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Working Toward a Holiday High Note

by John Bishop / Boston Bruins
BOSTON -- After a day spent off the ice delivering toys to area hospitals, the B's returned to practice on Wednesday in Wilmington's Ristuccia Memorial Arena and looked to ratchet up their on-ice efforts going into the final game before the NHL's holiday break.

This Friday, the Northeast Division and Eastern Conference-leading Boston Bruins (22-9-1) take on the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers (18-10-6, but play Ottawa on Thursday night in Florida) with an eye to avenge a 2-0 loss to the Cats on December 8.

"On our end of it we have no excuse -- we had some time off," said Julien of his team's readiness for Friday, who could be heard "emploring" his team to play harder during the practice session. "Hopefully we’ll be a fresher team of the two when that game comes around."

The B's loss to the Panthers remains just one the Bruins two regulation setbacks in November and December, but Friday's game stands to remind the B's that their play hasn't been perfect even though their record is nearly flawless since October.

"I don’t think we have a hard time recognizing our mistake, we actually nitpick at them even more," said Julien. "That’s when you need to be tougher on yourself -- when things are going well."

To say things are going well for the 19-2-1 Bruins would be a spectacular understatement.

After beginning the season 3-7, the B's are just one point behind Chicago for the overall points lead in the NHL, but the B's aren't focusing on their record.

Instead, Coach Julien and his charges are working to iron out any wrinkles in their play.

"We’ve been nitpicking at certain parts of our game – we talked about the neutral zone and giving up 40-plus shots each game," said Julien of Wednesday's session. "So we nitpicked at that and the D zone.

"We kept doing some drills, which might have looked more like a fun day, but it was more about being stronger on the puck, puck protection, [and] being able to battle and we wanted to get better at that so [it’s] another area where trying to improve."

Also noted was the Boston club's improvement with a man (or more) advantage, which now stands at an 18.5% success rate.

"It’s improved because we’re shooting more and the net front presence [and] puck is moving a little quicker," said Julien. "When you get in the groove of getting some confidence in that area, you’re power play improves.

"We had a couple games where we scored two or three goals and that has helped us climb the mountain that we were slipping down for quite a while.

"Right now we’re 10th in the league, and our goal is to stay in the top third of the league. If we can do that, our special teams is in good shape."

Julien also hopes that some rest will help the enitre B's roster hit the ice in top form on Friday.

"Yesterday was a busy day with them going to the hospitals, and staying off the ice is something that can help," said Julien. "Today was a short, 40-minute practice, but intense, and we just want to get through here the next few days and finish on a high note and get those two days after Christmas to get the rest they need."

And for the B's and Julien a great early present would be giftwrapped in Black & Gold and wear the numbers 21 and 49.

"[Andrew] Ference is battling the famous flu bug," said Julien of the defenseman's absence from Ristuccia. "[Rich] Peverley is maintenance and we’re having a good look at our schedule and what it will do for him.

"So, we're trying to keep him off there for the next couple of days, and tomorrow is certainly another one of those days.

"We’ll decide if whether he’s in on Friday and if not, that will give him at least a good week so we’ll be making a good decision on him regarding his situation."
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