|Speaking of Peter Chiarelli, Bruins were smart to not fire Claude Julien||12.14.15 at 3:49 pm ET|
When Peter Chiarelli made his infamous declaration during a 2013 WEEI appearance that he would never fire Claude Julien, the then-Bruins general manager made himself and his coach a package deal.
Upon Chiarelli’s dismissal in April, the question on everyone’s minds was rather Julien would be attached to Chiarelli on the latter’s way out.
“I didn’t know if I was going to be here either,” Julien said Monday, stating the obvious.
It’s not yet known whether the Bruins made the right call in firing Chiarelli. It is clear so far that they did make the right decision by retaining Julien.
The Bruins enter Monday night’s game against Chiarelli’s Oilers as a playoff team with the second-best goal differential in the Atlantic Division. The B’s sit third in the Atlantic with 35 points in 28 games, though they’re surrounded in the standings by teams that have played more games than them (second-place Detroit has 38 points in 30 games; while Ottawa and Florida sit behind the Bruins having played 30 games each).
The concern of whether Julien was fit to lead a changing team was understandable given that the Bruins had such a similar roster for such a long time, but that line of thinking didn’t take into consideration that Julien has been one of the best coaches in the NHL for several seasons. This season has probably required more coaching than Julien’s had to do, as he’s frequently been required to shuffle both his forward lines and defensive pairings. The Bruins are also employing a different breakout than seasons past and have strived for more of a four-man attack.
If the organization and its fans wanted the Bruins to be a competitive team capable of making the playoffs this season, they should mostly be satisfied with the job Julien has done. He has not been afraid to bench younger players at times (Ryan Spooner) or make them healthy scratches (Joe Morrow, Colin Miller). He’s made such decisions in the interests of wining games rather than placing a high priority on player development. Given how he was able to bring along the likes of David Krejci and Brad Marchand over the years, he probably isn’t too worried about his methods.
A worse performance from the team would suggest that Julien would be better off playing the kids as much as possible in an effort to develop them quickly. That won’t be an option for the Bruins as long as they’re in the playoff race. In that respect, it’s also worth noting that new general manager Don Sweeney’s offseason might not have been as bad as it looked.
Defensively, this has not been a typical season for Julien and the Bruins. Given the team’s weakened back end, the Bruins sit 21st in the NHL in goals against per game after ranking in the top eight in every season since 2008-09. Julien has made tweaks recently to correct that, such as teaming Zdeno Chara and Adam McQuaid as the Bruins’ top pairing.
The Bruins’ offense has returned to its usual spot near the top of the league (the B’s rank second with 3.21 goals per game), implementing several new players including Matt Beleskey, Jimmy Hayes, Frank Vatrano and, to an extent, Brett Connolly. Should the Bruins’ defense and penalty kill continue to trend upward, finishing the season with the No. 2 seed in Atlantic would be a realistic goal.
That’s a much more optimistic line of thinking than many had in the offseason. Given how much uncertainty surrounded the Bruins’ changing roster, radio hosts filled time by wondering whether Julien would make it to the New Year without losing his job. Such a topic wouldn’t be able to fill a segment now.
The season hasn’t reached the halfway point yet, but the Red Wings are the only one of the eight teams with new coaches this season to currently sit in playoff position. It’s probably too early to tell which of the Bruins’ decisions were correct, but keeping Julien was one of them.
|David Pastrnak open to options for conditioning, but wants to stay in Boston||12.14.15 at 12:40 pm ET|
David Pastrnak made another small step in his recovery from a non-displaced fracture in his foot when he joined his Bruins teammates for Monday’s morning skate. There is no timetable for his return, but his next steps will include longer practices with physical contact and, eventually, perhaps some games. Where those games will come is an interesting question.
The 19-year-old right wing, who suffered the injury blocking a shot in the Bruins’ Oct. 27 win over the Coyotes, was in a boot from early November until earlier this month. Though he’s been skating for a week, he says that his conditioning is the biggest thing he needs to get back after being off his feet for so long.
“Even though I was on the bike and stuff, nothing compares to skating,” Pastrnak said. “It’s hard, obviously, but I’ve been skating for a week now. There’s no timetable now. [I’ll] take it slowly and practice hard every day.”
