NHL coaches are peculiar creatures. They rip off a flurry of naughty words if a linesman misses an offside. They think little of exposing a player's shortcomings in a video session in front of his teammates. They develop a first-grader's mastery of anatomy when queried about the nature of a player's injury.
But they are good eggs when it comes to aiding counterparts who can only dream of standing behind an NHL bench.
On Nov. 21 at TD Garden, Claude Julien and his assistants participated in a coaching symposium in conjunction with USA Hockey. On the morning of a game day, Julien and his staff shared their knowledge with the people who are really making a difference in hockey: the coaches and officials working long hours at short pay teaching the sport to children.
■ Bruins assistant coach Joe Sacco, who is responsible for the power play, praised Torey Krug and David Krejci for working the points well on the No. 1 unit. Sacco also noted how well Patrice Bergeron has been playing the bumper position as the safety valve and shooting option in the middle.
Part of Bergeron's responsibility as the bumper is to form a high triangle with the point men when the puck goes from low to high. This forces penalty killers to shift the box and move high instead of packing in down low.
"You can work the puck there and go D-to-D at the top of the circles," Sacco said. "It creates confusion for the defending team. It opens up space up top when teams want to collapse deep."
■ Sacco instructs his charges to shoot the puck as soon as possible after the faceoff, sometimes even regardless of the attempt’s quality. Shooting quickly is the priority rather than setting up, looking for plays, and allowing the penalty kill to find its footing.
Through 22 games, eight of the Bruins' 20 power-play goals were scored within 30 seconds of the start of the man advantage. The first unit had scored 15 of the goals.
The Bruins' fastest one-up goal took only seven seconds against Montreal on Oct. 10. Bergeron won the faceoff, then rotated into position to take a David Pastrnak feed and beat Carey Price.
"The earlier we start out shooting the puck, it softens up the penalty kill," Sacco said. "It creates rebounds. It gets the PKers moving around and creates loose pucks. If we retrieve, then we can set up and catch them out of position."
■ As manager of the defensemen, Doug Houda reminds his charges that keeping a tight gap starts in the offensive zone. It starts by joining the rush and staying close to the forwards. When the opponent gains puck possession in the far end, a defenseman’s instinct is to pull the cord and backtrack. But this gives the opposition the advantage of a slack gap.
Houda instructs the defensemen to ride the offensive blue line when the other team gains possession.
"We want them to ride across the line and be wider on the dots," Houda said. "Ride across, gap up, and skate. Not retreat and stand up at the center, which creates good gaps. We want the weak-side defenseman to belly inside the zone, then pull yourself back."
■ Defensemen have to be good at skating backward and keeping the play in front of them. But there’s nothing wrong with skating forward and stopping a rush from developing in the first place.
For example, if the puck pops out to the opposing right wing along the wall in the neutral zone, skating backward may not necessarily be the best play. The strong-side defenseman could contain the wing by skating forward and engaging in a battle instead.
"It's about angling," Houda said. "You don't have to go, turn around, and create space. Ride that guy off and end it. The sooner you can end it, the better. Then you go D-to-D, transition, and get going up again."
■ The Bruins emphasize boxing out. This gives goaltender Tuukka Rask good looks at the puck. It also reduces the threat of attackers tipping pucks or slamming in rebounds.
But it becomes harder to do the closer forwards get to the net. So the Bruins teach their defensemen to begin the process farther out.
"We teach players to box out from the corner," Houda said. "Once they pass from the corner, you can get body position right there. When the shot is taken, you're pushing people away from 10-15 feet away."
■ Even in the NHL, depth players don’t touch the puck much during the game. In the Bruins’ 2-0 win over Toronto Nov. 21, I counted nine puck handles for Zac Rinaldo in 5:54 of ice time.
It's essential, therefore, to devise practice drills to emphasize touches. During a three-on-two drill, for example, the play should extend after the shot flies.
"Stay on the same puck and continue to work it in a low situation around the net," said assistant coach Doug Jarvis. "It gives them more time and more chances to work with the puck, have it longer, and create more or play with it. Or add a second or third puck."
■ In practice, goalies need easy shots to raise their confidence. But they should also go through difficult sequences, maybe even ones they’d never see during a game. Such situations reveal more about their mental stability than their physical attributes.
