WILMINGTON — There was nothing fancy about Brad Marchand’s winning goal against the Islanders Tuesday. Andrew Ference’s shot from the left point thudded off defenseman Thomas Hickey. Marchand found the rebound and swept a backhander past Evgeni Nabokov at 0:38 of the second period.
It was the nature of Marchand’s goal, however, that captured the things he’s been doing right. Before the goal, when Patrice Bergeron entered the corner to retrieve the puck, Marchand cut down low to provide support down the wall.
Then, when Bergeron fed Ference at the point, Marchand slipped behind Hickey and John Tavares with a single destination in mind: the front of the net.
It is the area where defensemen make forwards suffer. Smaller players like Marchand (5 feet 9 inches, 183 pounds) generally do not loiter in that space for long. It is where Marchand feels most comfortable.
Marchand embraces conflict, both with his body and with his mouth. But lately, Marchand has made more noise with his stick than his lip. Marchand leads the Bruins with 10 goals. He is on pace to score 32, which would top his previous high (28 in 2011-12) by four.
“Goals come in bunches,” Marchand said. “You look at every guy who scores goals, maybe except for [Steven] Stamkos. When you’re hot, things go in. There will be times when you go 20 games without a goal. It’s just how it is.
“I’m not doing anything different from the past two years. Pucks are bouncing the right way right now. I don’t think anything of it. I’m playing with two great players. They make a lot of great plays. At the other end, you have to put them in the net. That’s just how it goes in hockey.”
Marchand owns one of the team’s best shots. The left wing unloads the puck quickly, and his shot is heavy and accurate.
But Marchand’s courage has been his go-to asset over skill. Two of Marchand’s 10 goals have been the eye-popping kind: his slice through traffic and backhand riser against the Rangers on Feb. 12, and his dangle through Tyler Myers and Jordan Leopold en route to a net-front backhander against Buffalo Jan. 31.
The others have been results of Marchand’s lunchpail style around the net. They are the types of goals that his coach prefers.
“He went to the front of the net, found the loose puck, and he banged it in,” said Claude Julien. “He didn’t have to stickhandle through 10 guys to score the goal.
“But those are the areas where you score goals. He’s got a knack for that. That’s something that, in his case, is a natural ability that you have. He’s got that. For him to score that many goals for us is what we want him to do.”
Ottawa is without Erik Karlsson (Achilles’ tendon), the reigning Norris Trophy winner. The Senators are also down No. 1 center Jason Spezza (back), ace goalie Craig Anderson (ankle), and two-way winger Milan Michalek (knee).
Yet the scrappy Senators enter Thursday’s showdown at TD Garden with 26 points, same as Boston, though the Bruins have four games in hand. Ottawa has won five straight games.
Ottawa has depth in goal with ex-Maine netminder Ben Bishop and prospect Robin Lehner. Kyle Turris, acquired last year from Phoenix, leads Ottawa with four goals and eight assists.
Second-year coach Paul MacLean has kept his club focused during the streak of bad health.
“It just goes to show that it’s always nice to have some big star players on your team,” said Julien, “but at the end of the day, what makes you win hockey games is the team effort. I’ve always said that if the effort is there, you’re giving yourself a chance. Whether you have talent or don’t have talent, if you don’t put the effort in, it more than not results in a loss.”
The Bruins will see old friend Michael Ryder soon. Montreal acquired the ex-Bruin and a 2013 third-round pick from Dallas for Erik Cole. The Bruins host the Canadiens Sunday. It’s likely that Ryder was on Boston’s radar. He would have been a good fit to return to his old job as No. 3 left wing alongside former linemates Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley. “As long as Mike is happy, I’m happy for him,” said Julien, who was Ryder’s coach in Hull, Hamilton, Montreal, and Boston. “He was a good player for us and a good player for me for many, many years. His value is worth something. When you’re traded, somebody wants you. Last year, he scored 35 goals, so he’s not a bad player.” . . . Five of the Bruins’ next six games will be at the Garden, and they will look to be as consistent at home as they have been on the road. The Bruins went 4-1-0 on their recent trip, which ended with Tuesday’s 4-1 win over the Islanders. “It went well,” Julien said. “The game we lost in Buffalo was of our own doing. The other ones were good wins. Certainly weren’t easy wins, even if sometimes the score indicated that it was.” . . . Aaron Johnson, Lane MacDermid, and Jay Pandolfo stayed on the ice with Anton Khudobin for extra work following practice. All three project to be healthy scratches against the Senators.