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Admiral’s mailbag: Is this really Claude Julien’s fault?

01.19.17 at 8:41 am ET
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Claude Julien. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Claude Julien. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Here it is …

After Monday’s no-show and last night’s meltdown, how much longer can Claude survive? Michael, Somerville, MA

That’s the million dollar question surrounding this team right now. Games like Monday make you think the Bruins coach won’t be around much longer. They team was a complete no-show and embarrassed themselves. Wednesday night in Detroit, the Bruins blew two separate three-goal leads before losing via shootout because they tried to sit on a three-goal cushion and it blew up in their faces.

But that loss was a hell of a lot more Ryan Spooner’s fault than Claude. The coach did not construct the roster that hasn’t provided David Krejci with a consistent left-wing commensurate with his talent. Yet the Bruins appear to be taking on the aura of a team that has to DO SOMETHING for the sake of doing it, be it a major trade or coaching change. Still, if Claude saw the end of the previous two seasons to the bitter end, the betting here is that he’ll be given a (last?) chance to get this team back to the playoffs.

Even though they’ve been stockpiling talent for a couple years, are you surprised by the Toronto Maple Leafs currently being in a playoff spot? Timmy, Florida, MA

I’m almost shocked that the Leafs are this good so soon into their rebuild. It’s like they’re way ahead of schedule. Though they have been drafting well in recent years, none of those players was Auston Matthews and the 19-year-old phenom from Arizona has somehow been better than advertised. The 6-foot-3 rookie already plays like a savvy 10-year-vet and the effect he has on his teammates is palpable.

The Leafs bumped the Ottawa Senators out of the Atlantic race for the time being and took over third place with 50 points. But they also have only played 42 games and have six games in hand on second place Boston and four on Montreal. Matthews’ 22-16—38 leads a dynamic rookie scoring class that has fellow Leafs in third (Mitch Marner) and fourth place (William Nylander). After a rough start, goalie Frederik Andersen has looked the #1 he was in Orange County. This squad is going to give the Bruins nightmares for years and it may well start in April when the playoffs kick off.

What’s wrong with Henrik Lundqvist? Dom, New Bedford, MA

Ouch. It’s been tough sledding for the photogenic Rangers netminder over the last month or so to put his numbers in the middle of the pack instead of the top five like we’ve been accustomed to. He’s currently sporting a meh 2.89 GAA and a pedestrian .902 save percentage. But he’s also just plain looked bad. Trouble with routine saves from all angles—-it’s not one thing.

It’s likely a combination of covering for a spotty D and the tremendous workload of the last decade or so finally catching up with him. He’s got a ton of miles on him. That’s not to say Hank is done—-far from it. However, he’ s in the biggest rut of his career and he’ll need to play his way out of it if the Rags are going to have any chance at making a run.

Future of Bruins coach Claude Julien uncertain after collapse to Red Wings

01.18.17 at 11:42 pm ET
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The Bruins blew a three-goal lead in a shootout loss to the Red Wings. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins blew a three-goal lead in a shootout loss to the Red Wings. (Rick Osentoski/USA Today Sports)

Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena, a 6-5 Bruins shootout loss that ended with the Bruins serenaded off the ice by the Motor City’s familiar victory refrain of ‘born and raised in South Detroit’ belted out by the hometown crowd with the fire of a 25-year playoff streak on the line, felt like a table-read of coach Claude Julien’s decade-long, record-setting run with the Black and Gold.

A day after Julien took the temperature of his painfully on-again, off-again team and made practice a last-second healthy scratch, instead giving his team a day off the ice to simply recharge and focus on the task of hand, the Bruins came out flying with a pace seldom seen this season. The Bruins scored in the opening 44 seconds of the game, and by the 8:50 mark of the period, the Bruins had a 3-0 lead thanks to one even-strength goal, one shorthanded goal, and one power-play goal.

