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Quickly, the Bruins have become Julien's team

by John McGourty

Claude Julien isn't fooled by the Boston Bruins' early success. His club must continue to work harder and play smarter than rivals.
Jim Jackson, the fine television play-by-play voice of the Philadelphia Flyers, sounded like he was making an instructional video during parts of last Monday's Boston Bruins victory over the Flyers in Philadelphia.

We didn't tape him, but to paraphrase, Jackson said at one point, "Now, notice how the Bruins fall back into a 1-2-2 defense to choke off this left-side offensive attack." There were several other points in the game when he described other defensive strategies being deployed against the Flyers.

I don't know about you, but I love that kind of hockey analysis a lot more than, "You know, Mitchell is a six-handicap which will come in handy for him this April when the Mighty Puffins crash and burn and fail to make the playoffs," or, "Demitra is a big fan of Slovakian bluegrass and those CDs are hard to find in St. Paul."

The man responsible for Jackson digging deep into his analytical skill set was first-year Bruins coach Claude Julien, who had a good laugh when asked if it was difficult to install a new defensive system this season.

"It is tough putting in a new defensive system, no question," he said. "This system is totally different than the one before it. In one of our exhibition games, we just seemed to lose it completely and we looked absolutely lost out there. I was worried, but then when the regular season started we had it and I think we've been pretty good, pretty consistent, about staying with it.

"We've had trouble scoring, so our focus right now is on the offensive side of the game. But in the last couple of weeks, I feel that the defensive scheme has become second nature. That's allowing us to focus on our total, coordinated game."

This is Julien's third time at the helm of an NHL team. Julien was the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens from Jan. 17, 2003, through Jan. 14, 2006. In his first season, he rallied the Canadiens to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, downed the Bruins in the first round and lost to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the semifinal. He was dismissed midway through the next season, the one after the work stoppage.

Julien was hired to coach the New Jersey Devils in 2006-07, but was dismissed in the last week of the regular season, despite his 47-24-8 record and his team in first place.

Thus, the Bruins were able to hire a coach with an NHL lifetime mark of 119-95-24. His foundation goes back a lot further than his NHL coaching career, though. The 47-year-old native of Blind River, Ontario, played junior hockey with Oshawa and Windsor, and for three Maritimes teams in the AHL – Fredericton, Moncton and Halifax – as well as Baltimore, sandwiched around 14 NHL games in the mid-1980s with the Quebec Nordiques.

Julien turned to coaching in 1996-97 and led the Hull Olympiques to the Memorial Cup. He coached the Hamilton Bulldogs for three seasons before getting the Montreal Canadiens job.

Julien was a defenseman with good offensive skills; he had 52 assists and 60 points in 1988-89 with Halifax.

His Canadiens teams were fleet of foot, and one of their key scoring moves was to send plenty of traffic past the front of the crease, occasionally perfectly timing passes for tip-ins or quick stickhandling scores. One second they'd be out on the perimeter, the next they'd be digging the puck out of the net. His Devils teams showed similar quickness.

Bruins players and fans should be buying into the Julien system, if for no other reason than they sit four games over .500 with a 13-9-2 record, putting them in third place in the Northeast Division, and their 63 goals are two more than they've allowed. Most preseason prognosticators pegged the Bruins for the Abominable Six, one of the bottom clubs in the NHL this year, but instead they rank 14th overall. They also have games in hand on every division rival.

Julien isn't fooled by the early success. His club must continue to work harder and play smarter than rivals. They lost their leading scorer, Patrice Bergeron, Oct. 27 to a concussion on a hit from behind by Flyers defenseman Randy Jones.

Julien wanted no part of "revenge" discussions prior to the first meeting of the teams since the injury, including what looked like a fire drill to get players off the ice after morning practice and onto the team bus and away from the rink. Players were as adamant as Julien in their desire to avoid discussing the incident. Twice during his post-practice press conference, Julien cut off inquiries into the matter.

"We addressed our work ethic," Julien said. "I think we have enough pride to bounce back and no personnel changes are necessary."

That night, the Bruins were on the same page and they let their play do their talking, quickly seizing the initiative against the Atlantic Division leaders while outshooting, outscoring, outskating and outhitting the Flyers en route to a 6-3 road victory. It was their best game this year.

To hear Julien tell it, the intensity came not from the previous Flyers meeting, but from a 2-1 loss to the Islanders three nights earlier. Julien is soft spoken, but he delivered a hard message.

"We addressed our work ethic," he said. "I think we have enough pride to bounce back and no personnel changes are necessary."

That's scary talk to a pro athlete, discussing personnel changes after a one-goal road loss.

"It wasn't one player," Julien continued. "It was the team itself; we got outworked. But we had a good tone at practice Sunday. Then we analyzed some video and discussed being accountable. We focused on what we have to do."

Consider this: The Bruins had won six of their previous 10 games, had narrowly lost a game that featured a tremendous goaltenders duel between his Tim Thomas and Rick DiPietro, and Julien spent the rest of that night and early the next morning analyzing video and preparing a grinding practice with applicable drills.

That's coaching. That's a man determined to not let this opportunity get away from him.

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