"The drills I try and create are physically challenging," said goaltending coach Bob Essensa. "It's a good barometer to see where their head is at. If they start snapping because a fourth-liner is going shelf three times in a row, you get a good gauge on where their head is at."
Eriksson could be useful in package
If the Bruins decide to trade Loui Eriksson instead of re-signing the unrestricted free agent-to-be, the asking price will be at least a first-round pick and a prospect. This is the return the Coyotes landed from Chicago (first-rounder and young defenseman Klas Dalhbeck) for Antoine Vermette last year. Eriksson is a far better player than Vermette.
This would give the Bruins three first-rounders for the second straight season. They already have their own and San Jose's via the Martin Jones trade. Last June, they selected Jakub Zboril, Jake DeBrusk, and Zach Senyshyn with picks 13-15.
But if the Bruins packaged Eriksson with one of the two 2016 first-rounders, it would expand the degree of return they could expect. They might even be able to land a young defenseman to replace Dougie Hamilton.
For example, Nashville and Minnesota have two of the league's deepest blue lines. The Predators have money and term invested in Shea Weber, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, and Ryan Murphy. Seth Jones, the No. 4 pick from 2013, will be restricted after this season. The Predators have always been looking for offensive-minded forwards. They recently were blanked in three straight games.
The Wild are in a similar situation. Their long-term investments are Ryan Suter, Jonas Brodin, and Marco Scandella. Jared Spurgeon and Matt Dumba will be RFAs after this season. Minnesota would like to make room for prospect Mike Reilly. Adding a versatile wing like Eriksson would complement Zach Parise, Mikko Koivu, and Thomas Vanek.
Of the two RFAs-to-be, the 21-year-old Dumba, No. 7 overall in 2012, has the higher upside than the 25-year-old Spurgeon. Dumba's skating is terrific. He can move the puck and join the rush because of his wheels.
No team wants to give up good, young, right-shot defensemen. The Bruins did not like trading Hamilton to Calgary. But the package of one first- and two second-round picks made them pull the trigger. A combination of Eriksson and a first-rounder might prompt a team to do the same.
Julien, Therrien will be exposed
Bruins coach Claude Julien and Canadiens counterpart Michel Therrien have another week of freedom. On Dec. 6, cameras from Ross Greenburg Productions will swarm Boston and Montreal. They will begin shooting for "Road to the Winter Classic," the series chronicling both organizations as they prepare for the Jan. 1 outdoor game at Gillette Stadium. The first episode will air on Dec. 16.
"I really wanted to impress upon both that we're not going to get in the way of them preparing for and executing on game day," said executive producer Ross Greenburg, who held meetings with the Bruins and Canadiens. "We're just going to be flies on the wall.
"It's important to gain that trust. Once you gain the trust, then you can go in a little deeper. You can ask for more and potentially get more out of the teams. But you have to establish that trust."
Greenburg created the template while with HBO. In 2010, the premiere season of "24/7 Penguins/Capitals: Road to the Winter Classic" stunned the sport. It illuminated the rigors of NHL play and the personalities of those on the ice and behind the bench. There have since been numerous copycats, mostly the teams themselves.
The series is no longer on the powerful HBO platform. For the second season, its home will be Epix. Episodes also will stream at NHL.com.
Despite Epix's limited brand recognition in comparison to HBO, Greenburg is deploying maximum resources to create the league's preeminent behind-the-curtain programming. That means approximately a dozen staffers on site following both teams, another 20 editors in New York, and about 100 hours of raw footage that will be distilled into each one-hour episode.
The result will be the blossoming of Julien and Therrien as TV stars. It's happened every time with the coaches, from high-energy Dan Bylsma in Pittsburgh to foul-mouthed, sauce-stained Bruce Boudreau in Washington.
Like all coaches, Julien and Therrien are control freaks. They will not enjoy having cameras watching every video session and intermission speech. The objective of Greenburg's team is to blend into the room so that Julien and Therrien forget the red lights are on. That's when the cameras usually capture the best stuff.
"They really are the lead actors," Greenburg said. "They set the tone and the theme for the teams. We know going into all these shows that both head coaches will become key players in our story development. That's a given."
