“I’m done talking about this last month,” said Head Coach Claude Julien. “It’s been a month that we’ve grinded through, and we’re done here. So it’s about moving forward and not even talking about it. So that’s what we’ve done today — we’ve talked about our team moving forward, here.”
Julien and his players were not interested in rehashing Friday’s 5-1 loss to Montreal at the Winter Classic. It is in the past. Sure, they are disappointed in the results — and they are disappointed that they fell flat on such a big national stage — but it’s over.
“That game’s over, and we’re moving on,” said forward Matt Beleskey. “So today’s a new day, good practice out there today, and we’re looking forward to Washington.
“[The Winter Classic] was fun. It was a good experience, but we’re glad to be moving on.”
They have learned what they can from the defeat, and now, they are looking ahead.
“When you look back at it, we don’t have as much of a veteran presence than we’ve had in the past,” Julien said. “When you have that, and when you have a lot of young players being put in positions here where they’re learning and it’s their first year, their first experience… No doubt — and I’m not making excuses here — but there’s no doubt there was a lot of players on that big stage that probably were looking around saying, ‘Wow.’
“So you’ve just got to work with what you have here, and I think as a coach, you’ve got to move parts around when you see it’s not working, and that’s all I can do.”
Julien admitted that the last month or so has been a grind, partially due to the hype and the anticipation surrounding the Winter Classic. There were distractions. There was stress. And now, he and his team are glad to be moving forward.
“It’s good to put those things behind us,” Julien said. “I think it’s important to put those behind us and move forward here. It was a hectic month. I thought we had pretty good success, but it was hectic, with everything that was going on around us.”
Sunday’s practice presented an opportunity to turn over a new leaf. The Bruins took Saturday off, and on Sunday, they entered the Garden with a fresh perspective. They were happy to be back home, in their own arena, with a more normal — though grueling — schedule awaiting them.
“We know how important [the upcoming schedule] is, and that’s why today we worked a lot on our game,” Julien said. “Again, I thought we’ve had a lot of players with injuries, here, in and out, in and out at different positions, so we thought we’d tidy up the defensive part of our game today, and our zone, and making sure we’re a little bit more in tune, I guess. So that’s what we worked on.”
There is no doubt that injuries played a role in Boston’s struggles over the last four or five games. The Bruins lost Torey Krug midway through a Dec. 27 loss to Buffalo. They lost David Krejci the next night against Ottawa, and he remains week-to-week with an upper body injury. They continue to be without Chris Kelly and Joonas Kemppainen, who did skate with the team on Sunday.
And one of the most significant absences in the Winter Classic, though not due to injury, was that of Brad Marchand, who has served one game of a three-game suspension for clipping Ottawa’s Mark Borowiecki.
“I think as a committee, we’ve just go to come together and everyone just do their job,” Beleskey said. “We’ve got to play hard, and I think doing too much is going to hurt you sometimes, so I think if everyone just focuses and does their job, we’re going to be fine.”
The Bruins can’t do anything about the rash of injuries. They have to find a way without Krejci and Marchand for now. Other players have to step up. There must be a team-wide commitment to increasing the compete level and shoring up in the defensive zone.
Then, when the likes of Krejci and Marchand do return, the Bruins will still be in a position to do some damage.
“We don’t decide who’s going to be healthy, who’s going to be available all the time; we just go with what we’ve got, and you’ve just got to grind it through, so we’re going to do our best,” Julien said. “Again, I’m repeating what I said earlier — we worked on our game without the puck [today]. It’s going to be important against the teams we’re going to play, especially Washington coming in here next, and how good they are.
“We need to be on top of our game here, so we’re going to try and clean up our game starting today and tomorrow, and hopefully be ready for that stretch.”
Washington Coming In
Even before the Winter Classic, the Bruins understood that the schedule that awaited them afterward was no simple task. Their first post-Classic game comes at home against Washington on Tuesday night, and given the fact that the B’s have dropped four straight to Braden Holtby and the Caps, they have their work cut out for them.
“It’s going to be a good test,” Beleskey said. “They’re a really good team, and we’ve got to be ready for them. We’ll be ready when they come in, and it should be a good game.”
The Bruins aren’t the only ones who have had trouble contending with Washington of late: The Caps currently sit atop the Eastern Conference by a wide 11-point margin, and with 59 points, they are just one point behind Dallas for the best record in the league.
“It’s another measuring stick,” said defenseman Torey Krug. “They’re a top team in the Eastern Conference, and a team that has a lot of tools, and they’re deep, good defensively, good goaltender. So it’s a good test for us, but at the same time, we can’t really focus on the other team, and just focus on ourselves and continue to do so.
