the Bruins have. He would be the betting favorite given his abilities and track record for offensive exploits. Given his skating ability, coupled with his freedom to roam around the offensive zone, it is not hard to imagine a scene where he takes the puck down the right wing wall, burns past a defender below the goal line, lifts the puck onto the blade of his stick, and deposits it in the top corner next to the goalie’s ear as he horseshoes back above the goal line, flashing his trademark grin. Add in the confidence Pastrnak plays with, he is a natural first choice to pull off this feat.
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Even though Pastrnak may appear to be the most likely Bruin to pull off a Michigan, there is room for pause. For one, he has had the trust of both Cassidy and Montgomery, so if he wanted to, he could have tried this already. Why hasn’t he then? This decision against making an attempt causes me to pause in picking Pasta. Also, given his position on the power play, away from the net bombing one-timers, he seems slightly less likely to manage the feat. With a man advantage he is too far away to take advantage of the extra time he would be afforded to pull the puck up on his stick and into the net.
So, who else could be considered?
Having consistently registered over one point-per-game, Brad Marchand has the offensive creativity required to pull off the Michigan. Similarly, given his passing and skating abilities allowing him to escape opponent checks and stick work, means he can set up the look he would want. He may not even start the play expecting to attempt the Michigan, but after seeing how the defenders are set up and finding a soft spot in the ice, he may just seize the moment and pull the puck into the net all in one motion.
Most importantly, Marchand is a cocky player who has the swagger to do it, just because he can. For a play that is difficult to manage, this personality is extremely important, just see some of the goals Trevor Zegras has scored, including his own Michigan goal. He is not the only person who can score this way, but he has the swagger and personality to attempt things others may not. Marchand has that, but with a snarl attached.
While these traits are great, the case against Marchand is similar to the case against Pastrnak. He has had both coaches’ trust, if anyone could have attempted it, he is on that list. Similarly, his power play role is generally further out from net, setting up the passing seams for a Patrice Bergeron bumper goal or sending the puck across the ice to Pastrnak for the one-timer mentioned above. Also working against Marchand is the same swagger that is a reason to think he may attempt a Michigan just because. Opponents have shown they will check Marchand closely, doing their best to restrict any space he may have. Given his propensity to chirp, this has led to plenty of stick infractions, something that could negate his attempt if an opponent’s stick chops his hands, and the would-be Michigan attempt turns instead into a run of the mill slashing penalty.
Marchand deserves consideration, but he is not a slam dunk by any stretch.
Jake DeBrusk is a bit of the opposite to Pastrnak and Marchand. In terms of skill, he is likely one rung below 2/3’s of the Perfection Line. He is still incredibly skilled, showing off his soft hands and stick handling abilities this season, paired with his trademark blazing foot speed. But fewer people are expecting a 100-point season from DeBrusk than from Pastrnak and Marchand. Unlike those two though, DeBrusk is more of an unknown in what he can do now that he is allowed to play with more freedom.
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Under Cassidy, DeBrusk was closely monitored and frequently punished for tilting his game towards offense at the sacrifice of his defensive game. Now that Cassidy has left, DeBrusk’s trade request has been rescinded, and he has continued to flourish alongside Bergeron and Marchand on the top line, he is playing with a lot more confidence. With this new confidence is the chance that his youthful excitement could lead to an attempt at the Michigan.
While Pastrnak and Marchand are further out on the power play, DeBrusk is the net-front option on the first unit. From this spot, sliding behind the net for a pass is commonplace. Is it that difficult to see him finding time to gather the pass, survey his options, and decide instead to lift the puck up and into the net on his own? I would say no; given the other weapons on the power play, he may have the extra split second needed to pull the Michigan off.
Now this newfound freedom is great, and DeBrusk does have a real case, he also has his own issues. For one, most of his play at even strength centers on movement in the offensive zone rather than utilizing the space behind the net for a chance. He does not spend enough time below the goal line for extended periods of time to make an even strength chance seem likely. Also, if the Bruins are struggling to score, or even if the team just needs a spark, he is the player booted from the first line and losing ice time in favor of Pastrnak. Neither factor is enough to remove him from consideration, but both do have to be mentioned and judged accordingly.
These three forwards may be the most obvious choices, but there are dark horses in any race. For this process, names like Taylor Hall and Fabian Lysell could make a case, sharing the characteristics with Pastrnak, Marchand, and DeBrusk such as offensive flair and strong skating. Based on ice time, these two are on the outside looking in, but still warrant mentioning.
With a team like the Bruins, the standard bearers for great defensemen, it would be fitting the first d-man lacrosse goal comes out of Boston. Given how Bobby Orr revolutionized the defenseman’s role while in Boston, adding another offensive skill from the back end would line up with the team’s history. Montgomery’s system allows blueliners the freedom to skate deep into the offensive zone, something that is required to pull off this goal. Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm both likely have the skill to pull off this play, but it is unclear if they have the desire to attempt it. If Connor Clifton was signed for future seasons, his willingness to jump into an offensive opportunity might be the perfect storm for a defenseman lacrosse goal opportunity, but with his contract uncertainty there are too many questions for a full section reviewing his candidacy.
While neither goalie will participate in this exercise, it is worth noting that both Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have attempted to score from their net. This is a different level of entertaining that would be even cooler to witness.
While predictions are generally a fool’s errand as they are more often than not incorrect, I’ll go out on a limb and put my claim on Marchand scoring the Bruins’ first lacrosse goal. This pick more comes down to the personality we have seen him display. I think he will find a way to score this goal strictly to prove to someone or some team that he can. Whether that is against the Anaheim Ducks to show Zegras his skills can be matched, or the Philadelphia Flyers to perform a trick for the old-school John Tortorella, this would be the setting I could see Marchand deciding to utilize.
Who did I forget? Feel free to provide more likely options in the comments.