Bruins

Haggerty: Longtime Julien targets get last laugh in Claude's return

Haggerty: Longtime Julien targets get last laugh in Claude's return

BOSTON – The lack of energy, emotion and urgency from the Montreal Canadiens in their coach’s return to Boston on Wednesday night revealed some things about that group of players. It also once again confirmed the particular brand of nowhere that Claude Julien’s Habs are destined for this season.

MORE BRUINS:

On the other side, it was also mighty telling which Bruins players stepped up and made a major impact in the 4-1 victory over Julien and his hated Habs at TD Garden.

Almost to a man, it was the Bruins who faced the most criticism and scrutiny under Julien in Boston, who rose up and did the most damage against the Habs on a night their coach hoped for a triumphant return. Perhaps nobody in a Bruins uniform had a rockier road with Julien than Ryan Spooner, the speedy, skilled center who was never tough enough, aggressive enough or good enough at the little things to satisfy his demanding, old-school coach.

Some of that was clearly on Spooner as he developed his game in fits and starts in the NHL, but some of that was absolutely on a coach who never truly connected with the player, or gave him the room to grow and develop his confidence. There were many instances where Julien simply decided a player couldn’t help his team, and that would be that. In many instances, the former Bruins coach was spot-on in his determination, but there were many examples of speed, skill players such as Spooner where he was blind to their potential.

It’s been a different story under Bruce Cassidy, who has brought out the best in Spooner this season as evidenced by his game-winning goal against Julien and the Habs Wednesday. The goal gives the red-hot Spooner three in his past four games and has him on a pace for a career-best 16 goals and 40 points this season while also importantly turning into a plus player on the ice.  

Spooner carried the puck straight through the guts of the Montreal defense toward the net and attempted to make a centering pass toward Matt Grzelcyk at the far post. Instead, the puck bounced off Jonathan Drouin’s skate and into the net to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead in the second period.

Boston scored two more goals in the one-sided game, but it was Spooner’s goal that stood as the game-winner in Claude’s not-so-triumphant return. After the game, Spooner was asked whether it felt good to score against a coach that had doled out so much tough love to him in the past.

“It was just another game for me, I just want to help out,” said Spooner, who was clearly playing it down given some of his critical words for Julien in the past. “It was nice to score though...Yeah, for sure. I just think that we have a good mix here.

“We have some guys who are young that stepped up for us and that’s huge. I mean, to be one of the top teams in the league you have to have some guys that are 18, 19, 20 [years old] that are going to step up and we’ve had that so that’s been good for us.”

Clearly, Spooner had a little something extra in this one from the drop of the puck, though. The speedy winger led the Bruins with four shots on net and threw a whopping four registered hits perhaps in an effort to show Julien some of the hardness that he’s developed in his game. This has been a consistent trend in Spooner’s game this season, though, as he’s put up 22 registered hits in 23 games played this season, which actually gives him more than Brad Marchand (17) while No. 63 has even played in 12 more games than the Spoon Man.

Spooner wasn’t alone, however, in shining on Wednesday night in Rendezvous De Claude.

David Pastrnak was another young player that had his ups and downs with Julien in his first three seasons. He found himself on the bench on more than one occasion when puck management or defense became an issue. Pastrnak scored the Bruins first goal after doggedly chasing the puck and turning it over from Jeff Petry behind the Montreal net. He finished with six shot attempts, a goal and a plus-1 rating in 14:57 of ice time.

David Krejci certainly had his moments of frustration as a creative offensive player dealing with Julien in their long time working together, and once again he stepped up as well vs. the Habs. Krejci finished with a goal and two points along with a team-best plus-2. He also absolutely dominated in the face-off circle with a 16-for-20 performance and crushed young players Drouin and Jacob De La Rose.

Judging by his recent, pretty disconnected comments about seeing Julien behind the Montreal bench, it’s fair to say that Tuukka Rask was another Bruin not overly worked up about last season’s coaching change. Rask wasn’t exactly facing wall-to-wall challenges from a pop-gun Montreal offense that only managed to scratch out 22 shots on net, but he stopped 21 of them while standing tall as Boston killed a 5-on-3 power play in the second period.

Rask improved to 13-0-2 in his past 15 decisions dating to Nov. 29 and has surpassed Andrei Vasilevskiy (13-0-1 from Oct. 9 – Nov. 16) for the longest such run by a goaltender this season. So, Wednesday night’s showing in Julien’s return was yet another example of a Bruins player who appeared happy to make sure the coach’s much-hyped return was cloaked in defeat.

Just don’t expect any of them to publicly gloat about it, or hint that there might have been some motivation with Julien on the other side.

“Gain as many points as you can. They’re all important games, especially divisional matchups,” said Rask. “You try to get points like we have. Still a lot of games left, so trying to keep our game the way it’s going. Our effort and battle have always been there. Execution sometimes is not there, but I think that’s what it all comes down to. Just effort, battle level and how well your head is in the game…a lot of it is just being a smart hockey player.

“You know, you understand what you do right and what you do wrong and then you correct the mistakes. Then you go out there and execute them. I mean it’s pretty simple to say it, but I think the guys we have here are really smart hockey players. They understand.”

The “effort” and “battle level” Rask was referring to is something that was lamented as missing many, many times in Julien’s final couple of years in Boston. It clearly went AWOL for the Habs on Wednesday night in a game that should have been emotional and urgent.

It was telling so many of Julien’s former critical targets left with a victory and their former coach shuffled out of the Garden lamenting in two languages that his Montreal team “laid an egg” in Boston. While Julien might have deserved better given his long body of work, it’s clear his former Bruins players earned the better result as they received a little measure of revenge in the place it matters most, the scoreboard. 