NHL CEO Collins grew the brand
Partnerships such as the one the league has with Epix would not exist without the vision of NHL chief operating officer John Collins, who announced his resignation Tuesday. When Collins joined the league in November of 2006, there was no Winter Classic, let alone an all-access show capturing every move. Now the league not only has a suite of outdoor games, but booming TV contracts with NBC and Rogers, and a deal with MLB Advanced Media. The league has grown to a point where expansion is possible. Collins helped the NHL advance to this stage.
Komarov is a new Leaf
Toronto's previous regime did not do many things right. But former GM Dave Nonis and his colleagues made a terrific call on July 1, 2014, by signing Leo Komarov to a four-year, $11.8 million contract. Toronto had drafted Komarov in the sixth round in 2006, but he played for Moscow of the KHL in 2013-14 and became an unrestricted free agent. During his first spin through the NHL, Komarov (4-5—9 in 42 games in 2012-13) was deployed as a bottom-six grinder. This year, he has been a dynamic right wing on the No. 1 line alongside James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri. The 28-year-old has been a skilled pit bull while playing his off wing. He's done everything for the Leafs: drive possession in five-on-five play, create chances on the power play, and play big minutes on the penalty kill. He has some of Henrik Zetterberg's 200-foot relentlessness. No wonder Mike Babcock is a big Komarov fan.
Glimpse of the future in Winnipeg
Winnipeg's plan was for Connor Hellebuyck to continue developing as a second-year pro in Manitoba, its AHL affiliate. But the former UMass Lowell goaltender is in line to backstop ex-Bruin prospect Michael Hutchinson with the varsity following Ondrej Pavelec's knee injury. Pavelec is out at least one month and possibly longer. His injury accelerated Hellebuyck's development process, but it could be a look at how Winnipeg's crease looks long-term. The inconsistent Pavelec is under contract through 2017 at $3.9 million annually. Hutchinson and Hellebuyck do not have their teammate's experience. But both goalies, who are on their entry-level contracts, are talented and cheap. Those qualities are just as important as experience.
Putting it on the goalie’s doorstep
As if Colorado's record weren't concerning enough, here's coach Patrick Roy on goaltender Semyon Varlamov, one of the team's most disappointing players: "Varly needs to be the Varly of two years ago," Roy told the Denver Post. "For us to win games, he needs to be our best player." This is a scary philosophy. Like every goalie not named Carey Price or Henrik Lundqvist, Varlamov depends highly on his teammates playing well. For the last two seasons, they have not. Their downfall is reflected in Varlamov's numbers (4-6-1, 3.22 GAA, .890 save percentage). A goalie can do only so much when his teammates never have the puck.
Ex-Maple Leafs Tuukka Rask (first-round pick, 2005) and Jonas Gustavsson (free agent, 2009) recently went up against their old club in a back-to-back set. The Boston netminders are one of four current tandems that share a former employer. The others: Arizona's Mike Smith and Anders Lindback (Dallas), Florida's Roberto Luongo and Al Montoya (Islanders), and Anaheim's Frederik Andersen and Anton Khudobin (Carolina)
Eleven Bruins practiced the day before Thanksgiving. GM Don Sweeney joined the session partway through, then paced himself through a bag skate long after the players left the rink. Peter Chiarelli wasn't one for solo skates . . . An option for your holiday shopping: "The Best of the WHA Hall of Fame" Blu-ray video. The five-hour look at the colorful league is $30 and available at whahof.com . . . During the Leafs' 2-0 loss to the Bruins Nov. 21, their top line combined for zero shots on goal. The Bruins rolled out Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara against the first-liners . . . Old friend Johnny Boychuk broke two of Brendan Gallagher's fingers on his left hand with one of his trademark blasts last Sunday. Gallagher will be out six weeks following surgery. It was unclear which of Gallagher's digits were injured. But given the right wing's feisty, in-your-face approach, it's a good bet a middle finger was involved.
Longtime Shark Patrick Marleau recently became the 83d player in NHL history to reach 1,000 career points. Should the 36-year-old forward choose to retire with San Jose, he would be among the very few to score all 1,000-plus career points with just one franchise — though he is on pace to have the second-fewest points per game among those players. The short list: