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Milan Lucic: Canadiens are Bruins’ biggest test 12.05.13 at 1:45 pm ET
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Milan Lucic

Milan Lucic

MONTREAL — It’s a bit odd that the Bruins and Canadiens have yet to meet roughly a third of the way into the regular season, but when they finally do Thursday night, it will mean a lot more than it would have had they met in one of the first two months of the season.

First place in the Atlantic Division is on the line — and crazily, as NHL.com’s Arpon Basu notes, it’s the fifth straight meeting between the teams in which the top spot in a division was up for grabs. The Canadiens, who have played 29 games to the Bruins’ 27, sit one point behind the B’s in the standings with 37.

Some quick background on the Canadiens: They’ve been really good of late — 7-0-1 over their last eight games, as Bruins team statistician/left winger Milan Lucic noted Thursday morning.

“I think it’s probably our biggest test of the year, coming into a real tough building against a real good team who’s playing its best hockey so far this year,” Lucic said. “It’s going to be a good test for us.”

The Habs, who have much of the same roster from last season but added a top-six winger in Daniel Briere and toughened up a bit with George Parros, have been led by the usual strong play from the likes of Carey Price and P.K. Subban. Price has a 2.00 goals-against average and .937 save percentage in 22 games this season and likely will be in net Thursday after Peter Budaj played Wednesday against the Devils.

Subban, fresh off of winning the Norris Trophy as a 23-year-old, leads the Habs with 24 points (four goals, 20 assists). Claude Julien said after the morning skate that Subban is being considered for Team Canada and that after years of adjusting to being a young star player, he’s got everyone on the same page about what he brings to the table.

“I think P.K. is a player that is electrifying,” Julien said. “He makes a lot of things happen offensively. When he carries that puck, he’s hard to stop. Throughout the years, a player is allowed to mature just like any other player. We’ve got some in our lineup that go through that same thing. Expectations sometimes are extremely high, and sometimes they’re not realistic and you don’t allow a player to develop the way you should without criticism, which you should.”

The Bruins haven’t played since Saturday, while the Canadiens are playing the second game of a back-to-back. The Habs blew a third-period lead against the Devils on Wednesday but came back to force overtime and eventually win a shootout.

That brings them to Thursday, when they will at long last face the Bruins. It’s been a good start for both teams, but the season doesn’t really start until the Bruins-Canadiens rivalry gets kicked off.

“It does feel different [having not played them], no doubt,” Julien said. “It’s probably a game that everybody’s been waiting for, fans and players alike. This is a great rivalry. We enjoy this kind of rivalry, and those are easy games to get up for for both sides and they end up being pretty entertaining games as well. … These are the kinds of games that I think fans want to watch.”

Read More: Claude Julien, Milan Lucic, P.K. Subban,
Bruins defense bounces back from Detroit disaster with pair of excellent games 11.30.13 at 11:55 pm ET
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Zdeno Chara and the Bruins have given the opponents very little the last six periods. (AP)

Zdeno Chara and the Bruins have given the opponents very little the last six periods. (AP)

The NHL was a different place in 2002. Goals and shots were as low as they’d been since the 1950s, and it wasn’t rare at all to see teams held under 20 shots on goal in a game. In fact, the 2001-02 Bruins — one of the better defensive teams in the league — held opponents under that mark 13 times.

But things have changed since then. The rule changes following the lockout in 2004-05 helped open the game back up, and although we’ll probably never get back to the eight-goals-per-game days of the 1980s, we’re at least seeing more shots and chances than the pre-lockout days. And we’re certainly not seeing teams hold opponents under 20 shots on goal as frequently as we used to — the 2011-12 Bruins, a top defensive team just like the B’s squad 10 years before, did it just four times.

All of that information sets up this: over the last two days, the Bruins have held their opponents under 20 shots on goal in back-to-back games for the first time since that 2001-02 season (April 11 and 13 of that season, to be exact).

It’s a feat that in today’s NHL would be impressive at any time. But for the Bruins, it’s even more significant considering it followed Wednesday’s debacle in Detroit, when they surrendered six goals on one defensive breakdown after another.

“We want to put that game behind us,” Zdeno Chara said. “You’re going to have a game like that where everything is off. Hopefully there’s not too many of them. But after that game, we really wanted to focus on how we were going to play defensively, and more focused on us than the teams we play. Don’t get me wrong — we want to respect their strength and whatever they do well, but mainly we want to focus on how we’re going to implement our game plan.” Read the rest of this entry »

Read More: Claude Julien, Zdeno Chara,
Claude Julien on Torey Krug in OT: ‘He gets around’ 11.26.13 at 11:10 am ET
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Torey Krug was winning battles, big and small, Monday night. (AP)

Torey Krug was winning battles, big and small, Monday night. (AP)

There is a reason the Bruins were so high on Torey Krug going into the playoffs last spring.

