Bruins

Haggerty: Julien to Habs a stunner, but we'll see if it makes them better

Haggerty: Julien to Habs a stunner, but we'll see if it makes them better

It’s an Original Six twist right out of the Boston-vs.-Montreal playbook: The Habs canning head coach Michel Therrien on Tuesday and hiring Claude Julien just a week after the B’s bench boss was turfed in Boston.

One thing is for certain: The Bruins-Canadiens rivalry, one that’s taken turns over the years alternating between bitter blood feud and one holding the upper hand over the other, is about to get hot again.

Can you imagine the kind of blood-boiling, frothing-at-the-mouth vengeance that the proud, distinguished Julien must be feeling toward the Bruins for him to eschew all the NHL gigs waiting for him this offseason, and instead sign right on with the Canadiens in midseason?

It’s surprising on one level that the B's allowed Julien to take the job in Montreal. But that would have been a shabby move to block a well-respected coach like Julien from moving on, especially after last week’s embarrassing display of firing him during the Patriots' Super Bowl celebration.

Not to mention, it’s about time the Bruins stopped operating out of fear of what might happen negatively when they make hockey decisions.

They should be confident they made the right move after watching the team play an energized, aggressive brand of hockey under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy, and needn’t fear Julien bringing his conservative, defensive-minded system to Montreal given that they view it as a relic of the NHL past. Instead the Canadiens should be concerned that they’ve hired someone who's finding it increasingly difficult to thrive in an NHL that’s trending toward speed, youth, skill and an aggressive, high-risk style that's heavy on offense.

The Habs, on the other hand, are delighted at their good fortune welcoming back a French-Canadian coach who already understands the demands of the job after guiding Montreal from 2003-06, and one who certainly wants to stick it to a Bruins team that kicked him to the curb. His Francophone background checks off all the boxes demanded by the fan base and region, and his resume has grown to legendary proportions since first getting fired by the Habs more than 10 years ago.

"Claude Julien is an experienced and well-respected coach with a good knowledge of the Montreal market,” Habs owner Geoff Molson said in a statement. “Claude has been very successful as an NHL coach and he won the Stanley Cup. Today we hired the best available coach, and one of the league's best. I am convinced that he has the capabilities to get our team back on the winning track.”

The one issue Julien will have in Montreal that he did in Boston was getting the best out of young players. People like Alex Galchenyuk, Nathan Beaulieu and Brendan Gallagher are key to the Canadiens' sustained success in the NHL’s salary-cap world. Julien's inability to properly integrate the young players into the Bruins lineup was part of what cost him his job in Boston, and the noticeable uptick from Jimmy Hayes, Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano since his firing is noteworthy.

The simple fact is, Julien never trusted Vatrano, Spooner and Hayes enough defensively to put them together as a forward line, yet they’ve been good and productive in the three games as a skilled third line under Cassidy. Julien also would have never installed a 21-year-old rookie like Peter Cehlarik on the power play immediately upon his arrival from the AHL. Cassidy did that in his first two NHL games, and was rewarded with a pair of assists in Sunday night's shutout win over, ironically, the Canadiens.

Julien instead will have veteran players like Shea Weber, Alexei Emelin, Tomas Plekanec and Carey Price who can help him put his defensive structure in place. Montreal fans should expect things to get conservative and veteran-heavy with a grind-it-out philosophy that appeared to finally wear out the players in Boston after 10 years.

No matter what happens, there will be second-guessers and hot-take artists who will crucify the Bruins if Julien rides into Montreal and rights the Habs ship with a team that’s been in first place nearly all season in the Atlantic Division. The Claude Fan Club will wring their its hands and say that the Bruins never should have fired the best coach they’ve ever had, even as the evidence mounted a head-coaching change was absolutely necessary. Just because someone is a good coach doesn’t make them a good fit for the personnel on a particular team, which is absolutely the situation that developed in Boston over the last couple of seasons.

So bon voyage to Claude Julien, as he steps over the line into enemy territory, and casts a dark, foreboding cloud over his 10 glorious years in Boston.

Above all else, it makes for a great story.

The hatred will be palpable on the ice as the Bruins and Habs suddenly have a ton to play for -- beyond even the standings -- the next time they meet. It’s just a shame they don’t play again over the final few months of this regular season, to see just exactly how that would all play out.

Instead everybody will have to hope that somehow, someway these two teams wind up facing each other in the playoffs where the drama, the high emotions and the cold, cold dish of possible revenge would make for some damned good postseason hockey.

For now, though, Julien has officially severed his ties with the Bruins. And the Black and Gold should feel good about what they saw from their own team in Cassidy's three games headed into the bye week.  

Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

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Even in their struggles, Bruins have reason(s) to be thankful

Thanksgiving in the United States has become an important holiday in NHL circles because it provides a regular-season marker that allows teams to gauge their playoff viability. Roughly 75 percent of teams in a playoff spot at Turkey Day end up qualifying for the postseason, and teams within a handful of points of a playoff spot retain a pretty decent chance of pushing their way in. 

But Thanksgiving is also a great time for teams like the Bruins to also give thanks, just like everybody else, while they’re passing the turkey, the stuffing and the mashed potatoes.

Given that it’s the time of being thankful ahead of the holiday season, here is this humble hockey writer’s annual list of things that each member of the Bruins has to be thankful for as they sit down to enjoy a tryptophan-induced nap:
 
David Pastrnak – The 21-year-old is still thankful for the big bucks he signed for this fall . . . $40 million, to be exact. That should keep him in $8 sushi meals at the mall food court for as long as he wants them.
 
Brad Marchand –Marchand is thankful he finally got bumped up to the top power-play unit over the last couple of seasons, after Claude Julien really dragged his feet putting him there. Eleven power-play goals and 29 power-play points in his last 94 games certainly tell the story.
 
Patrice Bergeron – Bergeron is happy and thankful that he’s regained his health after missing the start this season, and that he’s been able to adequately handle the 21:01 of ice time he’s averaging per game.
 
Torey Krug – Krug is thankful he can again eat a nice steak dinner after being forced to have his food come out of a blender for months after fracturing his jaw during the preseason. Of course, that goes for a nice turkey dinner on Thanksgiving as well.
 
Danton Heinen – The 22-year-old is thankful for second chances after he whiffed during an eight-game audition last season in his first year of pro hockey. He’s making up for it by cementing a role with the Bruins this season now that he’s stronger, faster and a little more confident with the puck.
 
Charlie McAvoy – The 19-year-old defenseman is thankful he decided to leave BU after his sophomore season, making the very correct deduction that he was way more than ready for the NHL. If he plays his cards right, he may be thankful at the end of the season for a Calder Trophy.
 
Anders Bjork – The rookie is thankful that the B’s will be playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the Winter Classic at his alma mater, Notre Dame, next season. He may get to live out a lifelong dream of playing a hockey game on that iconic football field.
 
Jake DeBrusk – The rookie left winger is thankful that he got to score his first NHL goal in front of his family and his teary-eyed dad, Louie, during a pretty cool opening-night win over the Nashville Predators.
 
Tim Schaller – The New Hampshire native is thankful to be playing for his hometown hockey team, of course, but he’s more than just a local boy made good. Tim Schaller has been a positive factor for the bottom-6 with his size, speed and intermittent offense.
 
Zdeno Chara – The captain is thankful that both he and his employer agree that the 40-year-old D-man should continue playing for the Bruins beyond this season. Now it’s just a matter of agreeing on a contract at some point.
 
David Krejci – The playmaking center is thankful his cranky back has loosened up enough for him to get back in the lineup. Now the Bruins and their fans would be thankful if the points would start to follow now that he’s healthy enough to play.
 
Riley Nash – The forward is thankful that the B's thought enough of him to protect him in the expansion draft last summer, a show of commitment to a versatile, smart player who does a lot of little things well.
 
Sean Kuraly – The young center is thankful that he hasn’t yet hurt himself taking the jumping, flying and leaping goal celebrations that he’s quickly becoming known for.
 
Kevan Miller – The defenseman is thankful he’s back playing his natural right side for the most part after being pushed into left-side duty for much of the first couple of months this season.
 
Brandon Carlo – The second-year defenseman is thankful to still be on the Bruins, and not used as possible trade collateral in a possible Matt Duchene deal that was discussed quite a bit last year and through the summer.
 
Jordan Szwarz – The 26-year-old forward is thankful for another NHL opportunity in Boston after he’d gone a couple of years without a sniff during his time in the Arizona Coyotes organization after some early games with them.
 
Frank Vatrano – The Bruins forward and East Longmeadow native should frankly be happy that he’s still in the NHL given the training camp and early season he had with the Bruins. He’s scored a couple of goals and played well lately, so he has to hope that he’s pushed through the bad times.
 
Noel Acciari – The Providence College alum is happy to be healthy again after missing a month with a broken finger, and he’s proven that by going right back to the heavy hitting, shot-blocking tough kid that he’s always been.
 
Ryan Spooner – The speedy playmaker is thankful to be over his torn groin. He needs a strong season in order to once, and for all, show exactly what he could be to the Bruins, or some other team, at the NHL level.
 
