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B's Heading in the Right Direction

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

WILMINGTON — A few days ago, before the Bruins shut out the Sabres 4-0, Head Coach Claude Julien said this team needed to reestablish its identity, find a way to once again become that merciless club at both end of the ice that made every opponent’s job so difficult.

After Tuesday night’s 5-3 defeat of the San Jose Sharks, the Bruins are well on their way to becoming that team once again.

“You can’t be panicking at the start of the year when you know what you’ve got, and what you’re going through,” Julien said after Wednesday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “We’ve had to make some adjustments with our team and with each other and everything else, and it just seems like lately it’s been much better, and we’re starting to play together better, starting to read off each other better.

“We’ve made some adjustments as a coaching staff that help our team get better, and all that put together is making us more competitive team, as of now. When you go through a whole season, you’ve got to look at improving throughout the whole process, not just think that you’re there right now. We still have a lot of work to do, but I like the direction we’re going in.”

Following Tuesday’s win, the Bruins are back over the .500 mark for the first time since Oct. 9. For three consecutive games, they have scored four or more goals after getting just four in total through the first four games of the season. Offensively, it is obvious that the B's are headed in the right direction, as they are beginning to get their noses dirty and score off high net-front traffic.

“Especially [in the] last couple of games — against Buffalo, three goals, and yesterday, a couple goals from screening in front of the net,” said center David Krejci. “So the pretty goals are going to come eventually, but as for right now, you just got to go out there and create some traffic. When the goalie doesn’t see the puck, it’s hard to stop it. Just got to keep doing that.”

After some uncharacteristic defensive breakdowns against Montreal last Thursday night, the B’s have shored up in that end as well. Slowly, it’s all coming together.

“The last few games, we have started playing the way we want to — just more streamlined hockey,” said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg. “[We’re] playing to our identity, which is simple hockey and making it tough on opposing teams in our own zone and in our offensive zone to get the puck off of us. So it’s something we’ve been working on, and hopefully we can keep improving.”

Adam McQuaid is happy to see this team start playing the way it expected to play coming off last season’s earlier-than-expected postseason exit.

“We’re obviously creating some things offensively — that’s a good sign,” he said. “Guys are finding their game in that way. We’re still kind of looking for that full 60-minute effort — we’re getting closer and closer, but still something that we’re working toward. You see [in] different games, when we have kind of a lapse in our play, that the other teams take advantage of it — so I think we just keep focusing on the positives and learning from our mistakes.

“I think we’re getting back to that simpler game — getting pucks in deep and getting in on the forecheck and trying to make simple plays, and just being a hard team to play against. So yeah, I think we’re moving in the right direction, for sure.”

Against the Sharks — a team that entered TD Garden with a single loss and a merciless power play — the Bruins’ biggest strength stemmed from the intangibles they brought to the ice. They were strong in all three zones, but they were resilient as well. Even after they lost two early leads and found themselves down 3-2 heading into the third period, they kept grinding, and eventually, it paid off.

“I think we’re going in the right direction,” Krejci said. “We have a chance to get over .500, and hopefully, we can get on a little bit of a streak.

“We have lots of guys that have been here four or five years ago, or two years ago, when we went to the Finals. So we know what it takes to win, and it happens — you go through a little bit of a slump during the season, so the experience comes into play when times are tough. We’ve been going through that, especially at the beginning of the year, but the last couple of games, I thought we played really well — really strong games. So hopefully we can build on that and take off from here.”

Special Teams Jelling

Last year, the Bruins boasted the league’s third-best power play. This year, they have gotten off to a slower start but are slowly improving, with two of Tuesday night’s goals coming on the man advantage.

One of them came off the stick of Brad Marchand, marking his first goal of the 2014-15 season.

“Sometimes, you need right-hand shots, and sometimes, you need left-hand shots, and we’ve got a lot of guys that can play the power play, so we can go back and look at some stats,” Julien said. “[Marchand’s] stats on the power play in the past weren’t that good. We had lots of guys last year — the [Patrice Bergeron] power play with [Carl] Soderberg and [Loui] Eriksson was really good. So was the other one with [Jarome] Iginla.

“The power play finished third last year. We had the right people there and sometimes, [Marchand’s] got to bite the bullet a little bit and know that when his chance comes, he’s got an opportunity to jump in there. He’s been in and out of it this year, so when he’s there, you hope that can contribute the way he did last night.”