They knew the 22-year-old had great puck-carrying ability, great speed and a laser of a shot. All three of those qualities were on display throughout the team’s run to the Stanley Cup finals. Turns out, Claude Julien is trying to unleash them more this season and overtime 4-on-4 play is perfectly suited to Krug’s skill set.

“Yeah, he gets around, he seems to find those gaps and everything else, those holes, and moves around really well,” Julien said after Krug unloaded a cannon past Marc-Andre Fleury Monday night just 34 seconds into overtime for the 4-3 game-winner. “So there’s no doubt it’s an area for him such as other players in the league; you look at guys like [Kris] Letang and other defensemen like that that love that kind of space because they move around so well. Tonight he was in the right place – Marchy [Brad Marchand] made a great pass there – but he picked that top corner; he knew where he was going with that shot.”

Krug knows in 4-on-4 hockey during overtime, he’s going to have more freedom, more space to maneuver.

“I love it,” Krug beamed. “A lot more room on the ice to skate and play with the puck, it’s more of a possession game, you’re not just chipping pucks up the wall and if you watch me play you understand I like to play with the puck so it’s a lot more fun for me for sure.”

He didn’t take long to take advantage Monday.

“It starts with the faceoff,” Krug said. “We had good puck pursuit, I don’t remember much of it but Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] made an unbelievable play to me on the far side. Their forwards were cheating a little bit, and I just missed the shot wide on that one and then we recovered the puck and it was just calm composure with the puck, especially up high on the blueline – those are dangerous areas. Our guys were keeping track of the puck and we had really good plays.

“The key is to make sure you hit the net, because if you don’t, it’s ramming out the other way and they’re going to get a break on that. There were a few times when I missed the net; right before I scored there was a shot that, Bergy [Patrice Bergeron] made an unbelievable pass to the middle and I got down there and I missed the net and I rode up the boards so, your focus is just getting in on that.”

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Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Marc-Andre Fleury, NHL
Claude Julien’s take on why Steven Stamkos is more universally beloved than other superstars 11.25.13 at 1:19 pm ET
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Claude Julien

Claude Julien

Claude Julien singing Steven Stamkos‘ praises a couple weeks after visiting him in the hospital certainly isn’t the first case of the Lightning superstar being a welcomed guest in Boston.

Stamkos, who has twice been injured on Garden ice, has long been well-received around these parts, and he’s one of the few star players in the game who seems to be universally beloved.

Even prior to the Max Pacioretty incident, Zdeno Chara was booed every time he touched the puck in another building. Opposing stars get booed in other towns regularly, so what is it about Stamkos [for what it's worth, he is one of the nicest people in professional sports] that makes him adored everywhere?

Julien had an interesting answer.

“What’s kind of unfortunate about the boos and that [is] a lot of it is based on what happens on the ice,” Julien said. “And we know Steve is not a dirty player. But yet, you get Zdeno, who is a physical player, and yet both of those people are just as equally good people; they’re quality people, but the perception of one versus the other is different. So you see the same thing with all those players.

“People are always going to cheer and respect the players that are not physical; they just go out and score goals and play the game. But if you’re physical at all, and you’re throwing your body around and you’re gritty and everything else, then you’re not going to get that same treatment. That’s my explanation for that. Steve is one of those hard-working guys that works hard and will get in the dirty areas but he’s not known as a dirty player — and he’s not.”

There’s obviously a lot of grey area not addressed there, as non-physical stars are booed plenty, but that’s a pretty interesting take from Julien regarding why Chara gets the treatment he does in other buildings.

Read More: Claude Julien, Steven Stamkos, Zdeno Chara,
Claude Julien visited Steven Stamkos in hospital at 1:10 pm ET
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Steven Stamkos broke his right tibia vs. the Bruins earlier this month. (AP)

Steven Stamkos broke his right tibia vs. the Bruins earlier this month. (AP)

Steven Stamkos had a rough time the last time he was in Boston, as he broke his tibia in the second period of a Lightning loss on Nov. 11 and had to stay in town to get surgery.

The NHL’s third-leading goal-scorer (still) was off crutches Monday as he met the Tampa media, and he revealed that B’s coach Claude Julien paid him a visit while he was in the hospital. He also received a text message from Zdeno Chara wishing him well on behalf of the Bruins.

“I had him at the Olympic Camp and I got to know Steve the person,” Julien said after Monday’s morning skate. “When you look at what he is in the league and what he’s accomplished, to have that happen to him I thought it was just important to go by and see how he was doing. It was as simple as that.

