By Mike Miccoli, Boston Bruins correspondent
Earlier on Thursday, Tim Thomas was named the NHL’s First Star of the Month for November. Last season’s Conn Smythe and Vezina Trophy winner posted a perfect 9-0 record, three shutouts and a .941 save percentage for the Boston Bruins during their best statistical month since January 1969. Pass along more credit to the forwards, particularly the line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and Tyler Seguin who combined for a total of 19 goals and 22 assists in 13 games. And don’t forget the captain, either. During the streak, Zdeno Chara went off by scoring four goals and assisting on ten others.
Though it was the players on the ice garnering much attention and praise for the Bruins’ 12-0-1 record in November, the key piece to the winning streak, in this writer’s opinion, never suited up for a game.
Bruins’ coach Claude Julien was as much of a vital component to their success as any player. Seriously.
One could argue that the 2011-2012 Boston Bruins are better than the 2010-11 Stanley Cup Champion club. I would agree. Despite the team’s pitiful 3-7 start to the season, the players (and coaches) reversed fortunes to help the team move from the basement of the Eastern Conference to the top. The way that the forwards lined up played a big part in that.
In the Bruins’ first ten games, Julien shuffled with the lines a bit, trying to find various fits to no avail. The Bruins last regulation loss on October 29 at Montreal was the last time that Julien significantly switched the lines around. Once Julien moved Seguin to Bergeron’s wing, appended the top line of David Krejci, Milan Lucic and Nathan Horton and reunited Rich Peverley with Chris Kelly, acquired success became noticeable.
In October, the Bruins scored 21 goals in ten games with inconsistent line pairings resulting in forced chemistry and plenty of botched plays. Once the right fits were discovered in November, the Bruins offense came alive with 54 goals in 13 games. The Bruins weren’t just winning games, they were flat-out dominating their opponents. Instead of panicking and further spiraling towards unpredictable play, it was Julien who made this Bruins team confident in themselves again.
Perhaps the biggest vote of confidence in his players came when Julien tabbed Benoit Pouliot to shoot in the fifth round of the shootout in the highly contested game against Buffalo on November 23. In the previous contest against the Montreal Canadiens, Pouliot was benched in the third period after two soft penalties. There was a healthy debate on whether he should be the healthy scratch for the team in place of winger Jordan Caron however, Julien decided to stick with Pouliot who ended up scoring the game-winning goal in the shootout.
Julien handled his two goaltenders quite well, giving Tuukka Rask the nod in back-to-back games, plus a big matchup against the Detroit Red Wings where Rask played stellar, even with a shootout loss, and riding Thomas throughout his own personal streak. In the big picture though, it was how Julien managed to keep the pressure down when the reigning Cup champions weren’t winning.
The Bruins do not have that perennial superstar—though Tyler Seguin is inching closer to becoming that. They’re mostly a scorer-by-committee team that focuses on strong defense and stellar goaltending. Julien has successfully gotten every player on the roster to contribute in November, both offensively and defensively, and has put together a string of wins that have turned Boston’s season around.
During a time where head coaches have been on and off the hot seat, Claude Julien has found ways for his team to play the full 60-minutes and win hockey games. Julien has instilled confidence in his players and has shown more in himself as a coach. Apparently winning the Stanley Cup does wonders.
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