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Practice Notebook: Hitting the Road Early Paying Off for Bruins

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

EDMONTON — Instead of practicing at home on Tuesday and then making a five-hour journey to Western Canada, the Bruins woke up on Tuesday morning, got on a bus and got off 10 minutes later, ready to embark on a morning tune-up at Rexall Place in Edmonton.

In the past, when the Bruins have played out West, they haven’t built in that extra practice day. This time around, as they prepare for a three-game Western Canada road swing, they’re trying out a new approach.

“It just shows how important this road trip is to us,” said Head Coach Claude Julien following Tuesday’s practice. “We know there’s a difference and a time change and everything else, and that represents a challenge in itself in any normal situation. So we thought coming in a day earlier and getting ourselves acclimated to, I guess, this area here and making the most of it was basically what we’re trying to do here.”

An extra practice day meant an opportunity to better adjust to the two-hour time difference and an opportunity to get a good night’s sleep for two days leading up to Wednesday’s game against the Oilers.

“I think with the time difference — and it may sound stupid, but the air quality’s a little different out here — I think it’s good,” said forward Brett Connolly. “We get to get a good night’s rest last night, and get used to the time change, skate a couple days here, get ready, so I think for the most part, the guys like it.”

It also afforded the Bruins an opportunity to work out the physical kinks stemming from a five-hour plane ride.

“Especially because of the long flight, our legs get kind of seized up, so we’ve got a day to fully get to flush our legs out and get ready for the game [Wednesday],” said forward Zac Rinaldo.

The extra practice day could prove particularly helpful later in the week, when the Bruins will be in the midst of a grueling stretch of five games in eight days. Following this trip — which culminates with a back-to-back in Calgary and Vancouver — the Bruins head home for a Monday night game against Nashville, then go right back out on the road to face Montreal a week from Wednesday.

The Bruins, however, have always been good at compartmentalizing. They achieve success when they focus on taking it one game at a time and refusing to worry about a game that is a few days away, never mind a week away.

They certainly will have to put that credo to the test in the next week.

“It’s definitely going to be some tough games coming up here, starting [Wednesday] against Edmonton,” said forward Loui Eriksson. “We’re going to need to start out this road trip with a win, so it’s going to be a good test for us [Wednesday], and hopefully we’re playing like we’ve been doing here and get the win.”

Oil Country

Connolly said it best on Tuesday: The Bruins would be silly to overlook the Oilers just because of their current position in the standings.

“Whenever you go out West and play these teams, it’s always hard, no matter who you’re playing,” he said. “These are three teams that a lot of us [think] that maybe they should be better [in the standings]. They’re better teams than their records are showing, so it will be a tough road trip, and we’ve got to be ready starting [Wednesday].

“We’re starting to prepare today, and hopefully we have our legs tomorrow and we can have a good game.”

The Bruins beat the Oilers to Edmonton, arriving on Monday evening while the Oilers were still in Toronto, facing the Maple Leafs. But both teams had a day on Tuesday to prepare, and in Julien’s eyes, that will put them on an equal playing field on Wednesday.

“If anything, sometimes a long rest can also mean a little bit of rustiness, so that’s kind of what you have to be careful of,” Julien said. “I know they got in late [Monday] night, but they don’t play today and they’ve got a chance to recover, here. But by all means, I don’t think right now we have an edge, but we should take advantage of the fact that we got here early and should feel a little bit more comfortable with the time change and everything else.

“Our bodies and the way we approach this game here should certainly be the same as any other game, in my mind.”

The Oilers didn’t get the performance they wanted on Monday in Toronto, dropping a 3-0 shutout loss to the Maple Leafs and rookie goaltender Garret Sparks. When the puck drops on Wednesday, therefore, they will be focused on erasing the memory of that loss with a strong outing against the Bruins.

Boston is prepared for that inevitable push.

“They lost their last game [Monday] night; it probably wasn’t what they wanted, a 3-0 loss, so they’re probably going to come out with everything they have, especially in the first period, at home, in Edmonton,” Rinaldo said. “So I’m expecting nothing but a hard forechecking game from those guys.”