“Again, it’s a guy – I said that after the game – he’s one of those players that people from all the different cities come up to watch and play and he’s one of the reasons we fill buildings and you hate to see that, from anybody’s point of view, to see a guy like that get injured that way. So I stopped by and he certainly feels like he wants that opportunity to represent his country and he’s going to do everything he can and I just went there and kind of showed my support.”

For more on the Bruins, visit weei.com/bruins.

Read More: Claude Julien, Steven Stamkos, Zdeno Chara,
Reilly Smith is just trying to ‘keep the ball rolling’ 11.23.13 at 8:22 pm ET
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Reilly Smith (18) beats Cam Ward for his fourth goal of the season Saturday in Boston. (AP)

Reilly Smith (18) beats Cam Ward for his fourth goal of the season Saturday in Boston. (AP)

Bruins coach Claude Julien looks on the ice and sees the skill of Reilly Smith. Then he has to remind himself and others that he is just 22 years of age.

On Saturday, he saw a sure-fire sign that Smith is fully capable of handling the load at the NHL level. With 6:29 left in the second period of a 1-1 game, Smith broke in on Hurricanes goalie Cam Ward and had the puck on his backhand. Earlier in the season, Smith’s eyes might have gotten too big and he might have felt the pressure to rush the shot. But not Saturday. He waited.

Smith took a pass from Carl Soderberg in the low slot between the circles, skated across the crease and flipped the puck just hard enough that Ward couldn’t control it, providing the go-ahead goal, already the fourth of the season with his new team.

“Kells [Chris Kelly] was tied up in front so he kind of set up a good pick, I didn’t want to force it right through and I thought I might have a little more net going to my backhand,” Smith explained. “Cam [Ward] still almost had it so I was kind of lucky that it snuck through.”

Does Saturday’s patience on the goal show he’s getting more comfortable?

“Absolutely, just little things like that where probably a few weeks or a month ago I probably wouldn’t have done that, I probably would have tried to get it on net right away,” Smith said. “With every day, you build confidence.

“Every day gets a little bit easier. When you stay with the same linemates, for a few weeks or a month, everyday gets easier, chemistry builds every day so just take it day by day but I think everything is going pretty well right now, just try to keep the ball rolling.”

With Kelly and Carl Soderberg on the third line, the young winger acquired along with Loui Eriksson from Dallas for Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley is looking more and more ready to fit in on a regular basis.

“They just feel better more and more about playing together,” Julien said. “They’re reading off of each other extremely well; I said that earlier in an interview about how they’re just reading off each other, they’re anticipating, so they’re always on top of the puck. We still have some lines right now that are kind of waiting to see what the puck carrier is going to do with it and you hope that with time we can get that same level as that third line is right now of anticipating well. They know exactly where they want to go and where they’re going to put the puck so they’re on top of it all the time and the last few games they’ve had a lot of chances and a lot of offensive zone time.

“Again, we’re talking about a young player here. I keep saying it all the time, we always seem to overlook his age and he’s a young player. And the way I think he’s handled himself in pressure situations and handling the puck a little bit better and holding onto it. And at the same time, I thought tonight he shot the puck a little bit more; he had a little bit better of a nose for the net and before, looking to make plays versus shooting the puck. So he’s really turned a corner and is really coming along well for a young player.”

It’s not just Julien either. Smith is winning over veteran teammates at the same time.

“I didn’t know much about him before he got traded,” David Krejci said. “I know he’s a great player, he’s still young, but he’s playing like a ten year vet [veteran]. It’s good to see him doing well; hopefully he can keep it up.”

Read More: Boston Bruins, Claude Julien, Loui Eriksson, NHL
Claude Julien tweaks overtime approach to avoid shootout at 5:45 pm ET
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Claude Julien

Claude Julien

The Bruins showed they don’t like the shootout Thursday night by saying they don’t like the shootout. Claude Julien did it Saturday by loading up on forwards during overtime.

In an attempt to get some scoring during the five-minute 4-on-4 session, Julien played Patrice Bergeron’s line with Zdeno Chara and then David Krejci‘s line with Johnny Boychuk, so three forwards and one defenseman rather than two and two.

“We’ve practiced that this year when we’ve done our 4-on-4,” Julien said following the win. “For me, we haven’t been very lucky in shootouts — or we haven’t gotten much out of our shootouts — so I just thought it was important to maybe get a line out there, give us maybe some more offense because of the fact they’re used to playing with each other and not about taking that chance, but taking that strategy and having one defenseman there and making sure a forward always came back. Tonight it paid off.”

Julien’s move paid off, as the B’s got a goal from Krejci’s line when Jarome Iginla split two Hurricanes defenders to set up Krejci’s game-winning goal in Boston’s 3-2 win over Carolina.

Read More: Claude Julien, David Krejci,
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