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Pregame Notebook: B's Beginning to Rediscover Identity

by Jess Isner / Boston Bruins

BUFFALO — For the first six games of the 2014-15 season, the Bruins have attempted to re-solidify their identity. Particularly in the last two contests, they have gotten closer and closer to looking more like their old selves.

But given all of the roster flux heading into this season — combined with a jam-packed schedule to start the year — it certainly hasn’t been easy.

“Maybe in our situation, there’s been a lot more changes in our hockey club than we’ve had in a long, long time,” Julien said following the team’s morning skate on Saturday at the First Niagara Center. “From [Jarome] Iginla being gone, to [Shawn] Thornton being gone, to [Johnny] Boychuk being gone, and to having [Gregory] Campbell injured, [David] Krejci [injured] the first three games — there’s a lot of things that didn’t allow us to, I guess, jell quickly. So now, it’s coming around.”

The personnel changes have presented their own unique challenges, as has the schedule, which hasn’t allowed the coaching staff as much time as it would like in order to make adjustments.

“What we do is use video right now because we don’t have that practice time, and playing that many games, you've got to pick your poison: Do you practice with tired guys, or give them rest and try to get the video to do the corrections here?” Julien said. “The direction of our team right now is going in the right direction, and I really feel it’s just a matter of time here before you see the real Bruins back again.”

With every game, the real Bruins begin to emerge. With every game, there are improvements. In Wednesday’s win at Detroit, the B’s were defensively sound, they were resilient and they got some timely scoring from their top two lines. On Thursday at Montreal, Julien and his players admitted that there were some defensive lapses, but the Bruins got the kind of dirty goals they have been aiming to get throughout the first couple weeks of the season — and for the first time in 2014-15, they got more than two of them.

“It’s nice to see guys get rewarded for their hard work and see the way that we’ve been crashing the net the last couple of games,” said defenseman Torey Krug, who assisted on Loui Eriksson’s second-period goal on Thursday. “Guys are getting rewarded for going to the hard areas, and that’s a tough place to be for forwards these days. It’s nice to see some of them go in.”

As always, Thursday’s matchup at the Bell Centre was wrought with emotion, and in the case of Milan Lucic, those emotions seemed to take over. The bruising forward was whistled for a controversial boarding penalty with less than two minutes remaining in a 5-4 game, and on his way into the penalty box, he made a gesture toward fans that earned him a $5,000 fine.

Lucic said the worst part of the incident was that it took away from the many positives the Bruins were able to bring to the ice on Thursday night.

“I think we did a really good job of keeping our cool all the way until the end of the game,” he said on Saturday. “It’s unfortunate that my actions took away from all the things that we did — keeping our cool and just playing a good game, a competitive game. Obviously there’s a lot of things in the D zone that we need to get better and not allow as many goals as we did, but scoring four goals at the Bell Centre and all that type of stuff [was good].”

Krug agreed that as the B’s prepare to face the Sabres on Saturday night, the first item on the priority list is rectifying those uncharacteristic defensive-zone lapses that seemed to plague Boston last time out.

“I think the main thing was, we were getting spread out from the front of our net,” Krug said. “So we got to make sure we come back to our slot and protect the house.”

Like Lucic, Krug was quick to mention the many positives the Bruins can take away from Thursday's effort.

“Last game, but the game before as well, I thought we were skating very well — getting up and down the ice, playing a north-south game, and our forecheck was great, too,” he said. “So I think those are the positives you take back, and you keep that compete level up, and you see where it goes from there.”

Another positive: Julien said that the B’s intensity in their most recent two games signals that this club is beginning to rediscover its identity.

“I think we’re getting there,” he said. “I like the intensity we’re playing with, even the last game. You could argue that maybe we were even the better team. We certainly weren’t below Montreal’s standards of their play. The Detroit game was good — I liked our effort. … I think if we play well defensively and continue to play with that kind of emotion and intensity that we’ve shown, then we’re getting back to our identity.”

The B’s may be 2-6 thus far, but on Saturday, they have an opportunity to leave Buffalo having won two of three on this road trip — no small feat when you visited Joe Louis Arena and the Bell Centre on back-to-back nights.

“That’s just it: I think we have an opportunity here — an opportunity to go home winning two out of three,” Julien said. “It’s not an easy road trip, so we’d take that right now, I think. To go back and know that you’ve had a winning road trip is huge, and you’ve got a chance to go back and try and get yourself above .500, and that’s the goal right now, is to try to do that as soon as we can.

“Tonight, we have an opportunity here to be the fresh team, so we have to take advantage of it.”

Lineup Changes: Gagne on First Line, Fraser In

Since signing a one-year deal with the Bruins on Tuesday morning, Simon Gagne has been all over the lineup. He’s spent the bulk of his time playing on the fourth line with either Daniel Paille and Ryan Spooner, or Paille and Campbell. He has, however, taken some shifts — especially late in games — with Krejci and Lucic.

Gagne managed to net his first goal of the season while playing on the first line in the third period of Thursday’s game against the Habs, and that is where he slotted in for Saturday’s morning skate.

“I’m looking at myself a little bit like that — maybe as a player who can be put pretty much everywhere on different lines, [in] different roles,” Gagne said. “Like tonight, I’m going to start with Lucic and Krejci, so it will be a good challenge for me, and I’m looking forward to it. The first two games, I played on the fourth line. So like I said before, when I signed, I came here and I’m ready to do whatever it takes to help the team win. Tonight, I’m going to do my best to do that.”

Seth Griffith, who was recalled from Providence last Sunday, had been skating on Krejci’s right wing, but Julien likes the experience that Gagne brings to that line.

“When Looch and Krech in the past have had guys like [Nathan] Horton and Iginla — all guys with experience — they’ve always felt real comfortable,” Juien said. “With the little that we’ve put Simon on that line, they’ve seemed to really feel comfortable. So it’s a tough spot. I think he’s done a great job. Griffith’s a real smart player, has made great plays and everything else, and as good as he’s been, it’s a little tough sometimes to ask a young player like him to play on the top line and to play against those kind of lines that the other team puts out there.

“So it’s something that we plan on trying and see how it works out, but again, not disappointed in Griffith, but certainly Simon could be a guy that you hope will blend in well with that line.”

Though Gagne has only played two regular-season games in a Bruins uniform, Julien likes that he has seen constant improvement from the veteran thus far and hopes that continues versus Buffalo.

“He had to play a back-to-back in his first couple of games, so I’m sure the second game was a little bit tougher and probably took him maybe a period to get his legs going in that second game. But he’s been good,” Julien said. “I thought he had two, maybe three, good scoring chances in Detroit, scores a goal in Montreal — so every game, he’s a threat, and I think we need that on our hockey club.

“So far, it’s been good. Two games in, you like the direction he’s going in.”

Matt Fraser, who has been a healthy scratch for the last three games, is also expected to slot in on Saturday night after taking rushes with Campbell and Paille during the pregame skate.

Fraser had a strong preseason with the Bruins and impressed Julien and his staff. Now, they would like to see him bring more of what they liked to Saturday’s matchup.

“He just has to reestablish what he did in training camp,” Julien said. “He had a good presence — strong along the walls, shot the puck well and all that stuff, and we didn’t see that the first couple of games. He’s a young player, and you give those players a chance again. Our team wasn’t very good in the first couple of games, so it’s not all about Fraz; it’s more about giving him another chance to go in there and to show that he can be that player we saw in camp.

“He’s a big body, he can be strong along the walls, he can shoot that puck really well — we could use all of that.”

Projected Lineup vs. Sabres

Forwards

Milan Lucic - David Krejci - Simon Gagne

Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - Reilly Smith

Chris Kelly - Carl Soderberg - Loui Eriksson

Matt Fraser - Gregory Campbell - Daniel Paille

Defensemen

Zdeno Chara - Dougie Hamilton

Dennis Seidenberg - Adam McQuaid

Torey Krug - Kevan Miller

Goalies:

Niklas Svedberg**

Tuukka Rask

**Svedberg was the first goalie off the ice at Saturday’s morning skate.

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