For the last two games, Boston’s penalty kill has also been strong. Against Buffalo, the B’s killed seven penalties, and on Tuesday against the Sharks — who entered the game with five goals on 15 opportunities on the road — they allowed one power play goal, but they held strong during a four-minute penalty to close out the game, as Bergeron was whistled for high sticking.

The kill was no small feat, given that one of their strongest penalty killers spent it in the box.

“Patrice takes a four-minute penalty at the end, and it was nice to see the rest of our team really step it up because of all the times he’s had to kill penalties — not just 5-on-4’s, but sometimes 5-on-3’s,” Julien said. “He’s one of the key guys up front, so it was nice to see the guys step up and kill that off and certainly not make him the goat.”

Johnny Boychuk Returns

Almost three weeks ago, on the day of their final preseason game, the Bruins made a trade that sent veteran blueliner Johnny Boychuk to the Islanders.

Tomorrow marks Boychuk's return to the Garden with his new team.

“It’ll be a little bit different,” Krejci said. “You’ve been playing with that guy for five years, so you know all of his strengths and weaknesses. It’ll be interesting. He’s got a great shot, so we got to make sure we don’t let him through too often. It’ll be fun for us, and I’m sure for him as well.”

Emotions are sure to be running a bit high when the B’s see Boychuk — who spent parts of six seasons in Black and Gold — on the visiting bench. That, Julien said, is understandable.

“He’s a good team guy,” Julien said. “He’s an easy guy to like for players, and for coaches. He came in and played a big role in our Stanley Cup run — a guy who stepped in, and many thought he’d be an American Leaguer. We traded for him, and he stepped up and has become a real reliable defenseman in this league, and obviously a good defenseman.

“We lost a good person and a good player, and you’re always happy that he’s doing well. Of course you’re going to hear us say, ‘Except against us,’ but I don’t think there’s anybody here that wishes [anything] but the best for him. Then you move on, and that’s what we’re trying to do, and hopefully he’s done the same thing. He seems to have done that. When you look at his start, he’s had a good start with that team as well.”

Boychuk had the best statistical season of his career in 2013-14 with the Bruins, tallying 23 points and 18 assists — both career highs — in 75 games. This season, he seems to have picked up with the Isles right where he left off with Boston: In six games, he has six points (two goals, four assists), and two of those goals have come on the power play, where Boychuk seems to have settled into a groove.

“He’s off to a great start there,” McQuaid said, “but once the game starts, we’ll be focused on what we need to do in our game. But I’m sure it’ll be a little bit different with him on the other team.”

Boychuk aside, the B’s are expecting a tough matchup on Thursday night. The Islanders come into the game with a 4-2 record, best in the Metropolitan Division, and a power play that is tied for second-best in the league.

“You don’t get that many top picks year after year and not become a good team, if you handle it well,” Julien said. “We started to see a lot of it last year. The young guys are starting to gain more experience and becoming, I guess, more difference-makers in games. Just to use an example [John] Tavares and [Kyle] Okposo — right now, those guys are really turning the corner.

"They’ve had some acquisitions, as we all know, that have helped them solidify their team little bit, but they’re a good skating team, they’re highly-skilled. They’ve given us our fair share of difficulty in the last year or so.”

Added Krejci, “They have another really good power play, and young, really skilled forwards, and Johnny on the back end. We have to look at the video tomorrow and see what’s out there, and hopefully we can be strong.”

Though it will be impossible to ignore the fact that Boychuk is on the other side of the ice, once the puck drops, the Bruins plan on focusing on nothing except the game at hand.

“I’m sure it’ll be a big game for him, and for us,” McQuaid said. “We need to just do our thing and treat it like we’re playing the New York Islanders — just worry about that, worry about ourselves.”

Right now, all the B’s have to worry about is perpetuating their first winning streak of the 2014-15 season.

“This is a business, guys,” Julien said. “Once the puck’s dropped, you’ve got to fight for your team and fight your own battles. You can be friends afterwards and chit-chat before or after, but during the game itself — if you don’t do it, he will.

“So it’s up to you to decide that. I don’t see an issue there. I think all the guys liked him, but there’s a lot of guys that we’ve liked that are playing on other teams. When the puck’s dropped, game’s on.”

Wednesday’s Practice Lineup

Forwards

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Seth Griffith

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith

Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson

Daniel Paille - Gregory Campbell - Simon Gagne/Matt Fraser

Defensemen

Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton

Dennis Seidenberg - Torey Krug

Adam McQuaid - Matt Bartkowski

Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Niklas Svedberg

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