The losses pile higher, the hope of a playoff berth grows slimmer, and Bruins coach Claude Julien said Saturday that he is fully aware of the ongoing rumors that have him on the verge of being cashiered from Causeway Street.
Sounding somewhat philosophical about his future, and resolute about his commitment to improve his club’s faltering record, the 56-year-old Julien made clear that he’s committed to the job and intends to remain here until or unless told otherwise.
“My job is to coach this team and do everything I can,” said Julien, less than 24 hours after his club fell again at home, 1-0, to the Blackhawks. “And if I become one of the reasons that we are not doing well, then I think management has to make that decision — it’s not my decision to make.
“So I am not quitting on this team. I am not quitting on anybody, I am not quitting on management. I am ready and willing to go through the hard times, and I said that at the end of last year. If it is deemed my fault, then I shouldn’t be here, that’s all I can say. But that is not my decision to make.’’
Julien, hired by then-general manager Peter Chiarelli to be the bench boss in the fall of 2007, this season has overseen a club in a near-constant struggle to score. The shutout Friday night came only four days after the Bruins were blanked, 4-0, by the Islanders at the Garden.
It is the first time since February 2012 that the Bruins have been blanked in back-to-back games on Causeway Street. They’ve never been frozen out in three straight games on home ice. And rarely, if ever, have they been as unentertaining at home, where Friday night their record at the Garden fell to 10-12-0 for the season.
The Bruins will be in Pittsburgh Sunday for a 3 p.m. matinee, hoping they can knock off the defending Cup champs and snap a three-game losing streak (0-2-1) that has left them poised to surrender their tenuous hold on one of the eight playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.
Julien, behind the bench when the Bruins broke a 39-year skid and won the Stanley Cup in 2011, in recent days has been barraged by media reports and talk-show banter that his tenure is about to end. Such speculation has become somewhat routine during his employment in the Hub of Hockey, both before and after the Cup win, but never with such frequency.
Following the loss Friday night, he opted not to answer a question about his job security, abruptly dismissing it as “shock journalism” before ending his postgame press conference. But following a brief practice at Warrior Ice Arena late Saturday morning, he more calmly and firmly addressed the subject.
“I didn’t feel it was the appropriate time for me to answer that,” noted Julien, speaking with approximately a dozen media members after the workout. “After a game, your emotions are pretty high, and so I wasn’t getting into that.
“But to be honest with you guys, my job is to coach the hockey club. Am I worried about my job? No, I am not. Because it’s not my job to worry about it. My job is to fix things. I think my job is to coach this team and do everything I can — and if I become one of the reasons that we are not doing well, well, then I think management has to make that decision; it’s not my decision to make.”
Meanwhile, Julien underscored a point that has become painfully obvious over the first three-plus months of the season: Boston’s forwards lack grit and determination around the net. Game after game, the Bruins land plenty of shots, routinely outshoot their opponents, but lack the moxie to follow up with second or third efforts when rebounds or blocked shots are available in prime scoring areas.
“It’s been a challenge,” he said. “We have to have a better nose for the net. We’ve to get more guys to be determined to go to the front of the net and stand there and do their jobs. It’s not a fun job. But it’s a job that needs to be done.
“At this stage, right now, we are not viewed as a high-skilled team. So we have to be willing to go to the net. We’ve got to be willing to do it the dirty way, and the dirty way is by getting some net-front presence and grinding it out in that net-front area, so that’s where our team is right now.”
Practice, scheduled to start at 11 a.m., wasn’t called to order until Julien met with the group along the sideboards just after 11:15. With the attentive players huddled around him, he spoke for 3-4 minutes, all the time eschewing the white board along the glass behind him. It wasn’t about X’s and O’s.
“Again, my job every day is to come in and try to fix things,” he said when asked what he said to group. “Until I am told otherwise, that’s what I’m going to keep doing.”
Team captain Zdeno Chara, saying that “Claude is our coach and will be our coach,” said he felt the team remained capable of putting together a series of wins.
“He’s proven to be a coach that has done a lot of good things for this organization,” said Chara, named the Boston captain a year prior to Julien being hired. “We’ve got to come up with some wins. We are all in this together.”
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The Bruins assigned forward Anton Blidh to Providence of the AHL on Saturday. Blidh has played 19 games for the big club, registering a goal and an assist.