DENVER — In the middle of an answer to a question on Thursday about the Avalanche, Bruins coach Claude Julien brought up a telling point. “Right now, what you’re seeing in teams is a lot of fatigue setting in, both physically and mentally,” he said, “and we’re fortunate to have some experience in that area where we’re able to maybe minimize that a little bit, and that’s where experience really becomes valuable at this time of year.”
The Avalanche, who host the Bruins Friday night, have many young players, led by a rookie coach in Patrick Roy. They have lost three of their last four games but remain in excellent playoff position in the Western Conference with 94 points, third in the Central Division. The Bruins, meanwhile, have won 10 straight and are challenging St. Louis for the top spot in the NHL.
Part of the Bruins’ success is because of Julien’s understanding of how to work with a team that is six months into a draining season that has included a trip to the Olympics for some of his players, and a current stretch of 17 games in 30 days. That was why most of the players stayed off the ice on Thursday, a second straight day of rest for some of those who get the most ice time.
“As a coach you have that sense of justifying your job and to not practice for two days at that stage, you don’t want people thinking that you’re lazy, you’re trying to cut corners,” Julien said. “It’s a justification, then it becomes, ‘This is the right thing to do.’ I don’t have to justify myself more than I have to do the right thing for the team and that comes with experience, no doubt.”
It’s something that Julien might not have done years ago, but something he knows is necessary for his team now. So, while a few Bruins took the ice at the Pepsi Center, others were running laps around the stadium (Torey Krug, Kevan Miller), riding stationary bikes (Milan Lucic, Chris Kelly), or playing ball hockey outside the dressing room (Patrice Bergeron).
“I think you’re trying to save it a little bit more and worrying about watching more video and talking with your linemates a little bit more instead of just being on the ice and doing repetition and doing drills and stuff like that,” Bergeron said. “You don’t have as much time for that. I think it’s just about switching these aspects and you just find ways to get yourself ready and focus, and once you do that, if your mental game is there the rest usually takes care of itself.”
That’s another big reason Julien has given his players extra days of rest when he can — the mental side.
“It’s one of those situations where we feel where we are in our game and in the standings that we can give these guys some rest — two days for a lot of the players that have been logging a lot of minutes and they’ve played at the Olympics or played a fair amount of minutes,” Julien said.
“It’s important to give them that rest and it becomes physical, but it also becomes mental. We’re no different. I look at our team and I look at some of the mistakes we’ve made. You can bring a guy in front of the video and show him, he’ll know exactly what he should have done and where he should have been, but at that point he made that mistake it’s a mental fatigue setting in.”
Johnny Boychuk was on the ice for the first time since injuring his right leg in Saturday’s win over Carolina. Boychuk was pushed and went hard into the boards, and while he returned to that game, he did not play in the last two.
“We’ll evaluate him day by day like we talked about, but again, if he’s not 100 percent there’s no reason why he should play,” Julien said. “Our guys who have played on D have been pretty good overall and we’ve had a good group of guys, guys in, out, they come in, do a job, and so again, no need to rush things here.”
Time well spent
Matt Bartkowski was a healthy scratch for Tuesday’s win in New Jersey, Julien thinking the defenseman would benefit from the night in the press box. “We talk about mistakes, a lot of it is mental mistakes,” Julien said. “It’s not going to hurt him to miss a game like everybody else. At the same time, he’s a young player and sometimes with young players you’ve sometimes got to be a little harder in the way that you’re sending a good, constructive message. What you don’t want from young players is to assume that their job is there every night. For him right now it’s like, I can’t afford to struggle as much as I did, and it’s an opportunity for him to grow from that. Certainly not disappointed in a player who’s been really good for us and has been a real steady force, but let’s not confuse the fact that he was a scratch vs. us being happy with his game up to date. It’s not going to hurt him.” . . . Defenseman Adam McQuaid has been shut down for two weeks, the minimum that general manager Peter Chiarelli had said would be needed to address a lingering quadriceps strain that has limited McQuaid to 30 games this season. “We’re obviously going to have to make a decision at some point,” said Julien. “The reason we shut him down was to try to get him back on course, and I know he’s been working off-ice longer and longer every day. As far as I know, he’s going in the right direction.” McQuaid did not make the trip . . . The Bruins signed forward Ben Sexton, who recently completed his senior season at Clarkson, to an extry-level contract. He will report to Providence.Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.