Erik Haula could sense it coming. He was a minus-2 in the Bruins’ loss to the Rangers Nov. 26. With one goal and two assists, he wasn’t making the kind of impact he believed he could. So when coach Bruce Cassidy decided to sit him Sunday against the Canucks, Haula understood.
“I feel like I’ve been in the league long enough,” said Haula. “I’ve seen all the situations there are. And yes, I think it was warranted in a sense where I wasn’t where I needed to be. I wasn’t playing the way the team needs me to play.
“In a sense, I took it as let’s reset and start over and find my game again and make it look like it’s supposed to.”
Haula took it as a chance to regroup. In his 12:35 of ice time in Tuesday’s loss to the Red Wings, he was more effective, said acting coach Joe Sacco.
“Just thought that he showed he had the ability to hang on to the puck, make some plays in the offensive zone, and that’s what we were talking about with Erik as far as having some confidence with the puck down in the offensive zone and moving his feet,” Sacco said.
Haula toiled through a stretch of 11 games before scoring.
“I kind of had a stretch there where I was unhappy with my game myself,” Haula said. “I didn’t really recognize the player that was out there. So probably was good to sit a game, kind of reset a little bit, and then work to get back to my game.”
“I was a little bit in my own head — a lot actually.”
Haula, who signed with the Bruins in the offseason, has played for five teams in the past four seasons. Adjusting to another new system has its challenges, and Haula could feel himself pressing. Sitting one game was eye-opening.
“Sometimes it can even feel like you get frustrated and at times you’re doing too much and it gets worse,” he said. “So you have to take a little pause when things aren’t going right and focus on a few things and then build off that.”
Sacco shakes off rust
As Cassidy remains in the NHL’s COVID protocol, assistant Sacco will continue to serve as head coach. Sacco had a four-year stint as head coach of the Avalanche from 2009-13. The last time he served as a head coach was in the 2018 preseason when the Bruins played in China.
He joked after the loss to the Red Wings that he might have been a little rusty.
“You haven’t been in that spot in a while, so it’s just a matter of making sure that you’re sharp on the bench with your matchups,” he said. “At home, you tend to have more matchups than you do on the road, so I just want to make sure that we have five guys on the ice at all times and not six or four.”
As an assistant, his focus during the game is narrowed, but as a head coach, he has to widen his view.
“I just think it’s more of seeing the game from a different perspective as an assistant coach,” he said. “You’re watching for certain situations. As the guy that’s running the bench, you’re trying to oversee everything that’s going on in the game. I think as the game went on, it started to come back a little bit easier.”
With assistant coach Chris Kelly also in COVID protocol, skating coach Kim Brandvold joined Sacco on the bench.
“He did a good job,” Sacco said. “He seemed pretty comfortable as the game went on. I think he got a taste of how fast it is down there at ice level. It’s an easier game from up top than it is down on the ice, but he did well. Good to have him on the bench.”
There’s no timetable for Cassidy’s return.
“He’s feeling OK, which is good,” Sacco said. “It’s not taking him down.”
Marchand was missed
The void left by Brad Marchand, who is serving a three-game suspension for slew-footing, was noticeable as the Bruins came up short in the third period despite getting multiple power plays.
Sacco said replacing the scoring and energy that Marchand brings will have to be a collective effort.
“We’d like to think as a group that everybody would elevate their game,” he said. “That’s what the focus is, I think, when you lose one of your top players.
“You’re not relying on one or two people, you’re relying on the group to pick their game up and elevate their game and hopefully pick up some of the energy that Marshy brings into the lineup.”
Standing by DeBrusk
Jake DeBrusk, whose desire to be traded became public Monday, was booed as soon as he touched the puck in the first period against the Red Wings.
While fans let DeBrusk know how they felt, his teammates have shown nothing but respect in the locker room. Haula reiterated that they understand DeBrusk’s situation and it wouldn’t be a distraction.
“I like Jake as a person, as a player,” Haula said. “I have respect for him. I’ve built a good friendship with him in a short time here. I think he’s doing what he can right now.
“He played hard last night, and he’s keeping his focus on being a good Bruin. So that’s that.
“We’re all just focusing on the Boston Bruins, trying to get better as a team. We have some goals in mind and that’s what we’re working toward.”
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.