Cam Neely recently called Brad Marchand the Boston Bruins most consistent forward in 2015-16. Considering the Bruins forward group includes talents such as Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, this is high praise. Bruins’ head coach Claude Julien has also been heaping praise upon his left winger that much of the NHL loves to hate.
“[Marchand is] focused and determined as far as being a good player for us consistently, and I think he’s had a good start to the season,” said Julien. “He’s still the agitator, and every once in a while he’ll get himself in trouble. But you’ve got to weigh the pros and cons to his game, and I think the pros certainly outweigh the cons right now. He’s been a really efficient player for us.”
Entering Tuesday night, Marchand had 15 goals in 30 games. Having never scored more than 28 goals in a season, not only could Marchand score 30 goals this year, but his first 40-goal campaign is also within reach. Often, when a player of his age (27) and in his sixth full NHL season sees such a sharp spike in production over a 30 game sample, it’s due to riding a hot streak buoyed by an unsustainable shooting percentage.
This isn’t the case with Marchand. The Halifax, Nova Scotia native could realistically sustain his scoring pace over the entire season. One caveat is that Marchand has propped up his goal total with three shorthanded and three empty-net goals. Still, there is reason to believe that he could see an uptick in 5v5 goal production that can help offset a slip in shorthanded or empty-net goals.
He has not driven up his goal totals by riding a streaky shooting percentage. Marchand is actually shooting below his career rate at 5v5, which suggests he could start scoring more goals at full strength.
It’s rare for a player to have a realistic chance to set a career high in goals while also converting a career low rate at 5v5. There are reasons, beyond scoring on the penalty kill and into empty nets, that help explain how Marchand is doing this.
One driver of the goal scoring spike is usage. Both at 5v5 and on the power play, Marchand is playing more this season. According to War on Ice, Marchand has been on the ice for 29.6 percent of the Bruins full strength minutes in 2015-16. His career high, set in 2011-12, is 28.3 percent. On the power play, Marchand’s time on ice percentage is 26.8 percent. This is nowhere near a career-high, but is the highest percentage of ice time he’s received since 2012-13.
Another part of Marchand’s goal scoring success in 2015-16 is that he’s shooting the puck more often.
A player getting more ice time and shooting the puck at a higher rate than at any other time in his career should see a rise in goal totals.
An additional way Marchand could sustain his scoring pace, even if goals dry up on the penalty kill and during 5v6 situations, is if he can cut down on his average shot distance. There’s reason to believe he can. Marchand’s average shot distance over the course of his career is 28.71 feet, but this year his average distance is 31.5 feet.
Bruins’ management is rightfully happy with Marchand’s play this season. The best thing about his improvements, credited to his determination and leadership, is that it’s showing up on the score sheet. Marchand is on pace set a career high in goals and the underlying numbers suggest his pace is sustainable enough to achieve this.