Confidence is a funny thing when it comes to professional athletes. It’s perhaps more important than any of their incredible physical tools, but it’s also the one tool that can go missing for days, weeks or months at a time.
Confidence comes and goes. Sometimes a player builds it through a series of positive events. Other times, one play or one moment helps jump-start the flow of confidence that takes a normal player to a different level. But what about when confidence isn’t there? That usually means a dip in production, and for Boston Bruins forward Brad Marchand, that appeared to be the case to start this season.
The agitating Bruins winger struggled mightily at the beginning of the season, scoring only one goal in his first 14 games. Even when he broke that skid Nov. 7 against the Florida Panthers, he still had just three goals through 16 games. The lack of production was disheartening for Marchand and the Bruins, especially coming off a season in which he totaled 36 points in 45 games. But just as alarming was that Marchand wasn’t doing the little things, either. He wasn’t very involved, and he wasn’t much of a factor in any of the three zones. Also missing was his ability to get under opponents’ skin. He wasn’t bringing much to the table at all.
Naturally, it all started to snowball, as confidence waned. Marchand was fighting it, no doubt, looking to find a way to just break out and start to build some positive mojo. Then he scored a shorthanded goal Dec. 12 in Edmonton. He followed that up one week later with two goals in a loss to the Buffalo Sabres. A few days later, he scored in Nashville. The following game against Ottawa, he added another goal. It was the first time Marchand had scored in back-to-back games since Games 1 and 2 of the New York Rangers series last postseason. (He scored in back-to-back games five times last season, including the playoffs.)
The game against Ottawa — a 5-0 Bruins win — arguably was Marchand’s best of the season. He was buzzing all over the ice, seemingly generating chances every shift. He finally broke through late in the third period with a shorthanded goal.
“I definitely feel better, and I knew it was going to come, it’s just a matter of time,” Marchand said after that game. “But one game doesn’t make a season, so I’ve got to keep going and keep building on it.”
The most important indicator that Marchand’s confidence might be back was on display Thursday night against the Predators. He played another good game that included a couple of scoring chances, especially late. He was leveled by a big hit from Shea Weber late in the game, but he got right back up and kept playing. He was maybe even more effective after the hit from Weber, and that effectiveness carried into overtime. Just 54 seconds into the extra frame, Marchand used a nifty little move to get around Predators forward Mike Fisher before ripping the game-winning goal by Marek Mazanec to help Boston avoid its first three-game losing streak of the season.
The move to get around Fisher was a doozy, and it’s one that comes with a lot of risk. If Marchand turned the puck over making that move, Fisher would have gone the other way with a chance to win the game. In short, it’s a move that takes a lot of confidence to pull off.
Consistency and confidence are intertwined, and Marchand’s latest display of both is reason for the Bruins to be optimistic about his play moving forward. But he knows he must continue to string together positives in order to be playing at his best.
“I think I’ve just got to keep going,” Marchand told reporters Thursday night. “Every game, you want to try to build a little more confidence and try to keep improving, and that’s all I do.”
Bruins head coach Claude Julien hasn’t been afraid to criticize Marchand with public comments or reduced ice time, but he’s also quick to commend the forward when he’s doing well. Marchand is doing well right now, and Julien is pleased with what he’s seen.
“Again, when he’s skating, he makes things happen, and I thought he skated well [Thursday],” Julien said after the game. “When he uses that outside speed, he makes things happen a lot more, and as you can see in a lot of games, he has that ability to cut from the outside to the inside pretty good. And that was one of his patented moves here tonight.”
That patented move is a sign Marchand’s confidence is returning, and if that’s truly the case, the pesky winger will only continue to get better.