Haggerty: Habs already terming Julien 'a superstar', which may be a bit much

Haggerty: Habs already terming Julien 'a superstar', which may be a bit much

The second Claude Julien era officially gets underway in Montreal with both GM Marc Bergevin and Julien himself addressing the media on Wednesday about his hiring just a week after he was fired by the Bruins.

Bergevin termed the 54-year-old Julien “a superstar” in the coaching ranks who the Habs were obviously tickled to be able to put behind the bench and replace outgoing coach Michel Therrien after he was kicked to the curb on Tuesday.

“Claude brings credibility, experience, and is a proven Stanley Cup winner,” said Bergevin, who perhaps strained credibility a bit when he stated he didn’t make his decision based on the timing of the Black and Gold relieving Julien of his duties last week. “It wasn't an easy decision, but I've always said I would do what's best for the club.”


There’s little doubt that Julien is a very good hockey coach. That’s backed up by the 419 regular season wins for the Bruins the past 10 years along with the 2011 Stanley Cup title and seven consecutive playoff appearances. He brought defensive structure to a floundering organization and paid attention to detail and discipline while demanding a great deal from his players in terms of two-way play and defensive responsibility.

He's the best Bruins coach of my lifetime and arguably the best coach that the franchise ever enjoyed in their long and illustrious history. 

But do “superstar” coaches miss the Stanley Cup playoffs three years in a row as Julien had the Bruins poised to do as they limped through January and February prior to the coaching change? Surely, the roster wasn’t as talented now as it was in the two trips to the Cup Finals in 2011 and 2013, but it was stunning to watch the Bruins go from President’s Trophy winners to DNQs for the playoffs the next two seasons.

Those two B’s campaigns were characterized by a lessened roster due to a mostly barren prospect cupboard, cap problems and some very questionable, if not downright nonsensical, moves by the front office. But they were also shrouded in underachieving teams that collapsed down the stretch each of the past two seasons, and a recurring failure to play consistently or be ready to play an alarming number of times in each of those seasons.

There is plenty of blame to go around on what befell the B’s over the past three years. Management, coaches and players all play a part in the degradation of the franchise from legit contenders to mostly pretenders. However, they were still talented enough to make the playoffs each of the past three seasons with a number of gifted holdovers from the Bruins teams that made it to the Cup Finals. Julien couldn’t help guide, coax and cajole the remaining talent to get there. Meanwhile, the first three games under Bruce Cassidy have been eye-opening to the possibilities of what an aggressive, up-tempo and offensively assertive system could do to unlock the talent within the Black and Gold.

So, while Julien is a good hockey coach and a classy human being off the ice who deserves to have everything he may get in Montreal as he takes over a first-place team late in the season, let’s not turn him into the second coming of Scotty Bowman after the fact either.

Julien was never able to maximize the elite talent within players such as Phil Kessel, Tyler Seguin and Dougie Hamilton as high-end lottery draft picks. That all played a part in their early playoff exits for the Original Six franchise. Some even said that Julien's conservative coaching ways were part of the reason Jimmy Vesey veered away from the Bruins when he was mulling over his NHL options this summer. 

The bottom line is that “superstar” coaches maximize the talent on their roster in all instances and get the most out of their best players. That wasn’t happening anymore in Boston with a young, skilled group that didn’t really jive with the conservative, controlled system that Julien prefers when the going gets tough. 

Bruins know they 'have to be better defensively' to close out Leafs

File photo

Bruins know they 'have to be better defensively' to close out Leafs

TORONTO – The Bruins have scored less than three goals exactly once in their playoff series with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Offense really hasn’t been an issue against a Toronto team that can’t consistently stop the Black and Gold. No, it’s much more about defense and slowing down the Maple Leafs while keeping preventable goals out of the back of their net. 

Some of it is about effectively cutting down the transition, stretch passes that Toronto likes to use to kick-start their offense, and that’s about minimizing the risk-taking offensively while also taking care not to allow leaking, sneaking opponents behind their defense. Some of it is just about good, fundamental defense as the Bruins simply didn’t play 2-on-2 situations very well on rushes from the Toronto forwards in their Game 5 loss at TD Garden. 

All of it is about holding players like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nazem Kadri in check as the Bruins have done for long stretches of the series with a steady diet of Zdeno Chara greeting the Leafs franchise center wherever he goes.

“In games like that we have to be a little better defensively,” said Brad Marchand, referring to Game 5’s defeat where they scored three goals. “We can’t expect to score five goals every game, so we can’t be giving up four [goals]. If we’re a little bit better there and continue to pepper away with the shots, hopefully things will work in our favor.”

Bruce Cassidy went through each of the first three goals allowed by the Bruins in their Game 5 loss last weekend, and each of them needed better “rush defense” executed by the Bruins. The first was a simple one-man rush into the zone by Matthews, the second was Andreas Johnsson getting behind the Bruins defense before connecting with Kadri on a perfect pass, and the third was a backbreaking Tyler Bozak score from the slot after the Bruins had just scored and grabbed momentum in the game. All of them arrived via Toronto’s speed and aggressive mindset entering the offensive zone, and that’s something Boston has stifled to a much more effective degree until Saturday night.  

“They make a play up the wall where we’re normally there to contest that, slide and have the appropriate adjustment between the forward and the ‘D.’ We didn’t slide until the rush. That will be addressed and was addressed. That’s what we need to do against Toronto when we have the numbers and we didn’t do it,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Then they won a puck at the net where we’re generally good there, but they got it to the net. Give them credit, they got it there. They got it to the net and won a battle by going to the dirty areas. 

“The second goal was a 2-on-2 and a good play, but still a 2-on-2. We need to defend it better from our end. From their end, it’s a nice play. The third goal was a quick up, we were a little late trying to kill it. … We were a little late in every area, we needed a save there and we didn’t get it. So those are the three goals I look at, and I look at the rush defense that could have been better.”

Given that the Bruins have scored 20 goals in the five playoff games vs. Toronto and hit the 40 shots on net three different times in the best-of-seven series, it’s about holding the Leafs down a little more effectively as they’ve done in their three wins. If the Bruins can play sound defense and once again slow down the Maple Leafs track meet on the ice, then it’s highly doubtful this series will be going back to Boston for a Game 7. 


Bruce Cassidy looking to 'tinker' with Bruins lineup for Game 6

USA TODAY Sports Photo

Bruce Cassidy looking to 'tinker' with Bruins lineup for Game 6

TORONTO – After failing to close out the Maple Leafs on home ice in Game 5 and not getting off to a great start in the game either, Bruce Cassidy may end up making a change to the lineup for Monday night’s Game 6 at the Air Canada Centre. 

Cassidy didn’t really elaborate while speaking to the media after Monday’s morning skate other than to say the coaching staff is “deliberating” over the 12 forwards and six D-men, and that they may “tinker” with the lineup. 

“Right now it looks like everybody is at our disposal [from a health perspective],” said Cassidy, referencing the team’s health entering Monday night’s close-out game for the Bruins. “We’re deliberating. Everybody is healthy, so there won’t be anybody out because of health as far as I’m aware of. But we may tinker with the lineup tonight…yes.”


The best guess here is that rookie winger Danton Heinen may be coming out of the lineup after going scoreless in the first five games (a minus-1 with just four shots on net) of this playoff series, and that it might be time for another appearance from highly skilled Ryan Donato on the third line. Certainly Donato could add a little bit more of an offensive dimension to the third line and would become an option for Cassidy to insert into the Bruins power play as well. 

Here are the projected Bruins line combos and D-pairings against the Maple Leafs in Game 6 based on the morning skate: