“There was a lot that was made from [the Rangers’] speed, yet their speed wasn’t an issue for us when we played them [in Boston on Jan. 15],” Julien said following Thursday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “I thought it was really because of how we forechecked, neutral zone — our D’s had back gaps, and our forwards were, a lot of times, above instead of below their forwards. We just didn’t have a real good neutral-zone forecheck.
“Even when we did get the puck, if you watched the game closely, a lot of times we were getting the puck in the neutral zone from our forwards bumping our D. We like to move that puck forward, so instead of getting it, chipping it in and going to work, we were kind of slowing down.”
The effort level also wasn’t what Julien wanted to see from his club, particularly after two strong games coming out of the All-Star Break against the Islanders and the Kings. In those two games, the Bruins picked up right where they left off going into the break, but Wednesday night’s 3-2 loss seemed to be a step back.
“We’ve got to be willing to put the work in when it’s required,” Julien said. “I don’t think we had the right mindset [Wednesday] to put that work ethic in, and that’s why we didn’t get that many scoring chances.”
It took the Bruins about eight minutes to register a shot on goal against Cam Talbot on Wednesday night, and though they did come back from a 1-0 deficit to take a 2-1 lead in the first period, some second-period miscues and costly turnovers ultimately did them in.
“Obviously, [there was] a lull in last night’s game,” said forward Milan Lucic, who scored the first of Boston’s goals against the Rangers. “But we recognize what we did wrong and what we need to get back to, and what we did in those first two games [coming back from the break] in order to keep having the success that we had in January.”
During Boston’s first game back from the break one week ago, Julien altered the lines a bit, switching his right wings: Reilly Smith went to David Krejci’s line, David Pastrnak moved down to Carl Soderberg’s line and Loui Eriksson moved up to Patrice Bergeron’s line. For parts of three games, those lines achieved success, particularly the new-look Krejci line, which has accounted for four goals in three games.
Though Julien switched things up again toward the end of Wednesday night’s game, moving Pastrnak back up to the first line and moving Eriksson back to Soderberg’s line, he likes what he has been seeing from Pastrnak alongside Soderberg and Chris Kelly.
“From what I can see, David, right now, is slowly building some chemistry with Carl,” Julien said. “I see them talking a lot, and both of them have the ability to make plays. That could fall into place, but we also know we can always go back to Loui — move him down there.
“Last night, I moved the lines around again because we didn’t get much offense out of our game last night, and a lot of it had to do with the forecheck and sustained pressure in the O-zone. But I think either way, it’s going to benefit us down the road, as far as having players playing with different players. There’s always injuries along the way, and the more chemistry you can get with different players, the better it is for us.
“I really see David and Carl really working hard at understanding each other, and what’s expected, and I’m sure down the road, you’re going to see them be even better.”
That growing chemistry could benefit the Bruins as they prepare to face the Islanders (Saturday) and the Canadiens (Sunday) in back-to-back games this weekend. With those two teams occupying two of the top five spots in the Eastern Conference, and with the Bruins battling to hold onto that final playoff spot, there is no underestimating the importance of taking points from the next two games.
“Huge weekend,” Lucic said. “Obviously, the Islanders — a team that we’re 1-1 against this year, and really high-skilled. They’ve been a good team all year, and obviously Montreal, coming in on Sunday, a team that we haven’t beaten this year.
“So we know the importance in what these two games this weekend brings, and how big of games they are, and we want to keep clawing away, keep moving up the standings as much as we can. And the only way we can do that is by taking things one game at a time and getting those wins.”
Lucic on the Upswing
Milan Lucic was a late arrival in New York on Wednesday. He didn’t travel to the Big Apple with his teammates on Tuesday because he was recovering from a 24-hour flu bug, but he flew out on his own and arrived midday, a few hours before the puck dropped at Madison Square Garden.
Lucic didn’t practice on Tuesday and didn’t participate in Wednesday’s morning skate, but you wouldn’t know it from his performance: He put Boston on the board with just over six minutes remaining in the first period.
“Even [Wednesday] night, he came in, and he hadn’t skated the day before, hadn’t skated in the morning skate, and he came in and I thought he played a pretty good game,” Julien said. “He was sick, yet his physicality, I thought, was there, and his strength. He scored a big goal for us, and I thought he was involved, skated pretty well.
“No complaints from my end, as far as his consistency since [the New Year], and he proved that again [Wednesday].”