If and when the Bruins decide to get Pastrnak into some non-NHL games to help him get his legs back, they’ll have options. One would be to send him to Providence to play on a conditioning loan. The other would potentially be to send him to Finland to play for the Czech Republic in the World Juniors, which runs from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5. Pastrnak said his priority is to play with Boston as soon as possible.
“I’m happy to be in this organization, and whatever they want me to do, I will be happy to,” he said of the idea of being sent to Providence.
The World Junior option might be more intriguing than a normal conditioning loan, as it would give him the opportunity to get up to speed while also representing his country. Pastrnak had a goal and six assists for seven points in five games for the Czech Republic at last year’s tournament. While he seemed willing to go again, he reiterated that his preference would be to stay in Boston.
“Obviously, I want to be here,” he said. “I want to help the team and [there’s] nothing else I’m focusing on right now. It’s tough, but it’s not my decision. Like I said, I want to stay here and see what the organization’s going to decide for me.”
Pastrnak has played in 10 games this season, two of which came after he blocked the shot against the Coyotes before his injury was realized to be more severe than initially suspected. The second-year pro has two goals and two assists for four points on the season.
|Milan gone: Ryan Spooner knows he must carry third line||12.12.15 at 4:17 pm ET|
Early in the season, it was about how Ryan Spooner wasn’t getting points on the power play. Despite manning the half-wall well on the league’s best power play unit, just one of Spooner’s six points came on the man advantage.
More recently, Spooner’s issue was finding points in even-strength play, as the skilled center endured a 15-game stretch without an even-strength point before registering three (two goals, one assist) in the last two games. In looking at differences between this season and Spooner’s highly productive stretch run last season, perhaps none is bigger than the fact that Spooner has seen a revolving door of linemates after playing with the same two players night in, night out late last season.
Thirteen of Spooner’s 18 points in 22 games after his late-February callup last season came in even-strength play, which saw him skating on a cleverly used line with Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak. Claude Julien formed the line by replacing the injured center (David Krejci) of his team’s second line with Spooner and using it as a third line while Carl Soderberg’s line took on the tougher assignments. Between his comfort level with his linemates over time and his usage, Spooner found 5-on-5 success that he hasn’t been able to consistently obtain this season.
This season, Spooner has had a number of different linemates, with Jimmy Hayes, Brett Connolly, Matt Beleksey, Brad Marchand, Joonas Kemppainen and Landon Ferraro. Some of those players are very good, but Spooner admitted that he feels it takes him eight to 10 games before he feels fully comfortable with a linemate, something he didn’t have to worry about by the middle of March last season.
“It’s definitely a change,” Spooner admitted. “You get used to playing with the same guys. Even last year, there were some games where we got hemmed in our own end a lot, but I feel like as a line we were, most of the games, at least creating chances. There’s been some games this year where we haven’t really created enough. That’s something that we need to work on and I feel like it’s getting a lot better, but it definitely helps to stay with the same guys and get used to what they like to do and where they like to go and stuff.”
Claude Julien doesn’t feel that Spooner’s changing linemates have hindered him in even-strength play, but he likes what he’s seen from the young forward of late.
“To be honest with you, he’s had some good players,” Julien said. “Even Connolly was on that line. Hayes was on that line. Beleskey played with him at one point, so he’s had good players. I think it’s always been about when Ryan is on his game and he’s skating and he gets involved, he can be a guy on that line that really drives that line more or less and can be the leader on that line because he’s got all kinds of skill and qualities in his game, so when you see him play like he did [Saturday], that’s the impact that he can have.”
Spooner agrees with Julien on leading the third line. Last season, his line was great because Milan Lucic was playing against scrubs. Lucic is long gone and Spooner is still coming into his own as a player. There’s no better way for the 23-year-old to do that than by providing the B’s with the third-line center they envisioned when they showed Soderberg the door in the offseason.
