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Bruce Cassidy tries to restart Bruins

New coach wants faster pace, increased secondary scoring, more accountability from players

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

BOSTON -- It was the first full day of the new era, the first day without press conferences and controversy and a coach getting fired. It was the first day of Bruce Cassidy instead of Claude Julien, a chance for a revamp and a restart and, perhaps, a resurgence of a floundering team.

The ideas had started being put in place on Tuesday, as Cassidy, the newly named coach of the Boston Bruins, ran his first practice. But by Wednesday it was all his: his team, his concepts, his ways of doing and teaching and leading. It was too soon to know much of anything.

But it was a start.

"We're not going to reinvent the wheel system-wise," Cassidy said after replacing Julien on Tuesday. "I thought there's a lot of good things in place. We're just going to try to tighten up a few areas; in our own end, in terms of getting pucks back a little quicker, and then hopefully at the offensive end, being more opportunistic with our chances. That's easier said than done."

Video: Bruce Cassidy talks about getting the team on track

The message had been refined by the next day, as he sought to find fixes with the Bruins unable to attack the net enough, unable to find the right shots amid the NHL-leading number of shots on goal per game (34.5) they've taken. There has to be more secondary scoring, he said, with more defensemen supporting the rush and players not necessarily labeled as goal-scorers scoring goals. There needs to be more accountability from players who are not playing up to their skills and their past performance.

"A little bit more of trust your skills, use your skills, to separate down low in the [offensive] zone to create something for yourself, especially against the teams that play man-to-man," Cassidy said. "You're here for a reason, because you have ability, use it, whether it's your body size, whether it's your foot speed, your IQ, or all of the above; use that a little more and have some confidence to do that without … making high-risk plays."

At least those are the plans.

"You get snippets," forward David Backes said about the future under Cassidy. "He certainly likes to teach and likes to point out the small details that we can be better at. We've had a few days of that, a few day of up-tempo. We're going to need great efforts and more great efforts than we've had in the past in order to beat teams in a tough league. The message has been sent: The status quo is not good enough."

The concept is that things will get faster for the Bruins, starting in practice, where Cassidy has vowed to pick up the pace. The plan is to, as he put it, be "playing on our toes as opposed to our heels," beginning with the game against the San Jose Sharks at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; SN360, SNW, TVA Sports, NESN, CSN-CA, NHL.TV).

Video: Billy Jaffe on Claude Julien, Bruce Cassidy in Boston

One of the knocks on Julien, generally unfairly placed, was that he wasn't particularly good at integrating and utilizing young players; Brad Marchand, among others, would object to that. However, Cassidy, who spent the previous five seasons coaching Providence of the American Hockey League and working to turn young talent into NHL players for the Bruins, will not get such criticism.

That could be important.

During his first two days, Cassidy has repeatedly mentioned underperforming forward Ryan Spooner, who has yet to adapt to playing wing or prove himself good enough as a full-time center, which is where Cassidy will try him first.

"There's a previous relationship that I think is positive for most of these players, so I have to build on that," Cassidy said. "The American League is certainly not the NHL. There's things you have to do differently, but it's still coaching. You're still teaching. You're still motivating your players. So hopefully there's that mutual respect between player and coach that I have because I've been there with them."

For Cassidy, this is as much about him as it is about the team. When he was 37, he got a chance to coach the Washington Capitals; he lasted 110 games, from the start of the 2002-03 season until he was fired on Dec. 10, 2003. He is 51 now, a veteran of the AHL and the slog it can sometimes take to regain a footing in the NHL.

Video: Reaction to Julien being relieved of his duties

No final decisions will be made on the position for 2017-18 before the offseason, according to general manager Don Sweeney. Cassidy will get the rest of the season to prove himself, then will be a candidate, along with others that Sweeney is compiling now, for the permanent role.

This was always the hope for Cassidy, something he said he told Julien when they sat down for their interview before Cassidy was elevated from Providence to the NHL staff this season. At that time, he said, there was no timeline for again reaching his goal.

But the time has come. It is his team.

So what can he do that Julien didn't? What can he bring that Julien couldn't?

"We're going to find out soon enough," Cassidy said.

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