In his time under Claude Julien’s tutelage, Brad Marchand went from third-line agitator in hopes of staying employed to first-line NHL star. It was no surprise then that Marchand was among the Bruins’ most chagrined players over the firing Tuesday of the longtime coach.
“I was very disappointed,” said Marchand. “I couldn’t believe that it finally came to this. I think we are losing a huge asset to our organization and our team, and we all realize that in here.”
The Bruins finally made the move after losing to the Maple Leafs, 6-5, on Saturday, their home record falling to a lackluster 12-13-0. The sellout crowd of 17,565 booed as the players left the ice, which no doubt resonated all the way to the club’s corporate office in Buffalo.
“It’s unfortunate sometimes in this game and this business that the coach takes the heat for our lack of success,” added Marchand. “I was disappointed and frustrated.
“I can understand it because of where we’re at. It’s frustrating because we forced their hand. We didn’t give them an option because of how bad we’ve been at times.
“We’re no longer in a playoff spot. We’re better than where we’re at. We’re the kind of team that’s going to fight in the middle of the pack, but we are better than where we’re at, and it’s unfortunate that we kind of played ourselves into this position that Claude took the brunt of that.”
Franchise netminder Tuukka Rask did not believe the players had tuned out Julien, who had been on the job since the start of the 2007-08 season.
“Claude talked to us about it, too, in previous years, he was around so long,” said Rask. “He changed, too. It wasn’t like he was the same guy for the 9-10 years he was here.
“He realized the fact that if you keep sending the same message all the time, it is going to get old. He recognized that. He changed. He improved. I don’t think it was the case that anybody was tuning him out.
“When you are the coach and you feel you are doing everything you can, and the results are not there, you kind of probably feel like you get tuned out. But we definitely didn’t feel that as players.”
Veteran center David Krejci, though noting memories from Julien’s tenure that he“will cherish for a lifetime,” was among the more practical voices in the room.
“At the same time, you can say it hasn’t been working — I don’t want to say this year — but we haven’t made the playoffs in two years,” said Krejci. “Something’s got to change, I guess . . . whether it’s players or coaches . . . it’s not always the coach’s fault.
“It’s just one of the things that happens. You know, management, they do what they do. And as players, we obviously support the decision and we are here to win the games.”
Going right to work
The Bruins began their first practice under interim coach Bruce Cassidy at approximately 11 a..m. Tuesday, some three hours after the club announced the dismissal of Julien.
Team captain Zdeno Chara was not on the ice for the up-tempo workout, which had players dressed only in black or white sweaters — a departure from the standard practice that would have the four offensive lines dressed in a variety of colors, and defensemen in black.
Rather than focus on line combos, Cassidy had his troops break out in four- and five-man units, with an emphasis on speed and puck movement.
It’s likely Cassidy is approaching Tuesday and Wednesday as a two-day mini-camp, to sort out whether he wants any lineup changes ahead of his first game Thursday vs. the Sharks at the Garden.
The Bruins made one roster move, calling up forward Peter Cehlarik from Providence and moving Austin Czarnik (lower-body injury) to the injured reserve list.
Later in the workout, Cassidy briefly tried the following line combinations, which included the promotion of Frank Vatrano to the first line:
David Backes-Ryan Spooner- Matt Beleskey
Tim Schaller-Dominic Moore-Jimmy Hayes
Riley Nash was the spare.
Cassidy ran a very deliberate, up-tempo practice, spending little time on X’s and O’s or explaining drills.
Often, amid coaching changes, team conditioning is a concern of the new guy. Cassidy wouldn’t go so far as to say he felt his charges were out of shape, but he did see room for improvement.
“I think our practices could be more demanding,” he said, when asked specifically if he felt the team was in shape. “So, that’s not a yes and that’s not a no.
“I just know how I like to practice. I like to push the tempo more in practice because that’s one thing as a coach you can control is generally the condition of the players and their minutes on the ice.”
Rask is ‘plugging away’
Among the failings of the front office, one of the biggest has been the backup goaltender position. Anton Khudobin, Malcolm Subban, and Zane McIntyre have not provided NHL-worthy support for Rask.
Has Rask felt the toll?
“Not really,” said the Finnish stopper, forced into back-to-back starts last week because Julien didn’t have confidence in McIntyre. “Obviously when a team is struggling at times, you have to be on top of your game and help the team win every night, and it wears on you. But I think everybody has full trust in our backups.
“I’ve played a lot of hockey, but that’s what I am paid to do. I try to be at my best every night, and obviously that is not going to be the case always. But I keep plugging away, working hard and trust the results will come.”
A third straight playoff DNQ not only could cost Cassidy a chance to return next season, but it also could cost both Cam Neely (president) and Don Sweeney (GM) their jobs in the front office. Do they feel the heat? “I’m not going to answer for Cam,” said Sweeney. “I feel the heat every day. I have expectations for myself to continue. I said before, I have a plan in place that I would address some areas of need for the organization and I’m trying to do that. I’m trying to win, because anybody that knows me knows that I don’t accept losing. If I fail and I have shortcomings in that regard, then I’ll walk out the door and say that I gave it my absolute best.”