Julien, Bruins reveal long-term rotation plans

564246.jpg

Julien, Bruins reveal long-term rotation plans

WILMINGTON The Bruins plan to combat their Stanley Cup hangover has been taking shape all season, but the past couple of days have revealed some helpful nuggets earmarked for this years Bruins team.

The Bs opted against on-ice practice on Tuesday morning at the behest of Claude Julien when he determined a mental health day away from the ice would do the players much more help than harm.

There may not be many chances to take an extra day off away from the ice for a team that never really got much of a break following their Stanley Cup victory, so Julien exercised one of those day off options on Tuesday before holding a near two-hour practice at Ristuccia Arena on Wednesday.

The practice began with Nathan Horton dropped to another new line, skating with David Krejci and Benoit Pouliot, and the formerly electric line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Rich Peverley was again reformed and ready for action against the Canadiens.

It was a plan right from the start of the season that we have to catch up on getting our rest, said Julien. A lot of it is more mental than physical. Our guys arent going to get out of shape in one day, but theyre certainly going to gain a lot more by staying away from the rink for another day.

When you look at the second half of the year its a really heavy schedule. So we wont get the luxury of days off come that time. If we just want to gauge on the results and that we have to punish more than we have to be smart about it, were going to get the right results at the end. We have to be smart and make good decisions about days off and the types of practices we have going forward. Were an optimistic group in there that thinks we can come back and play the way we can. Right now its less talk and more show, and its about starting to play the way we can.

Theres really no other way for the Bruins to go when theyve play 13 of their first 17 games at home, so there will be a price to be paid on the road.

But Julien seemed to be pining away for a long road trip for his hockey club, and it sounds like theres still some team bonding that needs to take place for the Black and Gold.

Its not easy when you have that schedule where youre home a lot. You want to take advantage of it, but once the guys are on the road together it gives them a good opportunity to bond, said Julien. We dont have that right now. So weve got to find other solutions to get us going and find ways to be a team that works together and plays together. Thats the big challenge right now. The excuses are there right now, but wed rather go out and find solutions to those problems right now instead.

Julien also had said the road-heavy second half schedule for the Bruins which stands as the single biggest impetus behind taking an extra day or two away from the ice in the first half plays into the ultimate goaltending rotation strategy for Tuukka Rask and Tim Thomas as well.

Thomas has played six out of eight games thus far, and the division of labor looks incredibly similar to that of last year when Thomas really just took over the position.

General manager Peter Chiarelli casually mentioned in a Tuesday State of the Bruins type conference call that hed expected Rask would have another start or two at this point in the season.

But interestingly enough Julien had to answer that charge through the media by pointing toward a busy second half thats going to require much more regular work from Rask between the pipes. The trick: keeping Rask sharp for those second half games when the Finnish goalie freely acknowledges hes never going to get used to the sporadic playing time for a backup goalie.

I didnt read or hear how it was said by Chiarelli, said Julien. All I know is that there was a plan to use Tuukka more this year. Its certainly not a judgment that needs to be made one month into the season. At the end of the year lets look at how many games Tuukka has played and well see if weve followed the plan or not.

Weve talked about the schedule in the second half getting heavier, and thats where Tuukka is really going to have to step up and help us out. Hes going to see some game time, but I dont think I would read into how were using one month into the season with this kind of schedule.

The plans are certainly in place to give the Bs a little extra rest and address that always tricky goaltending rotation between Rask and Thomas, but the best laid plans of a hockey organization arent going to matter much if they dont start consistently putting some Ws together.

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

Haggerty: Bruins get chance to show good results weren't just short term

The mission for the Bruins on their four-game road swing through the West Coast is certainly to keep the momentum going, but it’s also to quell any talk that the positive results will be short-lived following the coaching change.

The Bruins won there first three games interim head coach Bruce Cassidy headed into the five-day “bye week”, and they’ll come out on the other side with a potentially dangerous road swing through California that will finish up in Dallas next weekend. 

The Black and Gold have gone into death spirals before on the Cali trip, so that’s always a danger when going coast-to-coast to face tough teams in the Sharks, Ducks and Kings.