And more importantly, Monday’s no-show against the Islanders looked like a mere blip. But then the Red Wings made it a two-goal game. The Bruins scored a last-minute goal to make it a three-goal lead by the end of the first period, though, and all was fine.

It was the B’s first four-goal opening period of the season, and just their second of the season.

The period was a 20-minute execution that showed that rest was the only thing that the Bruins needed and that the message and the overall effort was still there and going to be there for their head coach.

But then the Wings answered. Three times in a row and within a 10:15 stretch, and the Bruins’ three-goal lead was gone. Adam McQuaid, one of the Julien’s ride-or-die players since he emerged on the scene for the club in 2010, answered just 21 seconds after the Red Wings tied it, and the Bruins carried a one-goal edge into the locker room through 40 minutes.

The Bruins then came up with a big late-game period kill against the Wings, but when things got messy and the Bruins once again lost men, the wall caved and the Wings tied things up for the second time on the night, and with just 3:04 left in the game. The Bruins were then forced to survive another penalty against — which they did — and went to overtime.

Julien, the ultimate survivalist, was going to be tested once more.

And a team that’s simply survived as best they can this year, were asked to come up for one last hurrah.

But in the shootout, it was familiar foes that doomed the Bruins in shootout goals from Thomas Vanek and Frans Nielsen, as the Bruins skated off as a loser for the third time in their last four games. And this one felt like their ugliest one yet, as the Bruins became just the eighth loss in 146 games this season in which the losing team at one point held a 3-0 lead.

It was a 65-minute white-knuckle ride that felt like a perfect encapsulation of Julien’s career behind the Boston bench.

The Bruins were at times completely dominant and looked like the teams that ran to the fourth-round in 2011 and 2013. At other times, they looked asleep behind the wheel, much like the last two springtime versions of this group. Julien pushed some right buttons (the Bruins loaded up down the middle with David Backes as the third-line center for the first time all year), but at the same time stuck with guys a little too long (Ryan Spooner’s disastrous shifts cost the B’s goals and goals against).

You could sense the game-long desperation and borderline panic from Julien, too. The TV behind the B’s bench felt it, too.

Is this the final straw for a frantic front office? Not sure. But back-to-back losses to bottom of the barrel Eastern Conference teams, and looking anything but playoff (or even game) ready in the process, is undoubtedly rock bottom for this group.

And now comes time to see if Julien — and the B’s front office — can survive the fallout of another heinous 3-0 collapse, or if Julien is a made man that will go out like The Sopranos: to the tune of “Don’t Stop Believin'” by Journey.



Bruins look to get back on track vs. Red Wings

01.18.17 at 7:52 pm ET
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The Bruins will look to get back on track Wednesday against the Red Wings. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins will look to get back on track Wednesday against the Red Wings. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

It’s obvious that the Bruins have struggled to string wins together this season, with losses in all but seven of 22 games that have followed wins. At the same time, the team has found ways to rebound from losses just as well, with wins in 13 of 25 games that have immediately followed a loss. They did it the last time they were in this situation, too, as the team rallied from a hardfought one-goal loss to the Predators with a six-goal outburst in a win against the Flyers two days later.

The consistent inconsistencies have become maddening, sure, but it’s something the Bruins have accepted as a necessity to stay afloat.

And they will will look to keep that trend going tonight when they look to rebound from Monday’s 4-0 loss at the hands of the East-worst Islanders with a head-to-head against the Red Wings.

“We rebound really well, that’s a strength of this team,” Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said. “But obviously negative comes with that because we’re not getting the job done the game before. But it definitely is a strength of this team.”

In a week that was originally looked upon as a potential building block for the Bruins to pile up some points against lower-tier opponents in the Isles and Red Wings before a measuring stick game against the Blackhawks, the Bruins know that it’s about to getting back to their basics that will keep the club trending upwards to keep pace with a streak-heavy Eastern Conference.

“There are times where you want these losses to sting and you want to learn from them, but I think at this point in the season it’s about moving on and making sure we continue to work on our game,” Krug continued, “those times where you learn are for earlier in the year and right now we want to stop making excuses and get the job done.”

