BOSTON (CBS) — A hockey coach generally mixes up his lines for one or a number of various reasons, and depending on how those changes work out, the move will either go largely unnoticed or the coach will be hailed as a genius. Either way, it generally takes a period or two, or even a game or two, for judgment to be passed.
For Claude Julien on Wednesday night, it took all of 14 seconds.
The Bruins’ bench boss entered the game against the Canadiens with a shorthanded crew. Brad Marchand couldn’t play due to a shoulder injury, and fourth liners Daniel Paille and Shawn Thornton were back in Boston recovering from injuries of their own. Julien had to insert into the lineup Jamie Tardif, he of 5:03 of total ice time in the NHL, and Ryan Spooner, the 21-year-old who would be making his NHL debut. Gregory Campbell, normally the fourth-line center, had to move up and play wing on the second line with Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin, and for two periods at the Bell Centre, the Bruins couldn’t generate the chances they wanted.
So after two periods, Julien decided to make a change. He slid Seguin up to the top line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic, and before most fans had settled back in their seats for the third period, Seguin was taking a perfect pass from Krejci and scoring on a backhand to tie the game at 1-1. The players hadn’t even finished celebrating before TSN analyst Mike Johnson began his praise of Julien.
“Brilliant coaching by Claude Julien,” Johnson immediately said on the Canadian broadcast.
Julien looked brilliant yet again less than two minutes later, when that newly assembled line scored what proved to be the game-winner. Lucic carried the puck down the left side, with Seguin and Krejci both crashing the net. With Seguin occupying defenseman Andrei Markov, Lucic was able to weave a pass to the tape of Krejci’s stick, and he tipped it home for the goal.
While the moves led directly to two much-needed goals, Julien didn’t make too much about his roster shake-up, indicating it seemed to be a pretty simple decision for him.
“There are some nights when things don’t go well. We know that Krejci line has been awesome, but tonight they didn’t seem to be able to generate much,” Julien said of the Lucic-Krejci-Horton line. “I said why not move guys around here, maybe give them a little spark? And it worked out.
“Guys responded well,” Julien said. “You look at [Seguin] driving the net on that first goal, and [Horton] almost scored on his first shift, too. … It gave us a little spark and an opportunity to score a couple goals.”
What made the move somewhat surprising, even amid all the injuries, is that the Krejci line has been the Bruins’ most consistent line all season. While their point totals might not have jumped off the stat sheet, the trio of Lucic, Krejci and Horton has proven to be able to sustain long possessions in the offensive end and generate a healthy number of scoring chances. Horton, too, has seemed to be back to his old self, coming up huge in big spots. He scored game-tying goals in the third period to force overtime against New Jersey and New York, and he assisted on Krejci’s game-winner in the final two minutes against Carolina.
So to break up that line, even temporarily, was a risky move for Julien, especially with Horton’s propensity for coming through late in tight games. But the coach followed his gut feeling, and it proved to be a winning strategy.
It may provide an additional benefit for the team, too, as Seguin’s goal was his first “real” goal of the year, as his only other tally came on an empty net in Carolina.
“He hasn’t been that bad. He’s been playing much better lately, but he hasn’t been getting the results on the score sheet,” Julien said of Seguin. “Maybe that goal is going to certainly help his confidence and give him a boost here so he can continue to score some big goals for us like that.”
Despite the instantaneous results on Tuesday, it’s obviously too soon to guess whether there will be a carry-0ver effect. And with Marchand, Thornton and Paille all possibilities to return to the lineup on Saturday, it’s unlikely any of the new lines will stick together. After all, in addition to the success of the Krejci line, Marchand also built the team lead in goals with five while skating alongside Bergeron and Seguin, so it’s not as if change is needed.
But for one period, Julien looked pretty darn smart as his decision helped fuel a third-period comeback that preserved first place for the Bruins. If he was really smart and wanted to capitalize on his good fortune, he would’ve bought a lottery ticket on his way to the airport before flying home to Boston.