With his team coming off a disappointing road trip — getting 3 of 6 points on a three-game swing — and currently sitting outside of the playoff structure, Bruins coach Claude Julien conducted a rather feisty news conference on Sunday morning ahead of his team’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Sabres.
Asked what he liked about his current group of seven defensemen, with Joe Morrow sent to Providence on Sunday, Julien responded, “Who said I liked them?”
OK, so what don’t you like about them?
“Who said I didn’t like them?”
The frustration on the part of Julien was obvious, with the Bruins sitting 10th in the Eastern Conference, unable to score consistently, and the season rapidly nearing its halfway point. And while putting the puck in the net seems to be the team’s more pressing issue, Julien was particularly critical of Dennis Seidenberg.
Last week, when discussing why Morrow had an extended stay in the press box, Julien referred to the problem as being partially a left-right issue. The Bruins have only three right-shot defensemen on their roster — Dougie Hamilton, Kevan Miller, Zach Trotman — which makes it harder to use the odd-man out left-shot defensemen (Morrow, Matt Bartkowski) with three left shots already penciled in: Seidenberg, Zdeno Chara, and Torey Krug.
On Friday, Julien opted to use Seidenberg on the right with Bartkowski. It didn’t exactly go well. But that has generally been the outcome when those players have been paired. When asked about the issues that Seidenberg has had when paired with Bartkowski, the coach didn’t pull his punches.
“I think when we look at Seids, he’s come off a major injury,” Julien said. “I don’t think anybody here thinks Seids is playing at his full potential right now. So, no matter where he’s been, he’s had his share of struggles. I don’t think it has anything to do with [playing on the] right or left. You can look at Seids, but whoever has played, they’ve had their fair share of struggles. He has to find his game and once he finds his game, he’ll be a lot better.
“When you look at the game and you see what’s going on and you look at it again, sometimes you realize you’re pointing the finger at the wrong person. We have to look at it objectively. That’s our job. And that job is not for me to come out and publicly throw my players under the bus, but I see certain things.
“That’s what I’m trying to tell you guys. I’m not here to explain my every move, but we see certain things that we have to make decisions on. Again, I’m not one of those guys that’s going to start carving my players. If I have something to say to them, it will be behind closed doors.”
Asked if he believes he’s been struggling, Seidenberg said, “No.”
“I mean, I obviously sucked at the beginning of the season,” Seidenberg said. “But I think I’ve come along. There’s always ups and downs in a season so I was trying to get stronger on the downs and come out better and smarter and more experienced.”
“I mean everybody goes through it. Let’s hope it keeps going up and only gets better.”
Combinations no lock
When the Bruins came out at the start of Sunday’s game against the Sabres, a change had been made: Loui Eriksson was skating with Milan Lucic and David Krejci.
Julien had indicated Friday that he was thinking about revisiting the line, which had mostly played together in training camp, and did so for a couple of late third-period shifts against the Jets, but he went to it immediately Sunday.
It lasted through the first period and about 15 minutes into the second, when Julien went back to his usual lineup of Eriksson with Carl Soderberg and Chris Kelly. That trio was on the ice for its first shift together when Kelly scored at 15:36 of the second, on a deflection of a Chara shot, tying the game at 2.
“We needed some scoring, I guess,” Julien said. “I felt like I should put him back where he was really comfortable. It’s hard because David is just starting again and he’s starting to find his stride.
“I’m gonna tell you: Loui was a real good player tonight. That’s all I’m gonna say. Wherever he was, he was good.”
He added, “It’s something we’re trying, we’re trying to find some solutions to our lines and, as I mentioned this morning, you put him there, the other lines, it was OK, worked hard, but didn’t have the same chemistry. That’s what I’ve got to do as a coach, I’ve got to be able to move them around when I have to.”
The Lucic-Krejci-Eriksson trio happened to be on the ice for the winner, but not exactly by design. Eriksson had just come on the ice for the change when Krejci sent the puck to Chara, and started to get off the ice. From there it went to Lucic and to Eriksson, who fought off Josh Gorges for the winner.
But with the production from Eriksson with Kelly and Soderberg, it remains difficult to break up the group, especially as the team is having so much trouble scoring.
Asked whether he would keep that line together, Lucic laughed and said, “I think so.”
“When you look at it right now, I mean there’s no reason to take them apart. They’ve been our best line, especially in the last three games. They got a goal in Minnesota. They played a pretty good game in Winnipeg and obviously another good game here today, so it’s good that at least one line is clicking.
“It’s up to the rest of us to find our game and that’s the importance of being a good team is having every line going that you can go after teams in waves and line after line. It’s up to the rest of us to step up our game and play like the Soderberg line has been playing.”
With the goal, Eriksson has 6 points in seven games, including four goals. He also scored in overtime against Minnesota on Wednesday, and has eight overtime goals since the 2008-2009 season. He is tied with Steven Stamkos over that period. Only Alex Ovechkin (10) has more.
Bartkowski to dodge hit
According to an NHL source, there will be no supplemental discipline for Bartkowski on his hit on Brian Gionta at 14:08 of the first period. The hit was seen as coming with his shoulder with some incidental contact to the head, which would not rise to the level of a suspension. Upon impact, Gionta went head over heels onto the ice where he appeared to land on his head. He left the game and did not return. Marcus Foligno immediately dropped the gloves and fought Bartkowski. The fight was the first of Bartkowski’s NHL career, according to hockeyfights.com. Bartkowski received a five-minute fighting major, a five-minute interference major, and a game misconduct . . . Buffalo forward Tim Schaller, a Merrimack, N.H., native and Providence College product, scored his first NHL goal. His parents were in the stands. Schaller, who said he was a Bruins fan growing up, had a large cheering section, which he estimated at 20 to 30 people.
In defense of rookie
While Morrow was sent down to Providence on Sunday, Julien seemed relatively happy with the play of the rookie defenseman. He mentioned that part of the reason for sending Morrow down was the fact that he does not need to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL.
“He’s played well,” Julien said. “He’s played well, but you know, his play dropped a little bit at the end and it showed. So, not a big deal, a lot of players have bad games so it’s not about picking on him. But, again, going back to the minors gives him an opportunity to play here and find his game again.
“I think I’ve seen enough from him where I would have no issues calling him back up.”
Amalie Benjamin can be reached at email@example.com.