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

For the Bruins, watching Olympic hockey "stings a bit"

germany_hockey_olympics.jpg
USA TODAY Sports Photo

For the Bruins, watching Olympic hockey "stings a bit"

TORONTO – It’s no secret that NHL players weren’t happy about being barred from participating in the Winter Olympics wrapping up in South Korea this week. 

Instead the NHL continued their regular season with business as usual while skipping the Olympics for the first time since 1998, and college hockey players, minor league players and players already playing overseas in Europe were utilized to comprise the teams for the US, Canada and others participating in the Olympic Men’s Hockey tournament. 

MORE BRUINS

The lack of NHL participation has made for a wide open tournament at this month’s Olympics, and led to the major upset of Canada actually losing to Germany on Friday in a match to play for the gold medal game this weekend. That was bad news for former Bruins forward Chris Kelly as the captain of Team Canada at the tail end of his hockey career, but great news for fellow former B’s forward Marco Sturm as the head coach of Team Germany. 

Naturally one couldn’t help but wonder what was going through the minds of players like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand, who certainly would have both been on Team Canada, watching Hockey Canada fall short of the gold medal game. 

“Obviously you cheer for your country and that’s what we were all doing. I got up early to catch a little of the game,” said Bergeron. “It’s too bad. I thought Germany played a really good game, and there’s a part of me that’s very happy for Marco [Sturm] since he’s a friend of mine. We played together for a long time.

“It was tough. You wanted to be out there and you wanted to be able to compete. It’s too bad that we didn’t have a say in it. That’s probably the biggest thing for me. That’s my biggest disappointment that we had no say in being a part of it. It was different. The last two Olympics I was in it, and now being able to watch it on TV it’s actually been a lot of fun to be able to watch different events at any time of the day.”

MORE BRUINS

While Bergeron has his two gold medals from each of the past two Olympic Games to go along with his memories, Marchand might have missed his one chance to be a part of Team Canada at the Olympics during the peak of his hockey career. Coming off last season’s stunning performance from Team Canada at the World Cup, Marchand would have been close to an automatic for the Olympic roster, but instead it’s an experience he may have simply missed the boat on given that he’ll be 33 years old the next time around. 

“Obviously you get over it, but it was more about it being an opportunity lost, I think,” said Marchand. “It was a potential opportunity lost, but it allows other guys to have opportunities. I couldn’t be any happier that a guy like Chris Kelly gets to be there. It’s a huge opportunity. A lost opportunity for us is a huge opportunity for other guys…but it would have been nice to be there and be a part of it. It’s the biggest stage in the world.  

“The biggest reason it stings is that I never thought I would even be potentially be looked at for a team like that. With how things have played out the last couple of years, I might have been able to crack that [Olympic] lineup. So I think it stings a little more for that reason…to have the rug pulled out from under you for no reason. It does sting a bit, but that’s how it goes.”

That stinging feeling from the league pulling out of the Olympics will no doubt be revisited the next time the NHL and NHLPA go to the bargaining table for a new Collective Bargaining Agreement. But that’s a different story for a different day as the first Winter Olympics without NHL players in 20 years finally goes into the books this weekend.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

DeBrusk on being subject of trade rumors: "I love being a Bruin"

boston-bruins-jake-debrusk-100617.jpg
File Photo

DeBrusk on being subject of trade rumors: "I love being a Bruin"

TORONTO – Jake DeBrusk has heard about the trade rumors. Heck, the 21-year-old has actually been traded before in his hockey career as he was dealt in junior hockey from Swift Current to the Red Deer Rebels in his final season. It’s a little different, however, when DeBrusk hears his name involved in trade rumors with New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh, and reports indicate that DeBrusk is a name that Rangers GM Jeff Gorton wants included in any deal. 

MORE BRUINS

It makes perfect sense with DeBrusk off to a strong start to his NHL career with 11 goals and 29 points in 54 games while playing a top-6 role next to David Krejci, and just scratching the surface of how good he can be with the Bruins. Brandon Carlo has likewise been mentioned prominently as well as a young NHL player being sought after in trade talks. 

But the bottom line for all the Bruins youngsters is that they don’t want to go anywhere, and are doing their best to block everything out while preparing to go out and do their best. 

“I got traded in junior, so I know a little bit about it…but it’s a little different when it’s the magnitude of the NHL,” said DeBrusk. “We’re just focusing on getting wins, and doing everything I can do to help the team win. At the same you’re keeping an eye out and looking [at the rumors] secretly. But it is what it is. You can’t control it. You can only control your play, and do anything I can to help the team win now. You can only take it day by day. 

“I love being with these guys and we’re a pretty tight group. So whatever happens is going to happen, but at the same time whoever is on the ice we’ll go to battle with them.”

MORE BRUINS

Clearly DeBrusk wants to stick with the team that selected him 14th overall in the 2015 NHL Draft, and the Bruins would do well to keep a talented, likable and bright youngster that could be a meaningful member of the organization for a long, long time. But he’s also drawing whatever positive that he can out of the situation, and the biggest one is that other NHL teams are clearly taking notice of what he’s done this season as a rookie. 

Being the primary name mentioned in a deal for a player like the captain of the New York Rangers means you must be doing a lot of things right. 

“When you’re a rookie with your name being thrown around and the other guy has some pretty high stature in the league, it’s a compliment. But I don’t look too much into it,” said DeBrusk. “I love being a Bruin. I just want to continue to get better, continue to improve and I’ve got lots of room to grow. I’m just taking it shift-by-shift.”

That’s a smart kid with a good answer as he focuses on his game on the ice, and learns on the job to navigate through his first NHL experience that’s now included being at the heart of a juicy trade rumor for the Black and Gold.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE