Kalman: Bergeron & Marchand’s success makes argument for eventual break-up

Matt Kalman
December 22, 2018 - 10:20 pm

Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

There may be a time in the near future when breaking up Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand will be the Bruins’ best bet for balancing out their lines.

As far as coach Bruce Cassidy is concerned, that time hasn’t arrived yet.

So, with Bergeron back from his 16-game absence after a rib/collarbone injury, Cassidy balanced his lines but made sure his lineup started with Bergeron and Marchand side by side, like peanut butter and jelly, at the top of the depth chart. That decision paid off in a 5-2 win against Nashville at TD Garden on Saturday.

Bergeron finished with two goals, two assists, and Marchand had one goal and two assists. Neither had a primary assist on the other’s goals but they were always involved in each other’s scoring chances, whether they went in or not, and picked up where they left off in mid-November.

Playing with Marchand also made Bergeron feel as comfortable as possible in his return game.

“Obviously playing with Marsh, we’re used to playing [together], [I] know where he’s going,” Bergeron said after he had two goals and two assists in 16:25 of ice time.

After Marchand and David Pastrnak found some electric chemistry with center David Krejci during the latter stages of Bergeron’s absence, Cassidy had a dilemma for how to handle his top-six forward group when Bergeron returned. He could reunite the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line, keep Krejci in the middle of Boston’s best two wings while asking Bergeron to carry two other wings, or go the route the coach went – ­pairing Marchand with Bergeron, Krejci with Pastrnak, and looking for a third wing for each line. In Saturday’s case it was Danton Heinen with Marchand and Bergeron, Joakim Nordstrom with Krejci and Pastrnak.

There was debate in all quarters of the Bruins’ orbit, but Marchand knew the only options that would’ve sat well with him involved him being reunited with his longtime center.

“I mean me and Butch may have had it out if that was the case,” Marchand said about the coach mulling breaking up him and Bergeron.

Marchand had to be pleased Saturday, and no one could argue with Cassidy’s plan after the Bruins took out one of the elite, although slumping, teams in the NHL.

But one has to wonder how long the Bruins can enjoy the luxury of playing Bergeron and Marchand together. There’s has been a wonderful marriage since 2010-11 but Marchand has come a long way since his rookie season, from being a pest with talent to being an All-Star that annoys as a hobby.

Pastrnak is the Bruins’ best pure scorer and a future superstar, but he still has years of practice and maturation to go before he’s close to being a two-way player of Marchand’s ilk. And Krejci showed he could still score and create at an elite level when grouped with a talent like Marchand, but the center has yet to really show that he and Pastrnak can do it without Marchand.

When it comes to balancing out the Bruins’ lines to make sure teams like Tampa Bay, Toronto and Washington can’t just focus on shutting down one line, the objective might not actually be finding the correct wings for Bergeron and Krejci to play with; it might be finding the right linemates for Bergeron and Marchand.

Marchand has had success with other centers, most recently Krejci, last season with Riley Nash. The Little Ball of Hate has become a big star of the league, worthy of playing with Sidney Crosby at the World Cup and getting invited or elected to All-Star games. He can drive a line as well as Bergeron and might be the key to making sure Boston’s top two lines are equally dangerous for the stretch run and postseason.

The Chicago Blackhawks’ best teams of recent years often featured Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews playing separate. The defending Stanley Cup-champion Washington Capitals went through most of their run with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom on separate lines.

Trading for the type of top-six wing the Bruins need to either complete the Marchand-Bergeron line so Pastrnak can stick with Krejci, or to play with Krejci in Pastrnak’s place, is going to be costly to general manager Don Sweeney and might be impossible considering the reluctance of NHL GMs to move any top-line players during the season.

The best solution might be finding out how the Bruins’ pool of grinding veterans and talented younger players fare playing on a Bergeron Line and a Marchand Line.

But while the Bruins await the return of Jake DeBrusk, Zdeno Chara and Kevan Miller from injury, and Sweeney continues to attempt to upgrade his top six or nine via trade, Marchand and Bergeron will be the dynamic duo keeping the Bruins in the playoff mix in the challenging Atlantic Division. When the dust settles, though, a Marchand-Bergeron divorce might be the Bruins’ best option.