BOSTON -- Bruins agitator Brad Marchand hasn't been seen on the ice very much this season -- other than his fight with P.K. Subban in Boston's 2-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Oct. 27, a scuffle that took three attempts before the referees let the two combatants drop the gloves and go at it. Last season, Marchand augmented his agitating skills, not only becoming one of the more hated pests in the NHL but also proving he could be an offensive threat. He posted 21 goals and 41 points in the regular season. Then after a slow start in the playoffs, he went on a tear, finishing with 11 goals and 19 points in 25 postseason games, including two goals and an assist in the Stanley Cup-clinching Game 7 win at Vancouver.
But Marchand's assist on Patrice Bergeron's goal in the Bruins' 5-3 win over Ottawa on Tuesday was Marchand's first point in six games. Although he did have three points in his first three games, Marchand isn't looking like the offensive threat he was last season.
Is it time to go back to his bread and butter and start getting under the skin of the opponents?
"I'm trying to get away from that this year, really," Marchand admitted to ESPNBoston.com after practice Thursday. "I just want to play hockey, and if I need to do that, then there's a time and place. But I want to focus more on playing this year. I want to be a player and I don't want to be known just for that. [Bruins coach] Claude [Julien] and I talked about it, and later in my career I don't want to just be known for that and do that every night. I want to produce and be an offensive threat and play a different role. So I may as well try and play that style right now."
Wait! What was that? The player Bruins fans anointed a cult hero and the modern era's Ken Linseman for his aggravating antics and ability to draw the opponent into the penalty box -- and who could also burn you on the scoreboard -- is abandoning the pest in his game?
Not so fast, Julien said to the media following another grueling practice Thursday.
"He'll always be an agitator; it's in his blood," Julien said of Marchand. "That's always been there, so that's one thing that won't disappear and you'll see that as we go along. What he's trying to tell you is that he is trying to control those kinds of things so he doesn't get labeled as a guy that the referees are just looking for to do the wrong little thing and call him. He wants to get a better reputation as far as that's concerned. But that part of his game is always going to be there and he's going to be in people's faces. I think what he wants to do is contribute a little bit more. A 'goal scorer' is one way of saying he wants to produce for the team."
OK, so Marchand isn't pulling a scene out of "Slap Shot," when Dave "Killer" Carlson went soft and had the cold. And he's not planning to parade around the rink naked like Ned Braden did in the movie to protest the violence in the game.
"I think he knows exactly what he is and what he wants to be," Julien said. "Sometimes players express themselves in a way where it's misunderstood, but his job description and his understanding of the job is pretty clear. I know that."
And the more Marchand spoke after that initial statement, Julien's later assessment seemed correct. Marchand, who signed a two-year contract in September as a restricted free agent after an amazing rookie season, is trying to find the fine line that allowed him to be the more complete player he was during the second half of last season and in the playoffs.
"I felt better last game and more myself," Marchand said. "I haven't had the same battle game I usually have and need to have this season, but I felt it back the other night [versus Ottawa]. I'm usually strong on the puck in the corner and stuff, and that was there the other night. But like I said, that hasn't been there all season and I need to get back to winning my battles down low."
Marchand also admitted that one of the reasons he has been shying away from agitating is his sense that the referees are watching him and the Bruins, now more than ever.
"It's been tough this year because it really seems like the refs are watching us a bit more than usual," Marchand said. "We're not getting away with things as much. So you just have to watch the time of the game, the score and all that stuff that comes into play. Last thing you want to do is take a bad penalty, especially if you're up by a goal or two and have the other team have an opportunity to come back."
But while Marchand is trying to focus on being a better all-around player, that too has been a struggle, as he has only one goal this season. The positive in that, though, as Julien pointed out to him recently, is that he already has one goal more than he did at this point last season. For Julien, the biggest thing with Marchand isn't necessarily an identity crisis or shift, but rather the frustration that he can't seem to have an effect scoring or agitating at this point.
"That's what I told him -- I said how many goals did he have at this point last year, and he said one, so I said, 'What's the problem?'" Julien joked. "I think he has to -- and I think we know he's capable of having better numbers -- but even in that first game against Philly, you remember he probably had five unbelievable chances and he didn't bury those. So it's not from lack of opportunities, and he's no different than anyone else right now -- he's having trouble finishing around the net. But if you get frustrated from that, all it does is it makes your game even worse. So I kind of told him to focus on just playing the game and eventually things will start going his way. ... I keep saying the same thing, frustration just sinks you. You gotta stay away from that and you gotta be determined and focused and find a positive from your games."
Marchand, according to Julien, is determined to fix his game and is showing signs of pulling out of this funk, just as he did during the playoffs last spring.
"That's Brad in a nutshell there," Julien said of the playoff run Marchand ended up having. "He's hard on himself; he has expectations; and now he signs a new deal so everything is kind of like, 'I want to show these people' [he's worth it]. And it's like I said, sometimes you complicate things when you don't have to and our job is to make him understand what's expected of him. Every player goes through the same thing, and you see the [David] Krejci line -- and I said that the other day, I didn't mind, and I thought they played pretty well. Just because David and Horts [Nathan Horton] didn't get points, that didn't meant they didn't play well. They played much better, and all they gotta do is keep working that way. So it's making [Marchand] understand that it's not all about the sheets, or whatever it is, it's what you bring to the table every night and competing and giving yourself some opportunities and chances and doing the right thing."
But as Julien pointed out, by no means is Marchand completely changing his stripes. He's still that guy you love to have on your team and hate to face as an opponent. Except now, he wants to continue to have scoring be a key element of his game.
"I think you need to be that way to bring energy to the game and try and bring some emotion to the team," Marchand said. "That's kind of what you want to do when you're playing that role. Find a way to draw penalties and get your team on the power play. If you can find a way to do that, then it's a good role. But I need to be smarter and not have that reputation for taking dumb penalties or just being an agitator. I want to be more than that and not get caught up in that."
James Murphy covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com. Ask a question for his next Bruins mailbag here.