Boston Bruin: Toughness in the face of adversity

When the present season started last October I felt that Boston head coach Claude Julien was in a precarious position; his head fitted for the guillotine. The Bruins had failed to reach the playoffs and the new Bruins GM Don Sweeney had not given Claude Julien any solid vote of confidence during the summer. It seemed to my mind that if the Bruins failed to get off to a decent start then Claude Julien’s stay with the Bruins would come to an end by the end of 2015.

In defiance of low expectations and heavy odds, the Bruins refused to let that happen. They regained their confidence and were able to become winners and contenders once more. Now with the regular season entering its stretch run the Boston Bruins are vying for first place in the Atlantic Division after months of trailing in the wake of the Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning; playing steady hockey with the calm assurance of the Bruins days of old.

The main reason for the Bruins resurgence has been their offense. Last season Boston was 22nd in the NHL in overall offense and 27th in the power-play but this season the Bruins are third and 13th in overall offense and power-play offense respectively. Their penalty-killing ability has remained steady and their ability to score in short-handed situations (long a Claude Julien hallmark) remains nonpareil. The leader behind this offensive surge is Brad Marchand who ranks among the top three in the NHL in goals scored and short-handed goals scored.

If there is a cloud in the silver-lining for the Bruins it is their defense. Last season they ranked 8th in the NHL in team defense even though they failed to reach the playoffs but this season the Bruins have slipped from 8th to 19th in defense and that could pose a problem for the Bruins come playoff time when they will need a superhuman effort from their defense to win the Stanley Cup. Defense has always been the main thrust of Claude Julien’s Bruins and this present failure to live up to the defensive performances in the past might come back to haunt them. Tuukka Rask has been allowing too many goals and Zdeno Chara at age 38 is not getting any younger plus the departures Dougie Hamilton and Johnny Boychuk (courtesy of Don Sweeney) has seriously compromised the once vaunted Bruins defense.

For Claude Julien this season offers him a chance to add more luster to his already great NHL coaching record. When the season began Claude Julien was ranked 20th of all time according to my book Bench Bosses: the NHL’s coaching elite despite his failure to reach the playoffs in 2014/15.

Now he has a chance to advance himself even further in the NHL coaching pantheon. Based on how well the Bruins are doing now, Julien will definitely surpass Cecil Hart and Billy Reay on the all-time list. If Boston wins the Atlantic Division title then Julien would vault all the way to the top 15 ranks; surpassing Pete Green, Jack Adams, Fred Shero and Mike Keenan in the process. If Boston reaches the Stanley Cup finals then Claude Julien will rank among the top ten surpassing Punch Imlach, Hap Day, and Lester Patrick in the process—not a bad accomplishment!

Claude Julien and the Bruins continue to persevere in the face of adversity but sometimes a little adversity is good for a coach and a team because to quote the Roman poet Virgil, adversity has a way of eliciting talents which would have otherwise lain dormant. The Bruins are finding ways to win despite losing key players and despite the lack of solid leadership in the Bruins front office and that is a blessing to Bruins fans everywhere.