There are just five weeks left until rosters are finalized for the Olympics, and that means coach Claude Julien has work to do. The assistant coach for Team Canada has kept busy between his Bruins duties, watching games, and keeping tabs on potential Olympians.
And with four days off between Saturday’s 3-1 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Bruins’ next matchup Thursday in Montreal, Julien should have plenty of time to do his research.
Julien said he spent a lot of time watching games on Friday night after the Bruins beat the Rangers, doing his due diligence before decisions are made and rosters are released by the Jan. 7 deadline.
“Certain guys that maybe you thought that are on the bubble and they’re considerations and stuff like that,” Julien said. “You watch some of those games so that when the time comes to have a conversation, you can have your share of say or give your opinion or whatever. So that’s what I do in my spare time.”
Julien said that he has learned to manage his time, getting the Bruins ready for their games, and spending the rest of it making preparations for the Olympics.
“It doesn’t hurt either for our team because you get to know not just the player but the teams themselves, so I’m scouting for two different reasons,” Julien said.
There is one player on the bubble who is particularly easy for Julien to scout. That would be Milan Lucic, who strengthened his candidacy with two more goals on Saturday against the Blue Jackets, though both took a little “puck luck,” as Lucic put it.
The knock on Lucic, who participated in the Team Canada orientation camp in August, is whether he has the ability to thrive on the bigger international ice surface that the Olympians will face in February.
Jarome Iginla, who has seen his fair share of international ice, didn’t believe it would be an issue. “I think he can play,” Iginla said. “I think he’s a big guy, has a lot of power. He’s got good foot speed. He’s a quick guy. It’s not that he’s like a big guy that just lumbers around. He can get going. And he’s got good hockey smarts and stuff.
“I’ve played on the big ice numerous times. You don’t get as many corner hits, but after that the game is still pretty similar. It’s not like it’s some huge adjustment. I think sometimes that gets a little bit overplayed.”
Nor does Julien seem to believe the bigger ice surface will hamper Lucic.
“Milan is a good skater,” Julien said. “Once he gets going in a straight line, he gets there. What Milan does, he can certainly get [defensemen] on their heels. He’s got decent stats this year. I think at the end of it, you’re going to look at if he fits into your top 23 or 22 players and go from there.”
Whether Lucic does has yet to be determined, or at least yet to be announced. There is more work to be done, more watching, even more healing for some of the potential players.
“We have to evaluate everybody and see what they bring,” Julien said. “At the same time, it’s not always about bringing top players and you’ve heard that before. It’s about bringing the best team you can and it takes a variety of different players.”
He continued, “Have to have a good power play, have to have good penalty killers. That’s what you’re looking for. When it’s all said and done, you know there’s going to be opinions of, ‘Why isn’t he on?’ That’s part of the process and you live with it.
“When you win, it’s not an issue. When you lose, you have to face those question marks, right?”
The Bruins returned to full strength on their blue line in Friday’s game against the Rangers, and in each of the two games since then, they’ve limited their opponents to fewer than 20 shots on net. “It’s, I guess, the fact that we’re moving the puck up the ice quickly,” Julien said. “We’re playing more of a north-south kind of game where we’re putting it in deep and putting it in areas where we’re able to recover it and managing the puck in the offensive zone means you spend more time there. We’ve done a pretty good job of minimizing our time in our own end and spending more time obviously in the other end.” That’s a stat they’re not likely to maintain as the Bruins take on the Canadiens and Penguins this week, but it shows how good this defense can be when it’s engaged and active . . . The Bruins had Sunday off, and are scheduled to be back on the ice at Ristuccia Arena for the next three days.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.