There’s also the fact that NHL teams are 3-10-2 as of Saturday afternoon in the first game coming back from the five-day midseason vacation. That means the B’s are going to face a stiff uphill battle on Sunday night against the Pacific Division-leading Sharks. 

The challenge is going to be there for the Bruins to answer all of those challenges when they’ve shrunk away from such adversity most of the season. It gives the Bruins yet another chance to show that the three games aren’t merely a sugar-high after cages had been rattled and is instead something that Boston sustains over the season’s final two-plus months.

“Our thinking is to try to win every game. We know the standings. We know it’s pretty tight. We put ourselves in some of the games in tough situations. Now, we’ve got to climb up and fight for every point,” said Zdeno Chara. “It’s going to be very important that we do that and play that way until the end.

“We can look at the standings as much as we want. I think that we really have to focus on how we play, how we want to go into every game, and what we can do to get as many points as possible.”

The good news for the Bruins is that the teams chasing them in the standings really haven’t gained ground on them, and they enter Saturday still in a playoff spot. So, the mathematics don’t look as dire for Boston as they did going into their rest period, and now they should be energized, recharged and highly motivated headed into the final 24 games of the season.

There’s also the fact that the Bruins were playing exciting, aggressive and winning hockey due to some of the tweaks made by Cassidy after taking control of the team. He finally got some production from the third line after putting forwards Frank Vatrano, Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes together, a combo he never truly gave a look because he didn’t trust them to do the job defensively. Cassidy immediately placed 21-year-old Peter Cehlarik into a top-six role with power-play time straight from the AHL. That’s something one almost never saw happen with rookies and inexperienced guys during Julien’s run.

The B’s defensemen corps scored four goals in the three wins and showed aggressive, timely risk-taking to produce offense when playing it safe was normally the call of the day under Julien. The forwards were avoiding the low-to-high passing to the point that so often resulted in perimeter shots from the Bruins in the offensive zone, and instead attacked the net down low with the forwards looking to put some anxiety into the opponent’s D-zone coverage.

It all worked and it all looked remarkably different from the way the Bruins played in the opening 55 games.

“It’s something we need to bottle up and not change our approach, not change what we’re doing, make sure we’re moving [during the bye] and not just sitting idle and getting rusty,” said David Backes last weekend headed into the bye. “Make sure that mentally, we can have those same sort of mindsets for every guy to be contributing. It’s something that doesn’t show up on the score sheet, but guys are recognized in here for doing those things and that’s winning culture. That’s what we’re building.”

The Bruins now get their chance to prove this is a permanent change to a winning culture rather than a short term, three-game adrenaline rush after watching their longtime coach get fired. It won’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be for the Black and Gold if they’re finally going to earn their way into the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time in three seasons. 

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Saturday, Feb. 18: NHL more likely in Seattle than NBA?

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading, while hoping that Purple Passion doesn’t try the same comeback as Zima.

*A Seattle investor says that an NHL team coming to that city is much more likely than a return by the NBA to the Pacific Northwestern city.

*Gare Joyce writes eloquently about the loneliness of a hockey scout, and how that world can sometimes come to a crashing halt.  

*Good piece from Arpon Basu giving the sights and sounds of Claude Julien’s second stint behind the bench with the Montreal Canadiens.

*The agent for Russian player Maxim Shalunov says there is a “10 percent chance” that he’s going to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks.

*Mike Babcock says not to expect any big trade deadline deals from the Toronto Maple Leafs as they push for a playoff spot.

*Henrik Zetterberg reflects on a difficult season with the Detroit Red Wings where it looks like things might finally come down to a crashing halt.

http://www.detroitnews.com/story/sports/nhl/red-wings/2017/02/17/red-wings-zetterberg-reflects-tough-season/98064530/

*The Minnesota Wild have underrated depth on their team, and the Hockey News says it might just be their scariest attribute.

*For something completely different: as referenced above, it looks like that Zima drink of the 1990s is trying to make a comeback. I was in college when the Zima people were seemingly flooding campuses with advertising and samples back in the day.