“When we do focus on ourselves, we have a really good team.”
When the Bruins look at their own game, they know they have to be better — much better — against Washington than they were against Montreal two days ago. Against Montreal, the compete level wasn’t there, nor was the awareness in the defensive zone.
As such, the B’s tailored Sunday’s hour-long practice to those areas.
“I review our game, and I see where the parts that are failing — the biggest parts that are failing — are, and try and fix that to minimize it,” Julien said. “Again, it’s just trying every game to get the most out of your players, and not only is it a lot of injuries and young guys, but that’s when you need some of your better players to really be good for you in that stretch and say, listen, I can handle a little bit more here because of that. And you’ve got to rely on those guys as well.
“So it’s about veterans, as I said before, being good leaders, and it’s about younger guys, or guys that play a lesser role, saying, you know what? I’m going to show you that I can step up here and help you out through these tough times.”
From Nov. 19 to Dec. 20, a span during which the Bruins suffered just a single regulation loss, the common thread was that players across the lineup were stepping up. The Bruins were getting plenty of secondary scoring. Rookies were seizing bigger roles.
Over the last several games, there hasn’t been as much of that, and beginning on Tuesday against Washington, the Bruins need that all-hands-on-deck mentality to continue — particularly if they are without Krejci for an extended period of time.
“You don’t want to panic, but you want to [raise] some awareness,” Julien said. “That’s, again, what we’re trying to do today. It’s about bringing some awareness to our guys that if they’re not doing their jobs well, they’ve got to be better at it.
“We did a little bit of video today, we went out there and worked on the things we talked about, so that’s what you have to do as a coach when you have a lot of injuries, is try and fine-tune the guys you have at your disposal and make sure we’re in sync and reading off each other well, here, and trying to minimize the damage here and create some success instead.”
Kemppainen Skates with Team
It has been about a week since forward Joonas Kemppainen skated for the first time since suffering an upper body injury on Dec. 7 against Nashville.
On Sunday, he practiced with the team. He took contact. Afterward, he said his return to game action could be imminent.
“It’s really nice to practice with the team, and I’ve been skating now for about a week, so it’s nice to get back to the ice,” he said. “It’s been almost a month now [since] my last game, so it’s a pretty long time, but it’s getting better after every practice.”
Kemppainen has missed a total of 11 games with the undisclosed injury, and in that span, the Bruins have certainly missed his defensive awareness on the fourth line, not to mention his steadiness on the faceoff dot.
The good news is, he is very close to giving the Bruins at least some relief on the injury front.
“He’s close to being available,” Julien confirmed after practice. “I haven’t been told that he’s in for sure, but pretty close.”
Contending with this injury hasn’t been easy for Kemppainen, currently in the midst of his first NHL season. It is never easy for any player. But as he said, it is part of the game, and every player has to deal with it at some point or another.
But the 11 games he has taken in from press level have proven beneficial.
“You see the game in a different perspective,” he said. “I try to take some things for my game, too, so it’s been a learning [experience] for me. So it’s kind of a good thing also.”
Still, getting back into the lineup will be even more beneficial, for all parties.
“Like I said before, I’m feeling better and better,” Kemppainen said. “So hopefully I’m back in the games soon.”
David Krejci was not on the practice ice on Sunday and continues to recover from an upper body injury suffered on Dec. 28 at Ottawa.
Julien did not have an update on Krejci’s condition, but he did confirm that the other David — David Pastrnak — is expected to return to Boston by Monday from his stint with the Czech national team at World Juniors.
The Czech Republic was eliminated from contention by the U.S. on Jan. 2.
Julien said he was aware that Pastrnak had suffered a minor finger injury during World Juniors.
“He’ll probably be looked at by our doctors to see if there’s any severity to it, or just a minor thing,” Julien said. “So I don’t know myself, and we’ll probably give you guys a better answer once he sees our own doctors.
“He’ll be evaluated as soon as he gets back. From what I’m told, it’s not a serious thing — he played over there — so hopefully it’s not serious enough, but we’ll let our doctors make that decision.”
Patrice Bergeron was kept off the ice on Sunday due to maintenance, Julien said.
Sunday’s Practice Lineup
White Jerseys: Loui Eriksson, Brad Marchand, Brett Connolly
Gold Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, Ryan Spooner, Landon Ferraro
Gray Jerseys: Frank Vatrano, Joonas Kemppainen, Jimmy Hayes
Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Max Talbot, Tyler Randell
Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Kevan Miller, Joe Morrow, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg
Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson