This is a very, very difficult time of the year for NHL  coaches who know their teams are already in the Stanley Cup  playoffs. They have to balance fighting for playoff position with fighting complacency.
Sometimes, the task can become quite frustrating, if not overwhelming, to manage.
Just ask Claude Julien . With his team already assured of home ice in the first round by virtue of their Northeast Division crown, Julien watched on Monday night as his team blew a 3-0 lead to the Rangers at Madison Square Garden in an ugly 5-3 loss.
Then on Wednesday, at home to the lowly Islanders, he watched his top two lines go through the motions, only to get great games from his “energy line” in a 3-2 escape at TD Garden. Shawn Thornton  had a goal in his return and Gregory Campbell  had a goal and an assist.
Afterward, a reporter at Julien’s press conference opened by asking if that’s the kind of effort he was looking for after the Monday meltdown in New York.
“Are you serious with that question?” Julien chirped. “No, certainly not the kind of game you want to see from your team and I think the execution wasn’t very good tonight. We weren’t very sharp. Our best players certainly didn’t make a difference and who made a difference was our fourth line and the Campbell line was very good for us tonight and the goaltender made some good saves for us.
“But, it’s one of those games where you try and motivate your team to play hard and play well and I think there’s a challenge there. You know, you can say what you want and you can preach what you want, but there’s a lot of players I think that are looking forward to the next season and so those are the challenges that we have at this time of year.”
“I don’t know if it was motivating or more of we weren’t getting anything out of some of those lines,” Julien said. “By moving players around, you hope that you could get a little bit more. I think that Krech’s [David Krejci ] line I think had one shot there after two periods and he was the only one that had it, driving the net in the first.
“The other two guys ended up with no shots on net. So I think we expect a little bit more and, you know, so making a change here. Maybe putting a guy that was going to be a more straightforward guy might have helped and David [Krejci] playing with some other wingers just to kind of spark things up. So I’m not blaming one or the other; I think that whole line was flat tonight. So we had to split them up.”
Of course, Julien understands human nature and some players wanting to keep something in reserve for the playoffs next week.
“Well, how can you not think that way a little bit? As a coach you’re going to push your team to play well, but in the back of your mind, you can’t control that, they’re saying, ‘You know what? The last thing I need right now is an injury.’ So that can be dangerous when you’re playing not to get injured. We’ve seen that in the past,” Julien said.
“But it’s something that, I’m only a coach and I can only control so much. But the mindset of players are what it is and when players want to play in the playoffs, you can’t blame them when they understand that the outcome of these next few games may not change much. But the fact that there’s a playoff around the corner, they want to be part of it.”
How will he handle the final two games, home against Ottawa on Saturday and on the road against New Jersey Sunday and who will play and how much?
“Those are tough questions to answer right now as I’m sitting here because we don’t know what’s going on with the rest of the schedule and other teams that are playing and the opportunity to move up and maybe not, and at the same time, like I said, it’s a balance of making sure that you try and get your team ready for the playoffs and some of it might mean that players have to play and we can’t sit 10 guys out,” Julien said.
“We’ve only got a couple extra D’s and we’ve got an extra forward here, so you know, it’s pick and choose. As I said this morning, you pull a guy out and all of a sudden, another guy gets hurt and you’re going to be told, ‘Why didn’t you pull him out?’ I didn’t know he was going to get hurt versus the other guy. So these are things that you deal with. At the same time, players want to play. They really do. So I think there might be a possibility in the last game or if something happens in the next couple of days, we’ll look at the standings and make that decision at that time.”