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Flexibility keeps Julien going strong

by Alan Robinson /
PITTSBURGH -- As the saying goes, change is inevitable. To Boston Bruins coach Claude Julien, change is a necessity.
The Stanley Cup-winning coach said the NHL's ever-shifting game demands coaches adjust with the times, and sometimes quickly. Just as coaches expect players to improve with age and experience, Julien said coaches should expect the same of themselves.
To Julien, it's change or else.
"I don't think I'd be around, to be honest with you, if I coached the same way I did in Montreal (from 2003-06)," Julien said before the Bruins took on Eastern Conference-leading Pittsburgh on Monday. "The game has changed. There's been a lockout (in 2004-05), the red line was taken out, the (goalie) trapezoid (was adopted) -- all kinds of things have been added to this game."
Some of them are being added by the day; it's not unusual for an opponent to make noticeable changes from one meeting to the next.
"Even how you attack today and how teams are defending in their end (are changing)," Julien said. "There's the overload now to one side. Every year, I think you have to adapt and make some changes and tweaks here and there. You expect your players to continue to improve as they get experience and they move along, and the same has to be said about coaches. You just can't sit there and say, 'I'm going to coach the same way I did 10 years ago," because you’re not going to survive."
The Penguins are an example.
Last season, for all of their offensive talent, the Penguins' power play ranked 25th in the League. After being altered greatly -- rather than remaining in stationary positions, the attackers now rotate spots during a shift -- the Penguins' power play has climbed to 12th this season. And that's without star center Sidney Crosby playing during the first two months of the season.
To Julien, keeping up with the times -- and the rest of the League -- demands flexibility and adaptability, plus strong leadership from coaches and players alike.
"In coaching, you're as good as the people who surround you," said Julien, who previously coached Montreal and New Jersey. "Coaches who want to take credit by themselves are fools. I think players are the same way. Zdeno (Chara, Boston captain) is going to say the same thing; he really respects the people around him and who help him with that leadership."
Julien added, "There's no doubt he is a strong leader, but you certainly need support in today's game, whether it's the schedule or the travel, all the internal stuff that goes on. A lot more than ever before. It's important to have a solid core group."
The Bruins, at least offensively, would appear to be one of the NHL's most-changed teams. Only two seasons after ranking 30th in scoring at 2.39 goals per game, the Bruins went into Monday's games ranked second at 3.42, trailing only Philadelphia (3.52). They were fifth last season.
However, Julien insists he did not overhaul the Bruins' offensive system or demand a dramatic change in style from his players.
"I don’t know that we ever felt -- and although the fans might (disagree) -- that we were a team that wanted to sit back. We wanted to play solid defensively so we could get the puck back quicker," Julien said. "Offensively we may not have always had that same depth we have right now … some of the players who we have around now were young players, and they've grown their roles and that has allowed the team to be better offensively."
The Bruins also benefitted from the addition of rookie forward Tyler Seguin, who has a team-leading 12 goals. Still, despite their No. 2 ranking in scoring, only Seguin rankings the top 10 in the League in goals, assists or points -- he's tied for 10th in goals.
It’s the plus/minus ranking, however, where the Bruins stand out. The NHL's top five spots are filled by Bruins: Seguin (plus-20), Chara (plus-18), Chris Kelly (plus-16), Brad Marchand (plus-16) and Patrice Bergeron (plus-15).
Those numbers best explain how Boston is 13-0-1 in its last 14 games.
"We are better offensively, but not because we've changed a lot," Julien said. "Our personnel has grown, we've made a couple of tweaks here and there with trades. That has allowed us maybe to be better in finishing and scoring some goals."
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