“Last year, we were against third and fourth lines and Looch was used to playing against first and second lines, so he was great to play with,” Spooner said. “He was great in front of the net. It definitely helped having him out there with us. This year, it’s definitely something that I need to take it upon myself to be I guess more of a leader on that line and skate and use my speed and just help out.”
|5 things we learned as Ryan Spooner’s 2 goals lead Bruins past Panthers||12.12.15 at 3:39 pm ET|
Yawkey Way had Christmas at Fenway on Saturday, but the Panthers brought some holiday spirit with them to the Garden as they gave the Bruins one of the easiest games of the season. As the Panthers snoozed for stretches at a time, the Bruins took an easier-than-the-score-would-suggest 3-1 win.
While the Bruins weren’t particularly dominant, the Panthers played a remarkably passive game, evidenced by multiple drowsy segments. Florida went a stretch of 14:33 in the first period with just one shot of goal, a low point that they pretty much matched by not even attempting a shot in the second period until 8:26 in, when Shawn Thornton mercifully flung a puck from the neutral zone on net.
With the Bruins only leading by two thanks to big saves from Roberto Luongo, the Panthers managed to push back in the third period and get within one when former Bruin Reilly Smith broke up Tuukka Rask‘s shutout bid with just over six minutes to play. Brad Marchand put the game away with 1:23 to play, however, darting out of the defensive zone as Luongo left for the bench and firing the puck in for a heads-up empty-netter.
The win provided some distance in the standings between the Bruins, who sat third in the Atlantic Division entering Saturday night, and the Panthers, who entered the game one point behind the B’s having played two more games. The Bruins are now at 35 points through 28 games, while the Panthers have 32 points through 30 games.
Here are four more things we learned Saturday:
SPOONER HEATING UP
Ryan Spooner followed his sensational behind-the-back assist on the game-winning goal in Wednesday’s game, Ryan Spooner scored a pair of goals on Saturday for the third multi-goal game of his career. It also provided the makings of a point streak, as Spooner has now gotten on the score sheet in each of the last three games (two goals, two assists).
The increased production has come at a good time for Spooner, who went 15 games without an even-strength point before Wednesday’s assist against the Habs. His second goal of Saturday’s game, a power play tally, brought him to eight power play points on the season, good for third on the Bruins.
Rask’s season numbers will be brought down by his terrible start, but he’s had good numbers for quite some time now. Using a small sample, Rask has allowed just two goals over his last three games, and one of them came off an unlucky bounce.
In his seven appearances (six starts, one in-game replacement) entering Saturday, Rask had a .946 save percentage, a number that’s only climbed with Saturday’s performance. Rask has also gotten points out of his last eight appearances (6-0-2).
BRUINS MOSTLY DISCIPLINED (EXCEPT FOR PATRICE BERGERON, OBVIOUSLY)
With Patrice Bergeron’s penalty minutes going ups every season and this one no different, perhaps it wasn’t a shock that the Panthers’ only power play of the game came off a Bergeron trip.
Bergeron’s minor penalty was his second in the last three games and moved him into a tie with Zdeno Chara for third on the team in minor penalties. Only Brad Marchand (16) and Adam McQuaid (12) have more minors than Bergeron’s nine.
The two-time Selke winner and likely zero-time Lady Byng winner is now on pace for 53 penalty minutes on the season. He has set career highs in penalty minutes in each of the last two seasons, registering 43 in 2013-14 and 44 last season.
The Bruins’ other penalties came from Zac Rinaldo, but both of his were matching with Panthers players.
COLIN MILLER RETURNS, TROTMAN SCRATCHED
Zach Trotman moved to the press box in favor of Colin Miller, the latter of whom returned to game action for the first time since Dec. 4.
The changes to the lineup saw Friday’s practice defensive pairings stick, as the B’s iced the following lineup:
|Adam McQuaid feels for Pascal Dupuis||12.11.15 at 6:54 pm ET|
Adam McQuaid doesn’t know Pascal Dupuis. All he’s heard from mutual friends is what a great guy he is. He does, however, know Dupuis’ current situation better than most hockey players.
