It happens all the time. New coach, new attitude, new results.
It happened in New York when the Islanders hired Ted Nolan. The tide turned across town when the Rangers brought Tom Renney on board. Columbus is buzzing with Ken Hitchcock teaching the Jackets how to play, just like the culture shifted when the Carolina Hurricanes hooked up with Peter Laviolette.
The Boston Bruins are hoping that first-year bench boss Claude Julien brings a similar reversal of fortune.
The first order of business, right at the top of Julien’s "to do" list, is always to change the culture.
“I don’t know if there’s a challenge, but the one thing you do want to do is establish an identity for this hockey club and we certainly want to have a better year this year,” Julien told NHL.com. “It’s important we move up in the standings and our goal is definitely to make the playoffs. So I think what we’ve tried to do in training camp is explain to them what’s expected of them as individuals and as a team. We’re putting in our system we want to play and we’re putting in at practice, and it’s just about making sure the guys are clear on what we want and for them to get to know us as a coaching staff. Just putting our imprint on the team.”
Ideally, what will that imprint be this season?
“Nowadays teams always like to hear that they’re a hard team to play against,” Julien said. “You’ve heard that many times. That means when you’re a hard team to play against is everyone is on the same page and there aren’t many flaws. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re not just talking about defensively here; offensively you make plays by driving to the net hard, forechecking hard and putting pressure on the other team. So it’s a little bit of both. When we’re in our own end, we’re not giving them much, so it’s about being good with and without the puck.”
So far, the Bruins seem to have picked up on what Julien’s preaching, winning their first two home games of the season and getting off to a solid 6-4-0 start.
“I think that he’s a well-known coach, he’s a very intelligent coach and smart coach,” a clearly reinvigorated Zdeno Chara told NHL.com. “I think he’s bringing a little bit of a new system to Boston and so far everyone likes him. We just have to get used to it and make sure everyone is on the same page.”
Chara seems like he’s back to his old self, tossing board-rattling checks all over the ice and skating with a kind of verve that went missing at points last season. Last season was a tough one for the Bruins when they missed the playoffs, despite bringing big-time talents like Chara and Marc Savard on board via free agency. A disappointing year brought a change behind the bench and the Bruins snapped up Julien, who was relieved of his duties in New Jersey the final week of last season.
“I think they just got to a point there last year where they tried to do too much,” Julien said of Chara and Savard, who are both 30 and in the prime of their careers. “We’ve talked about maybe doing less, but doing better. I think that’s going to be a big key this year, in that not just one guy is going to carry the burden of the team. The situation will be more about team play. They already have great skills and great respect around the league. I think that there’s some great leadership qualities in Z and now it’s just a matter of those guys being a part of what we’re trying to do here and just doing less, but doing better. That’s probably the biggest motto right now for our key players.”
Coming out of the Devils’ defense-friendly system, Julien seems like a guy Chara could flourish under.
“I think it’s a little bit of both,” Chara, who has returned to the power play point, said. “We need to be very smart defensively, but when we have an opportunity to be aggressive, we have to go and be big on our counter-attacks and putting pressure on teams.”
Adding to Chara’s solid start, which featured 26 hits in the season’s first eight games, has been his increased level of comfort with his surroundings. A year ago, he was getting to learn a new city and new teammates, but this time around, he’s firmly entrenched in Boston.
“It’s a little bit more comfortable feeling, when you’re not totally new to the team, the coaches, the players, the town,” he said. “It’s definitely a lot more comfortable.”
Adding fuel to his fire this season was watching his former team, the Ottawa Senators, go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. While his former teammates were one of two teams left standing, Chara watched on television.
“Well we didn’t have a good year, that’s for sure,” he said. “It’s just one of those seasons you don’t want to talk about very often and you want to go out and move on. For sure, we’re looking forward to this season and we want to be better.”
While Chara is feeling more at home on the blue line, Savard, who also came aboard last year, is feeling similarly comfortable up front in his second season with the Bruins. While Julien is expected to help the defense, he’s also going to have more freedom to open it up on offense than he did in New Jersey.
Savard has the potential to put up close to 100 points if things go the right way, and the Bruins are hoping Julien is the man to get that kind of production out of the playmaking pivot. In the first three weeks of the season, Savard was operating at better than a point per game, after putting up 97 and 96 the last two years.
“I thought I had a good year in Atlanta before I came here,” Savard says of his career best 97-point output in 2005-06. “There was some controversy over what I can do and be coached or whatever, but I feel confident here and I’m getting better. I’m learning more and more every year, so this year Claude is the new coach and hopefully he can help me with some other aspects of my game.
“This is my first time playing for him, but I’m excited,” he said. “He’s from near my hometown in Ottawa and I know him from when I was younger, so it should be a good season.”
With a new coach comes optimism, and the Bruins are not lacking in that area.
“I think we’re definitely going to be a playoff team,” Savard said. “We just have to go out and prove that. People have us written off already, so that’s a good positive to go out and prove everybody wrong. That’s our goal, to make the playoffs and go from there.”