To help celebrate NBC Rivalry Night, NHL.com will look at a rivalry within the rivalry of the featured game each Wednesday night. This week, we are trying to determine if Steve Ott of the Buffalo Sabres or Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins is the more effective agitator.
"The most important thing is they can play," Montreal Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher told NHL.com. "If they weren't able to play the game, no one would pay attention to them. They're important players for their team, and they play an important role. You add in the fact they can play that agitator role, they can get under the skin of their opponent, and that is a skill as well. They both have that ability, and I guess they're both pretty good at it."
Ott and Marchand are two of the more persistent agitators in the NHL. Even worse for their opponents is the fact they put up points.
Ott had 24 points in 48 games last season and averaged more than 38 points over the prior four seasons. Marchand had 18 goals and 36 points in 45 games last season after putting up career highs across the board in 2011-12 with 28 goals, 27 assists and 55 points.
They know they're on their game and at their most annoying when the opponent is trying to talk back at them. Ott said he regularly hears it from players on the bench and even opposing coaches. He smiles and keeps talking because he knows whatever he's saying is making an impact and helping his team.
"When you're not effective is when the other team is quiet toward you, no one is saying a word out there," Ott told NHL.com. "Those awkward situations, that's the telltale sign that you're not effective. But when guys on the bench are yelling at you, opposing coaches, then you're doing your job."
What will they say or do?
"Anything," Canadiens defenseman Josh Gorges said. "It's kind of vague, I know, but that's the truth of it. If they have to talk to you and say whatever they say, they will. If it's little sticks that just irritate you enough to get you to turn around and swing back, they'll do that. You'll even see times when you think they're going to say something, then they'll skate away.
"I think they think about what they're going to do. It's not just, 'I'm going to do this because it just came in my head.' They're thought out. I wouldn't be surprised if before the game they know how to push whose buttons, what to say, what to do."
Gorges isn't far off.
Ott takes note of players who are struggling and targets them, thinking he can keep them off their game. Marchand is more liberal. He'll target anyone because it helps get him into the game; that activity gets his adrenaline pumping and his mind in the right place.
Is one of them more effective in the unforgiving role than the other? Let's try to find out:
Ott said he was always "a yippee kid," and his brash brand of trash-talking has been a part of his game since he got to the NHL in the 2002-03 season. He said it comes right after his work ethic in terms of what makes him the player he is.
"I think the compete and work comes first, and when you challenge a guy and battle a guy, if it's one of the top players, the mouth follows," Ott said. "Why I say that is because usually you fire up other guys on the team, on their bench that are yelling at you. Then you have to be quick with it. The trash-talking becomes effective from there."
Gallagher said Ott doesn't waste any time running his mouth.
"He'll start yapping at you right away," Gallagher said. "He makes it more of a goal of his, an objective to get under a guy's skin."
Ott usually backs it up with his skill or his fists. He's typically a 35- to 40-point guy during a normal season and has 89 fighting majors in his career, according to HockeyFights.com.
The ability to score and willingness to back up his words with his fists is one thing that separates Ott from Marchand, who has averaged one fight per season since he got to the NHL in 2009-10.
"But that's nothing against his game," Ott said of Marchand. "I think he's got a pretty solid game."
Like Ott, Marchand said he's been an agitator and one of the most annoying players to play against for as long as he can remember.
"I did it in midget and definitely a lot more in junior," Marchand said. "It became a lot more useful once I got into the higher levels."
Marchand, known as "The Little Ball of Hate," has gained a reputation as a bad boy in the NHL, so much so that he said he's typically the first player officials grab when they're trying to tame a post-whistle scrum. He doesn't seem to care at all since it means he has a reputation as an NHL player, and that's good enough for him.
"I'm in the NHL and I'll take whatever reputation I can to get here and to stay here," he said. "I'm living my dream right now, so I don't really care about a reputation."
There isn't a defined line Marchand won't cross. He said it all depends on what comes to his mind in the heat of the moment.
He knows when he's not playing well it's usually because he's not running his mouth or taking the odd swipe at a guy when no one is looking. He can tell when he's being effective because it's usually when he hears or feels the opponent coming after him.
"I think the way he plays kind of gets under a guy's skin," Gallagher said. "It's his actions and he doesn't have to think about it too much; it just kind of happens."
Ott studies the opponent to find the weak spots he can target and, as Gallagher said, jumps right into his extensive vocabulary with his brand of trash-talking. Marchand grinds on guys and gets them off their game in three different ways: 1) with his play; 2) with his actions; and 3) with his words. He can be impossible to deal with and impossible to stop all at the same time.
That's what gives Marchand the edge in this matchup.
Marchand may not fight as much as Ott; however, he's a more effective offensive player (135 points in 225 games) than Ott (245 points in 624 games) and has helped the Bruins win the Stanley Cup in 2011 and get back to the Cup Final last season. Ott's teams haven't been to the playoffs since 2008.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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