The goal marked Lucic’s second in the three games the Bruins have played since returning from the All-Star Break, and his fourth point during that span. In fact, the New Year has brought substantially more success for Lucic, who struggled to work his name onto the scoresheet for much of December.
The bruising forward couldn’t pinpoint any particular turning point; once the calendar year turned, he simply turned his focus from the past to the future, and promised himself that he, and the B’s, would be better in 2015 than in 2014.
“[It’s] the mindset of focusing on the second half of the season, and maybe taking some pressure off myself,” he said. “Not putting so much pressure on myself, and just [focusing] on just going out there and playing and not worrying about too much I think has helped me kind of just relax and play the way that I can.
“When I get myself emotionally engaged and involved, that’s when I’m at my best for this team. But I can’t really put my finger on one thing that really turned it around.”
Julien acknowledged that certain players react differently to increased pressure — some thrive off it, while others cower under its weight — but whatever Lucic is doing, he said, is working.
“I guess everybody’s different when it comes to that — some people like putting a lot of pressure on themselves; it pushes them to be better,” Julien said. “Some other people prefer not to have the same kind. But you want guys to be mentally strong, and they’ve got to be able to handle the situations that are there in front of them.
“Maybe not trying to put too much pressure really means, I’m just trying to focus on my game and going out there and playing hard every night — to me, that’s handing the pressure that is expected of players on a nightly basis.
“All we need is consistency out of those guys, and we want them ready to play every game that they step out there. I think for the last little while, Milan’s done that.”
Consistency is one thing Lucic is primarily focusing on at the moment — he, along with the rest of the Black & Gold. Consistency was the biggest factor missing from Boston’s game during a tough stretch through November and December, and it is the single most important factor that carried them through a 8-1-4 month of January.
“You’ve got to keep things even — not get too high, and there were times when, earlier in the season, things got pretty low,” Lucic said. “But right now, getting ourselves out of the tough times that we had earlier on in the season, it’s been a lot more fun playing the right way and playing together.
“I think keeping that fun within the room, and having fun working hard and working the right way and getting the right results, is what’s helped us play the way that we have. I think those are the things, as far as mindset goes, that we need to keep going.”
Subban Remains in Boston
It has been nearly a week since Malcolm Subban received his first NHL recall, and there are not yet any plans for the netminder to head back to Providence.
Julien declined to comment on whether Subban would remain in Boston for this weekend’s back-to-back, but he did say that the experience Subban is currently gaining in Boston — whether he gets into a game or not — is crucial.
“Those shots that he’s getting here [in practice] are, or should be, a little big higher-grade than what he gets [in Providence], for obvious reasons,” Julien said. “So it’s good experience for him. Like I said, we’re trying to groom him into being the goaltender that we expect him to be, and he’s got to take some steps to do that, and this is one of the steps that’s part of grooming him and bringing him in and giving him that experience. We’ll see where we go from there.”
Julien said that in terms of Subban’s growth since being selected in the first round of the 2012 NHL Draft, his maturity and poise have been particularly strong areas of improvement.
“He stood tall in junior hockey — I saw him play there — and he was able to get away with a lot of things that I think he noticed at the pro level, he couldn’t,” Julien said. “I think he made those adjustments. Sometimes, it’s about how deep he was, and maybe playing a little higher. And at the same time, he was coming out a lot at one point, and one pass was beating him, yet he’s got quick feet, so he doesn’t need to come out that far.
“Those are all adjustments I think [Goaie Coach] Bob [Essensa] has worked with him, as far as making those kind of things. But I think his development is going in the right direction.”
Marchand Misses Practice
Forward Brad Marchand was the only player missing from Thursday’s practice, but Julien said he was just getting a maintenance day.
Daniel Paille skated in his spot on a line with Bergeron and Eriksson. Jordan Caron slotted in on the fourth line alongside Gregory Campbell and Craig Cunningham.
Thursday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Milan Lucic, David Krejci, Reilly Smith
Gold Jerseys: Daniel Paille, Patrice Bergeron, Loui Eriksson
Gray Jerseys: Chris Kelly, Carl Soderberg, David Pastrnak
Burgundy Jerseys: Jordan Caron, Gregory Campbell, Craig Cunningham
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Dougie Hamilton, Adam McQuaid, Dennis Seidenberg, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller, Matt Bartkowski
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Malcolm Subban