Stowe, VT --
As the NHL preseason wanes, Claude Julien will look to tweak his lineup in preparation for the Dallas Stars on Thursday, October 5 -- opening night for your Boston Bruins. Cuts are coming (sometime after Sunday's game) to get down to the 22 or so players who will fly to Texas. But, ostensibly, the team that flew to Montreal is the team that will compete out west late next week.
Although the squad has lost four preseason games in a row, the B's have made considerable strides in terms of creating a new identity -- forging one team out of a talented, but disparate set of parts.
Despite the losses, one to New Jersey, two to Montreal and one to Toronto (in a shootout), progress has been made.
Caught after practice in Waterbury, Vermont, near the lodge in Stowe where the Bruins conducted team-building exercises, Julien seemed pleased with the team's progression towards Boston's opening face off.
"(Vermont) was a good place for us to do different things in what is…a more relaxed atmosphere," said Julien. "And what we've seen is our team getting better every game.
"That's important right now.
"We may not have had the final results that we wanted, with wins and losses, but hopefully that will come when it really counts," he said.
Julien said that the labor would continue, even as the team prepares to take on the New York Islanders in the TD Banknorth Garden on Sunday.
"We just have to keep working at it," explained the coach. "Like I've often said…it's a work in progress (but) in terms of attitude, I think we are heading in the right direction."
The Bruins have certainly become a more intense club, more willing to defend themselves and announce their presence with authority (and their fists) -- you can thank the retention of Jeremy Reich, newcomer Shawn Thornton
and now ornery team captain Zdeno Chara
for some of that -- but as the higher-ups on the club have said many times, being harder to play against does not just mean being tough on the boards or with your knuckles.
In many ways being tougher to face means that each of the players, pistons in an engine if you will, have to be firing at the right moment, working together to move the truck up the hill. Discipline, smart hockey and effort sometimes mean more than a one-and-done square off.
"I think I'd like to see us do everything better," said Coach, particularly in regards to the team's forchecking. "I am not going to stand here and say that we are right where we want to be, but we said right from the start that we have to work at these things everyday we come to practice."
And the Bruins have worked extremely hard to forge a club that can compete on a nightly basis. Just by the looks of the players, who ALL came to camp in fine shape, you can tell that many of the skaters took last year's playoff DNQ very personally.
Beyond that, practices in preseason have been extremely difficult and aerobically challenging.
"We have to push these guys to work hard, to drive to the net hard, and make (positive) things happen," said Julien. "Our intensity level has to be up and it has to be second nature.
"We are just trying to instill a lot of good habits and…I can see the team getting better and better."
Against Montreal on Thursday, the Bruins did play well for much of the game, but it was clear that those "pistons" were not completely synchronized. For instance, there were clear individual efforts, which lead to goals (think Phil Kessel, Marc Savard
), but that levelheaded all-out effort, with a clear purpose, was not there consistently particularly in the second period when the Habs scored their three goals.
"Except for maybe a half a period where we may have lost our focus we had a chance to win that hockey game," said Coach. "There are going to be tight hockey games, that is what the league is all about now, and there does not seem to be much difference between a last place team and a first place team.
"We just have to keep plugging away at the little details that I think are going to make the difference between wins and losses."