Tuukka Rask will be back in net for the B’s. Rask was given the early hook for the just the second time this season (he’s been pulled three times in total, but only two have been performance-driven exits) after he allowed three goals on 15 shots through 40 minutes of play Monday, and has allowed six goals on 39 shots since leaving last Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury.

Rask has 22 wins and a .923 save percentage in 36 games year and stopped all 24 shots in his prior head-to-head with the Wings.

The Wings counter with Jared Coreau. The 6-foot-6 Coreau has five wins (two shutouts) and a .911 save percentage in eight games this season, and stopped all 18 shots thrown his way in a Monday night shutout over the Canadiens two days ago.

Matt Beleskey traveled with the club, but is not expected to play. Beleskey has been out with a knee injury since Dec. 3.

Here are the expected lines and pairings for the Bruins…

Brad Marchand – Patrice Bergeron – Frank Vatrano

Tim Schaller – David Krejci – David Pastrnak

Ryan Spooner – David Backes – Austin Czarnik

Anton Blidh – Dominic Moore – Riley Nash

Zdeno Chara – Brandon Carlo

Torey Krug – Adam McQuaid

Joe Morrow – John-Michael Liles

Tuukka Rask

Trade talk heating up between Bruins and Avalanche

01.17.17 at 7:36 pm ET
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The Bruins and Avalanche are once again talking trades. (Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins and Avalanche are once again talking trades. It’s believed both Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Duchene are available. (Roy Chenoy/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins are running out of it. Energy. Solutions. Ideas. Excuses. Internal options. You name it, and they are sure to be running out of it.

That’s simply not going to work for a Bruins team that’s been put on the notice and told that a third straight season of missing the postseason is just plain unacceptable. And it’s led to the Bruins sticking out as one of the more active teams involved in the trade market, too.

Earlier this season, the Bruins were among those most interested in trading for Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba during his holdout with the Jets, but balked at the asking price when it included Brandon Carlo. And they seemed to do to the same when the Avalanche inquired on Carlo’s availability in early talks for Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog.

The word spread throughout the league: being the first of Don Sweeney’s draft picks to crack an NHL lineup, the Bruins considered Carlo pretty damn close to untouchable.

But now, with B’s executive director of player personnel John Ferguson Jr. in Colorado to scout the Avalanche-Blackhawks game tonight after a bizarre turn of events that saw the Bruins cancel a practice they had scheduled less than 24 hours prior, the rumor mill is once again buzzing with the talk of the Bruins and Avalanche trying to work something out.

With the potential of the Bruins bending on their initial refusal to move the 20-year-old Carlo in a trade.

But if the Bruins are bending on this, it’s likely with the intentions to acquire more than Landeskog (who has attracted interest from the Kings and Penguins as well), which creates an interesting dynamic between these two teams. See, the Avalanche are the ones that believe the Bruins have to up their offer and not the other way around. And it wouldn’t be a shock to find out that the Avalanche are merely trying to drive up the price — be it from the Bruins or any other team — intrigued in their captain.

Still, with the Avs looking for a top-notch defenseman in any trade involving Landeskog or Matt Duchene, Carlo seems like an expected starting point, even if the Avs already have two high-end right-shot d-men in Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. That price paid by the Bruins is not expected to change, either, even if this is a bit of gamesmanship on the part of Avalanche GM Joe Sakic.

In Carlo, the Bruins believe that they have found a first-year pro that can handle the way that the new NHL is trending, and has shown that he has the smarts and defensive prowess to make himself a legitimate top-four option for the Bruins in the now. It also goes without saying that players with the upside and on affordable entry-level contracts like the one Carlo is on are treated as precious gems in this hard cap world, and viewed as an absolute necessity if your team is going to compete for more than one run.