A longtime Penguins winger and Sidney Crosby linemate, Dupuis announced this week that he was retiring from hockey because of issues with blood clots that date back to January of 2014. McQuaid had his own scare with a blood clot during the 2012 lockout, when his right arm suffered massive swelling in the fall. The blood clot, which was under his collarbone, required surgery that involved removing a rib and part of his neck neck muscle.
For the grounded yet oft-injured McQuaid, his experience with the blood clot made him feel more grateful for his health. Asked about Dupuis Friday, McQuaid expressed both disappointment in the player’s on-ice fate but optimism for his off-ice future.
“I think he said it himself, that his priority is his family and his health and [his longterm] health,” McQuaid said. “Any time anyone’s health gives out on them, you feel for them. I’m sure that they’ll miss not having him in the lineup.”
Dupuis returned at the start of last season from both a knee injury and blood clot issues, but was diagnosed with another blood clot in his lung of November of 2014, ending his season. The 36-year-old returned again to play in 18 games this season before shutting it down for good.
Dupuis’ condition was both more serious and more recurring than McQuaid’s. The Boston defenseman was assured at the time of his blood clot and subsequent surgical work that aside from months spent on blood thinners, it “wouldn’t be an issue going forward,” as it hasn’t. As such, McQuaid was quick to note that though “a blood clot’s still a blood clot,” he wasn’t comparing his misfortune to Dupuis’.
“It’s not quite the same thing, but I can relate,” he said. “Mine was a little more short-term, but I know what it’s like to go through the whole process. It definitely makes you reevaluate things and appreciate things and realize how lucky we are to do what we do, and to have your health ‘ mainly, having your health.
“I’m sure that as disappointed as he is, staying on the protocol [means] he’ll have a long and happy life, so you take the positives and look at all the great things that he still has to look forward to.”
At the time of McQuaid’s blood clot, its silver lining was that it came during the lockout and didn’t require him to miss games. Looking at how much worse things could have been, McQuaid said he considers himself blessed that it proved to be a speed bump rather than the major roadblock blood clots can be for athletes.
“It’s one of those things where you can think of it as, like, ‘Why is this going on? Why am I having to do this?” McQuaid said. “Then you look at it like, ‘Well, I’m lucky that it’s just a short-term thing, too.'”
|Bruins tweak lineup in practice||12.11.15 at 10:55 am ET|
WILMINGTON — The Bruins sported some tweaks to their lineup in Friday’s practice, most notably returning Matt Beleskey to David Krejci‘s line and moving Colin Miller into the top three pairs after the rookie defensemen sat the last three games.
Beleskey was moved to Patrice Bergeron for the third period of the Bruins’ 3-1 win over the Canadiens Wednesday, but Brett Connolly was back on Bergeron’s line on Friday. The lines in practice were as follows:
|5 things we learned as Bruins come back to beat Habs||12.09.15 at 10:19 pm ET|
The last time the Bruins played the Canadiens, they blew a third-period lead and took a frustrating loss. They found themselves on the other side of that equation Wednesday night in Montreal. Now, perhaps their 3-1 victory can give the B’s a little more confidence when the teams next meet in the Winter Classic at Gillette Stadium.
With the Bruins down a goal and shorthanded with just over 12 minutes to play, Zdeno Chara batted a P.K. Subban shot out of mid-air up to Loui Eriksson in the neutral zone. Eriksson outraced Jeff Petry and beat Mike Condon for a breakaway goal to tie the game. Less than a minute later, Ryan Spooner sent a brilliant pass behind his back to Landon Ferraro, who scored in the slot to make it 2-1.
The third period saw Claude Julien shuffle his lines with success. Moving Matt Beleskey up to Patrice Bergeron‘s line with Brad Marchand led to a Bergeron goal with 6:18 to play. That goal put the game out of reach and proved to be an important one given that the Habs wound up on the power play shortly after due to a Kevan Miller interference penalty.
Here are four more things we learned:
RASK CAN BEAT THE HABS
Tuukka Rask‘s head might have exploded if the 1-0 score through two periods held up for the rest of the game. It would have added to the idea that the 2013-14 Vezina Winner simply can’t beat the Habs.
While Rask and the Bruins trailed for much of the game, Rask was excellent. In fact, the only goal he allowed was the result of some terrible luck.