Adam McQuaid – The veteran defenseman is thankful that he wasn’t selected by the Vegas Golden Knights in the expansion draft last summer, and instead continues to be a strong, robust presence in the D-zone when healthy.
 
David Backes – The 33-year-old forward is thankful to be back skating again after a couple of painful  bouts with diverticulitis that left him in surgery with 10 inches of his colon being removed. I'm still amazed that he returned to practice as quickly as he did, but he is a hockey player after all.
 
Paul Postma – The  D-man is thankful to be getting a second chance with another organization after spending his entire career with the Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets.
 
Matt Beleskey – The winger is thankful that he’s getting a chance to bounce back from last year’s down season, but so far the zero points and minus-7 rating in 13 games leave lots of room for improvement.
 
Tuukka Rask – The No. 1 goaltender is thankful for all the rest he’s getting in the first half of the season, which should presumably make him healthy, fresh and strong down the stretch this season. That is, if he can actually get back in touch with a game that sees him with a turkey-like .897 save percentage right now.  
 
Anton Khudobin – The backup netminder is thankful he’s been given a chance to run with things this season as he’s already twice had a chance to start three games in a row after struggling to gain regular playing time last season.
 
Bruce Cassidy – The coach is thankful for another shot behind an NHL bench 13 years after the first one, and he’s making the most of it with a rag-tag group beset by injuries and youth right now.
 
Don Sweeney – The general manager is thankful the team is still within a handful of points of a playoff spot after everything that went wrong in the first couple of months.
 
Cam Neely – The tean president is thankful for the overwhelming talent within their youth movement and the strong, loyal fan base that backs this team no matter what. But it could be a bit of a rough ride ahead, as the B's rank fourth among the big four Boston sports teams, given how good, deep and close to championship-caliber the others are right now. 

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Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

Talking Points: Khudobin keeps rolling in shootout win

GOLD STAR: Who else but Anton Khudobin? The Bruins backup netminder improved to 6-0-2 on the season and upped his NHL-leading save percentage to .938 while making 40 saves in a shootout win over the New Jersey Devils. Khudobin was outstanding stoning players like Nico Hischier and Blake Coleman on breakaways, and stood tall in the third period while the Bruins were outshot 15-5 and ended up tying the game. Even better Khudobin was super-competitive in the shootout where he was challenging shooters, and even stared down Hischier after he poke-checked the puck away from him on his attempt. The Bruins don’t win Wednesday night’s game without Khudobin playing the way he did, and that should pretty much guarantee that he plays again on Friday afternoon against the Penguins.

BLACK EYE: One shot and one hit in 8:28 of ice time for Jimmy Hayes in his first game against his old Bruins team, so pretty much par for the course from the underachieving big guy. Hayes has scored a couple of goals for the Devils this season, but he’s been mostly the same as in the past with sporadic scoring, intermittent tough guy play in the danger areas and then long stretches where you don’t even notice the 6-foot-6 guy out on the ice. Of the two ex-Bruins forwards going up against their old team tonight, Drew Stafford was by far the better of the two with three shots on net and at least one pretty decent scoring chance among them after stealing a puck from Frank Vatrano.

TURNING POINT: The Bruins set things up for their shootout win with a strong opening first period when it came to finishing off plays. Yes, they were outshot by a 15-10 margin, but they also made two big plays with Jake DeBrusk scoring a goal and then David Pastrnak setting up Patrice Bergeron for his fifth goal of the season. Beyond that Anton Khudobin also stopped 14 pucks in the first period that included a number of scoring chances for the Devils, and it showed what the Bruins are capable of when they’re on the right side of some key plays early in the game. Sure, the Devils clawed their way back in, but the Bruins felt like they had the game in control because of the work they put in during the first period.

HONORABLE MENTION: Charlie McAvoy led all skaters with a game-high 27:04 of ice time, and played a strong game while totaling three shots on net and three blocked shots. But he saved the real good stuff for the 11th round of the shootout when he threw a nifty stick move at Cory Schneider, and then roofed a backhanded attempt in tight and close to the net. The McAvoy shootout move begged the question why it took so long to get to him, but also mercifully closed out a shootout session that felt like it could have gone on forever between the Bruins and Devils. The finishing move from the 19-year-old was pure, unadulterated skill with the puck.

BY THE NUMBERS: 1 – the first NHL career point for Matt Grzelcyk arrived in the first period when he picked up an assist on a lead pass off the boards that freed Jake DeBrusk up for a goal-scoring rush.

QUOTE TO NOTE: “It’s the end of a road trip, so give the guys credit. They dug down deep and found a way to get the two points.” – Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy,  

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