Moving Carlo (who makes less than $800,000 for this season and the two after that) and more for Landeskog (on the hook for just under $6 million per season through 2021), would be a move that shows that the Bruins didn’t really learn enough from a little-by-little fall out of what should have been perennial Cup contention had the Bruins not been handcuffed into overpayments for aging roleplayers and terrible cash-clearing trades (Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders) because of a non-existent farm system.

It’s not that Carlo is untradeable for the Bruins, but he’s untradeable if the deal is one that puts you closer to the hole you’ve spent the last two seasons trying to claw your way out of, and one that landed Sweeney into this job in the first place.

But desperate times call for inflated asking prices in this NHL, and there’s no doubt that these Bruins are desperate.

Islanders fire head coach Jack Capuano day after beating Bruins

01.17.17 at 4:42 pm ET
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The Islanders have fired coach Jack Capuano. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

The Islanders have fired coach Jack Capuano. (Brad Penner/USA Today Sports)

One of the NHL head coaches involved in yesterday’s game in which the conference’s worst team came into the building of a playoff team and beat them by four goals (and allowed zero) has been fired.

But it’s not the one you would have expected.

Instead, it was Islanders coach Jack Capuano that was handed his pink-slip Tuesday. Fired on the heels of a 4-0 victory over the Bruins yesterday afternoon, and after a 17-17-8 start to his seventh season behind the Isles bench, Capuano will be replaced by assistant coach Doug Weight on an interim basis, and leaves the Islanders after bringing the team to the postseason in three of his six seasons in town.

A coach getting fired after playing the Bruins is far from jarring — the Rangers moved on from John Tortorella after a second-round series loss to the Bruins in 2013 and the Wild fired Mike Yeo after the B’s spanked his Wild team last season — but rarely, if ever, has it been done after a team beat the Bruins.

It’s hard to find any situation where a coach has been fired after a win, I’d imagine.

One of the reasons that the Islanders made the decision now, according to general manager Garth Snow, was that they did not view Capuano as a coach that they would bring back next season, and that they felt that there was still time to right the ship given their record (and probably the topsy-turvy nature of the Eastern Conference as a whole).

Meanwhile, the B’s 15th loss in 22 games that have followed a win and their second loss in as many tries against the East-worst Islanders exposed the Bruins as a tired club and prompted head coach Claude Julien, who has seemed tense given the temperature around the team and from above, to cancel practice ahead of tomorrow’s pivotal meeting with the Red Wings.

Capuano’s firing will go down as the 87th NHL coach firing/change (non-retiring or walking as free agent coach like Mike Babcock did with his switch from the Red Wings to Maple Leafs) since the Bruins hired Julien in 2007.

Bruins coach Claude Julien cancels Tuesday practice

01.17.17 at 12:48 pm ET
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The Bruins have played a league-high 47 games this season and it's starting to show. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

The Bruins have played a league-high 47 games this season and it’s starting to show. (James Guillory/USA Today Sports)

In what’s been his most trying year behind the B’s bench, coach Claude Julien is taking the temperature of his team while also taking his own.

It was on the heels of a 4-0 beatdown by the last-place Islanders that a disappointed and downright angry Julien scheduled a 10:30 a.m. practice for Tuesday morning at Warrior Ice Arena. But when 10:30 a.m. came, only an injured forward (Matt Beleskey), healthy scratch (Jimmy Hayes), and backup goaltender (Zane McIntyre) were on the ice. That remained the case by 10:45 a.m., and before 11 a.m. hit, it was announced that Julien had decided to cancel practice for his club.

The decision to cancel practice was akin to a lovers’ quarrel. Julien, in the heat of the moment following his team getting viciously booed off the ice of their home building, took an off day away from the club. But when given some time to reflect back on it, Julien seemingly realized that it may do more harm than good in the long run and took it back.

In what unfolded as the team’s first day off in eight days and a necessary breather on a travel day to Detroit before a Wednesday head-to-head with the Red Wings, some of the team leaders held court and dished on the idea that this team is just straight-up tired given the dreaded ‘condensed schedule’ and a league-high 47 games played to date.