In addition to having something to prove, the Oilers also have speed, and young legs, and plenty of talent up front, all of which should serve as a challenge for Boston, which is seeking its sixth straight win.

“Those younger players are getting older, and I think there’s a good future here,” Julien said. “I know people are getting a little tired of what’s going on, but when you look at this team, you can see that there’s a lot of potential. I kind of a lot of times look at them the same way I looked at the Islanders for many years, and they’re turning the corner now, and I think Edmonton is going to be one of those teams that’s going to be doing the same thing here in the very near future.

“When you watch them play, there’s certain games they’re extremely good, and other games where maybe not as much, but that comes with experience and that comes with a team growing together. So I think as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think I’ve ever lacked any respect for any team in this league because of parity, so certainly not going to start here.”

While the Bruins certainly aren’t underestimating the Oilers, they are not lacking in the confidence department themselves. They will readily admit that they often haven’t been at their best over the course of their five-game winning streak, but they have found ways to win, and that has provided a spark.

“We’re a confident group,” Connolly said. “Our power play is still good, still doing well, and we’ve been scoring a little bit. Our PK’s getting better, so we’re confident, and we know if we can have a really good road trip, here, we can take a big step in the standings, and that’s what we’re obviously aiming to do, and it starts [Wednesday].

“Edmonton’s got a good group, and they’ve got a lot of talent up front. We’ve got to be ready.”

There is a difference between being confident and being cocky. The Bruins firmly believe they fall into the former category, not the latter. Sure, they know they can be better than they have been this season thus far— but they also know they can win, even when they don’t have their best stuff. That is just as important.

“Right now, I think deep inside, everyone has a lot of confidence, but we’re not actually flaunting it around the room and stuff like that,” Rinaldo said. “I think our actions speak louder on the ice than it does when we’re on the bus or on the plane or in the dressing room. I think our confidence speaks for itself on the ice, which is the way to be.”

Different Look

Just over a week ago, Landon Ferraro began his career as a Bruin on the fourth line. Three games later, he finds himself skating on the third line alongside Ryan Spooner and Jimmy Hayes.

Whether or not he holds that spot for game action remains to be seen, but Julien is certainly willing to continue changing things up until he finds the ideal combinations, particularly with so many first-year players wearing the Spoked-B.

“You try certain things, and you try and figure things out, and I said that right from the start of the year — I said, you guys may see line changes throughout the whole year,” Julien said. “I think we’ve gotten used to seeing lines stay the same for the most part. It’s not like that anymore. A lot has changed here, and we have to change with the changes that have happened here. So that’s all I’m doing.”

While Julien has generally been pleased with the production he has gotten from his top two lines, he said he would like to see the third and fourth lines carry a bit more of the offensive load. There have been games in which the bottom six have been productive, but Julien wants to see more from them, and on a consistent basis.

That is part of the reason why he has been liberal with his lineup juggling thus far in 2015-16.

“Right now, it kind of gives me an opportunity to have maybe four lines that are maybe a little bit better balanced,” he said. “We talk about [how] our top two lines have been productive, and our third at times, and we want to kind of maybe balance things out a little bit more and utilize your bench a bit more, if you can.

“We’re trying to find ways to do that, and we’re still early [enough] in the season that we’re still experimenting, here.”

Tuesday’s Practice Lineup

Gold Jerseys: Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, Frank Vatrano

White Jerseys: Matt Beleskey, David Krejci, Loui Eriksson

Gray Jerseys: Landon Ferraro, Ryan Spooner, Jimmy Hayes

Red Jerseys: Zac Rinaldo, Joonas Kemppainen, Brett Connolly, Tyler Randell

Defensemen: Zdeno Chara, Zach Trotman, Dennis Seidenberg, Colin Miller, Torey Krug, Adam McQuaid, Joe Morrow, Kevan Miller

Goalies: Tuukka Rask, Jonas Gustavsson

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