BOSTON (CBS) – Thirty games into the Bruins’ abbreviated 48-game NHL schedule, coach Claude Julien decided it was time to stop messing around.
How did he send that message? Well, to start, he had his players mess around.
The Bruins, fresh off a 3-2 loss in Toronto Saturday, took the TD Garden ice Sunday with different forward combinations. Then the squad split in half and played a solid 10 minutes of shinny with each player forced to shoot from his off side – lefties right-handed and vice versa – before getting down to a little business with breakouts and battle drills.
Even if the Bruins players’ haven’t been working all that hard lately, at least we know the coach has been on the clock pondering knew ways to spark his club. During his team’s 1-3-0 road trip, Julien scratched veteran Rich Peverley in Ottawa and decided to give Anton Khudobin his first consecutive starts in goal this season in Ottawa and Toronto.
Those moves played to mixed results, with Khudobin holding down the fort long enough for the Bruins to get their lone win on the trip Thursday against the Senators. Still, the team scored just six goals in the four games, and Julien Sunday chalked up his line juggling and other practice amusements to a search for offense.
No one could blame Julien’s desperation when it comes to the lack of scoring. The numbers are ugly and not fitting of a team that’s supposed to have so much firepower. Milan Lucic is goal-less in his last 15 games. Nathan Horton has scored once in his last 13, while Patrice Bergeron scored twice in one game and is goal-less in the eight surrounding contest. Brad Marchand has scored once in 10 games and Tyler Seguin just twice in eight.
But maybe there’s more at work here. In the immediate aftermath of the Bruins’ loss in Toronto, Julien pointed toward a lack of competitive energy for the full 60 minutes as the real reason the Bruins finished the road trip on a losing note. With the team aligned differently and playing funny shinny games Sunday, the attention from the media was off the desire and heart and more about the obvious attempts by Julien to fire up his squad.
Maybe Julien will leave the new lines together against the Leafs Monday. Or maybe he’ll juggle the lines some more, or return the trios to their previous form. Nonetheless, any grilling from the media about effort was limited to the Saturday postgame. Julien and his staff undoubtedly let his players have it on that subject after the game and decided it was time to turn the page.
Even if Julien’s line juggling was and is an attempt to squeeze some offense out of his recently underachieving bunch, the coach succeeded in also taking some of the heat off his players. That could pay off as much as seeing if Marchand can find his scoring touch playing with David Krejci and Horton, or seeing if Daniel Paille is a better left-wing fit for Bergeron and Seguin.
When it comes down to it, the Bruins could send every forward combination possible onto the ice Monday against the Leafs, and it won’t matter unless they take the game as serious as necessary and play harder. There was too much coasting in Toronto, not enough fire in Ottawa (despite the win) and no killer instinct in Winnipeg.
Only a better 18-man effort will get the Bruins out of their current morass.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes coverage to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.