By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Even after victories, Bruins coach Claude Julien isn’t usually overflowing with praise for individual players.
It’s not that Julien doesn’t appreciate his players’ efforts, but he mostly likes to credit the entire team as a unit in the tradition of his idol, Bill Belichick.
But after the Bruins defeated the Los Angeles Kings 1-0 at TD Garden on Sunday – just their second win in their past seven games (2-3-2) – Julien was asked about defenseman Colin Miller. And the response was enough to make one think Julien has a gleam in his eye for Miller.
“Well today and last game, I really think Colin is really playing some of his best hockey,” Julien said. “So it’s nice to see that and we’re hoping that that’s what’s to come because he’s been really good playing the way he has. He’s assertive, he’s moving the puck, he’s skating the puck well, he’s got a good shot. So it’s just a matter of making sure that he builds on that and continues to develop in that area and we’ll be happy with him.”
Miller landed three shots on net and, in a game featuring 17 blocked shots by the Kings, didn’t have any of his attempts stopped by Kings players other than goaltender Peter Budaj in 17:48 of ice time. His most important shot was one he didn’t get on net, though, as it led to the only goal of the game.
The Bruins ran a set play off a Dominic Moore faceoff win in the Los Angeles zone. Jimmy Hayes snuck in and grabbed the puck before passing it up the wall to Miller. After faking a slap shot Miller skated a couple strides and released a wrist shot from the top of the right circle into traffic, where Hayes deflected into the back of the Kings’ net.
The assist was Miller’s first point in three games since he scored a goal at Washington on Dec. 7.
Much like Julien, Miller hopes his past couple games are the start of his emergence as a regular in the Bruins lineup.
“I don’t know, we have eight solid defensemen on this team, so it’s going to happen [getting scratched], I think especially with Joe [Morrow] and me being the younger guys, it’s going to happen,” said Miller, who was scratched for three straight before he returned to the lineup Thursday and had one shot in 20:30 of ice time against Anaheim.
“You just try to be as consistent as you can and that’s something I haven’t done as often lately. But hopefully I can continue it here.”
The Bruins have eight defensemen but there’s no telling how long John-Michael Liles will be out with his concussion. The decision for Julien between Miller and Morrow for most of this season has been a coin flip because neither player had separated himself. Clearly Miller has opened Julien’s eyes now.
Anyone can talk about consistency, but what does that actually mean for a 24-year-old defenseman in his second season in the NHL?
“I think from game to game different circumstances are going to appear,” said Miller, who has 2-3-5 totals in 24 games this season. “Tonight there was a little more open ice for you to be able to skate and stuff like that.”
Miller went on to explain that if he knew the key to consistency, he would do that. It’s a tired cliché athletes have resorted to for years. It’s part frightening because it hints that the player doesn’t know what he does right when he’s playing well, and it’s part a sign of denial that there are things he sometimes doesn’t do right. Miller hasn’t taken advantage of his chances to play before now and that’s caught him in an old-school chicken-egg game where Julien can’t play him because Miller hasn’t proven himself but he might play better if he played more often.
One thing Miller has to do is get his shot through to the net front area, if not the net, more often than not. He once had the hardest shot in the AHL and aside from Zdeno Chara probably has the hardest shot on the Bruins. Opponents respect that, so he has to adjust.
“I think maybe a little shorter backswing,” Miller said about one of his adjustments.
Miller can also be more effective offensively by doing what he did before Hayes’ goal. A faked shot here, a wrist shot there, and all of a sudden predictability goes out the door and there’s more room for Miller to launch his rocket.
Miller can’t just focus on offense, obviously. He was much better without the puck against the Kings as well, coming up with a clutch icing late in the third period and making several solid plays on attempted zone entries by Los Angeles. He seems to be brimming with confidence, which is probably one of the main ingredients that will help him become consistent.
There’s little doubt Julien is going to give Miller more chances to play after he impressed the coach the past two games. The chicken-egg game may end and we’ll find out once and for all if Miller can be the type of player the Bruins thought he’d become when they traded for him.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.