BOSTON (CBS) – Bruins coach Claude Julien has a favorite slogan when he doesn’t want to answer a question about a decision he has made about his lineup or his roster.
“It’s called coaching, guys,” Julien always responds through his bitter beer face.
That’s Julien’s way of shutting down second guessers when they’re in his presence. He doesn’t want others to throw their doubts at him so that he can independently make his choices. That’s the approach that has worked for Julien throughout his coaching career, and it also means that the buck stops with him, whether the Bruins succeed or fail.
So, without a doubt, Julien gets all of the blame and all of the credit for a couple moves he made in the Bruins’ dramatic 4-3 overtime victory Sunday against a junior varsity Buffalo Sabres team that was playing two men short for much of the game at TD Garden.
After lecturing anyone within earshot for a few days about the importance of keeping the line of Loui Eriksson, Chris Kelly and Carl Soderberg together because they were doing all the scoring for a team that can barely score lately, Julien started the Sabres’ contest with Eriksson on a line with David Krejci and Milan Lucic. Clearly he second guessed himself on that declaration, and it nearly cost the Bruins.
Lucic assisted on Eriksson’s overtime game-winner during while the Bruins were in the midst of a line change. Otherwise, Krejci, Lucic and Eriksson, whose only prior lengthy stretch of experience together came in the preseason, failed to produce anything worth puffing up a coach’s chest about. They spent some time in the attack zone, but were easy as butter to play against.
So late in the second period, Julien second guessed his second guess – or maybe it’s called third guessing – and went back to the Swedes with Kelly. The Bruins had just fallen behind Buffalo 2-1 on a Brian Flynn power play goal and the embarrassment of losing to the lowly Sabres was getting closer to becoming reality. But with Soderberg and Eriksson working down low and Kelly posted up between the hash marks, the Bruins tied the score 2-2 when Kelly tipped Zdeno Chara’s shot into the back of the net at 15:36.
Now, Julien should take some advice from one his smartest players: Lucic.
“When you look at it right now, there’s no reason to take them apart. They’ve been our best line especially the last three games,” Lucic said. “You know they got it going in Minnesota. They played a pretty good game in Winnipeg. And obviously another good game here today. It’s good that at least one line is clicking and it’s up to the rest of us to find our game. And that’s the importance of being a good team, is having every line going that you can go after teams wave after wave, in waves, and line after line. You know it’s up to the rest of us to step up our game and play like the Soderberg line has been playing.”
You might think the entire Bruins lineup, especially Eriksson and Soderberg, would’ve been begging the coach to put that line back together. But Eriksson said it was all coaching.
“He probably knows we’ve been playing pretty good together too with that line. We know how to play with each other so it was kind of easy for me to go in with that line again,” Eriksson said.
Eriksson now has two overtime goals in the past three games and four goals in the past eight games overall. He’s really the only hot hand on that line, as Kelly’s goal was his first in 23 games and Soderberg has one goal in 17 games. But on a team that’s averaging just 2 ½ goals per game and is ranked in the bottom third in the NHL in offense, that’s what passes for “doing all the scoring” with the Bruins these days.
I’ve advocated for giving Eriksson a lengthy look as Lucic and Krejci’s third. But points are too important right now to mess around. Julien has to avoid second, third and fourth guesses and stick to what he knows. Eriksson and Soderberg belong together, and Kelly seems to be a sweet fit for the Swedes.
“I know we’re kind of coming from the same kind of system in Sweden and everything,” Eriksson said. “We’re finding ways to find each other out there, making plays. So it’s always nice when you find that player to play with. It’s a little easier to play the game.”
Anything that makes life easier for the Bruins is something Julien should lean on. That means start the lineup with Kelly, Soderberg and Eriksson together, and then figure out where the other nine players fit in.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog.
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