“Physically obviously everyone’s in good shape and around the league everyone is able to play in these but mentally it’s a grind,” Bruins d-man Torey Krug admitted, “and we’re at that point in the season in late January where it seems to drag on a little bit.”

“I think it’s one of those days where you have to regroup, recharge the batteries and feel better,” Patrice Bergeron said. “You can’t just put the blame on the [schedule]. We’re professionals and we have to show up every game.”

This season, or at least until a certain point, has become a war of attrition for the Bruins. After next week’s home game against the Red Wings, the Bruins will play just eight times in the next 26 days thanks to the All-Star break and the team’s bye late in mid-February. That’s a good and bad thing for the Bruins. The good is obvious: the Bruins will get some much needed rest. The bad: the points they’ve left on the table with duds against teams like the Islanders and even the Devils a few weeks back could and should come back to haunt them when the likes of the Maple Leafs and Sens catch up to the club in games played.

“You use a day like today to look forward, look at video, and be better for the next day,” Bergeron, who has now played 50 games since September between the World Cup and B’s (Brad Marchand has played in 53 games, while Zdeno Chara has played in 47), said of the team’s morning away from on-ice work. “Because it happens fast — we have a game tomorrow.”

Against another team that the Bruins, tired or not, can’t afford to look past.

Pulling Tuukka Rask was lone good call of forgettable day for Bruins

01.17.17 at 12:07 am ET
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Tuukka Rask was pulled after two periods on Monday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports_

Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask was pulled after two periods after he allowed three goals on 15 shots Monday. (Winslow Townson/USA Today Sports)

Little made sense in a 4-0 loss to the cellar-dwelling Islanders Monday. One call that did make sense for the Bruins, however, was head coach Claude Julien’s decision to pull Tuukka Rask after the second period.

Rask, like most Bruins, did not have his best game.

And though it wasn’t entirely his fault (perhaps with the exception of the second Islander goal, which was scored off a bad angle shot from Josh Bailey that Rask should have sealed off), Rask didn’t help the Black and Gold with just 12 stops in total before given the hook.

“You’ve got to do something, right? I let in that weak one, the second goal,” Rask said of his early exit. “But the coaches always have to do whatever they can to get the team going and that’s it.”

Of course, the 29-year-old’s worst stretch was also the team’s worst stretch, as the B’s blew assignment after assignment while Rask allowed three goals on six shots in a 5:20 stretch late in the second period. But it wasn’t the only reason that he was replaced by Zane McIntyre for the third period of what became a clear throwaway game.

“Well there’s two things that can happen,” Julien said, “number one, you hope you can spark your team, because of the performance in front of him, and if it doesn’t spark your team, you’re not wasting your number one goaltender’s energy.”

The former didn’t happen for Julien and the Bruins, but the latter could prove invaluable.

If you look at where the league is trending or trended over the last few seasons, the Bruins will likely need at least 95 points to qualify for postseason play. They’re at 51 points through 47 games played, and the simple math tells you that they’re in need of about 44 points over the final 35 games to make the postseason. More simple math tells you that’s about 22 wins. And with the way that the Black and Gold have played this year with backups in net — the Bruins have just one victory in 11 games started by a trio of backups this season — you can expect Rask to have be in net for almost all 22 of those wins.

But it won’t matter who’s in net for the Bruins if the team continues to no-show against bottom of the barrel teams.

“You need to bring that emotion and work ethic every night. Doesn’t matter if it’s road or home. On the road we seem to do that every night,” Rask said of the team’s hot-and-cold nature and struggles at TD Garden. “At home for some reason, we play a good game, an emotional game and then we lack it in the next one and the results are what they were tonight.

“It’s like a broken record; we have to fix it. Or otherwise it won’t be good.”

That would mean a third straight burnout by both the goaltender and team and without a playoff berth to show for their exhausting efforts.

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