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Bruins are playing like a different team now

Peter Cehlarik recorded his first 2 NHL points in Sunday’s win over Montreal.matthew j. lee/globe staff/Globe Staff

Peter Cehlarik returned to Rhode Island Monday while his Bruins teammates were scattering for islands of another variety to enjoy their break.

Cehlarik’s AHL assignment will not last long. It is a temporary visit for Cehlarik to stay sharp while the rest of the varsity unplugs. When the Bruins resume play Sunday against San Jose, Cehlarik will be back on the second line, where he has looked very much at home.

Cehlarik recorded two assists in the Bruins’ 4-0 thumping of the Canadiens Sunday. The 21-year-old’s first NHL points came five days after he was recalled. That same day, the Bruins fired coach Claude Julien.


Promoting Cehlarik (18-15—33 in 40 AHL games) and sacking Julien have initiated a 3-0-0 charge through San Jose, Vancouver, and Montreal. It’s hard to determine how much the changes have factored into the team’s turnaround. Yet there is no arguing with results that have puffed away the dark cloud looming over the franchise.

“It’s a level of intensity that has gone up,” said David Backes. “A level of commitment that’s gone up, a level of excitement that’s gone up, and a level of belief. It seems like a different team when we’re out there, even when we get scored on.”

The question is why a reset didn’t take place sooner.

Their 6-point sprint has the Bruins in third place in the Atlantic Division. They have 64 points, the same as second-place Ottawa. They are 3 points clear of Toronto, which is fourth in the division and second in the wild-card race.

The trouble is their break.

It may seem trivial to the players currently warming their toes in the sand. But while the Bruins are hoisting drinks with little umbrellas, Ottawa (five games in hand) and Toronto (four) can bank points. The Senators play Buffalo Tuesday, New Jersey Thursday, and Toronto Saturday. The Maple Leafs play the Islanders Tuesday, Columbus Wednesday, and Ottawa Saturday.


Bruins general manager Don Sweeney is a methodical thinker. He didn’t fire Julien after the Bruins imploded in a 6-5 shootout loss to Detroit Jan. 18 in which they blew a 4-1 lead. The GM stood pat after the Penguins routed the Bruins four days later by a 5-1 score, a blowout that prompted Julien to question the roster.

“There’s a lot of guys right now that aren’t giving us enough,” Julien said after the loss. “This is a team that I think needs all 20 guys going in order to win. We don’t have enough talent to think we can get away with a mediocre game.”

Sweeney waited until three days after the Bruins’ 6-5 loss to Toronto Feb. 4 to let Julien go. If the Bruins believe their revival is because of the coaching change, they may regret waiting until then to make the move.

It’s hard to produce an accurate projection based on a three-game sample size. The Bruins were the NHL’s best possession team under Julien (55.8 Corsi For rating in all situations) and the worst at turning their puck-hogging into goals (7.4 shooting percentage).

Under Cassidy, the Bruins have a 14.1 shooting percentage. The uptick could measure better luck, higher chance quality, or a blend of both.

Stylistically, however, the Bruins have made changes to their approach.

■   Before the change, Adam McQuaid may not have felt comfortable sneaking back-door in anticipation of Cehlarik’s goal-producing pass Sunday, leaving Torey Krug alone up top to fend off a counterattack.


■   Kevan Miller may not have been as willing to join the third line in a dash toward the Vancouver net and put himself in position to slingshot a bead past Ryan Miller.

■   David Pastrnak may not have blown the zone prior to his winning goal against Vancouver.

■   Backes, promoted to the No. 1 threesome by Cassidy, may not have been in position to score once and dish out two assists against San Jose had he remained parked on the second line alongside David Krejci.

■   Cehlarik may still be in Providence.

The 21-year-old left wing has opened eyes during his two-game varsity stint. The Slovakian rookie played with pace in his NHL debut Saturday against Vancouver, logging 13:50 of ice time alongside fellow Euros Krejci and Pastrnak.

One night later, Cehlarik looked even more comfortable, dishing out two lovely helpers in the 4-0 thumping of Montreal.

In the first period, after Krejci won an offensive-zone faceoff against Tomas Plekanec, Cehlarik engaged in a set play that had the Canadiens running into themselves. Cehlarik, who lined up on Krejci’s left, dashed for the right-side boards after his center pulled the puck back to Krug. By the time Cehlarik posted up on the wall, he was all alone, free to snap a cross-ice feed for McQuaid to slam-dunk home.

In the second period, when the Bruins were on the power play, Cehlarik played the bumper position on the No. 2 unit. As the puck worked around the rotation, Cehlarik supported it wherever it went while keeping an eye on his teammates.


When Frank Vatrano hit him at the right circle, he one-touched a puck down to Backes. The quickness of Cehlarik’s pass and Backes’s followup dish to Krejci didn’t give goalie Carey Price a chance to stop the power-play strike.

“He has the hockey IQ and the hands,” Cassidy said. “Big enough body guy. You just don’t know when they come up if they can handle the pace, the pressure, time and space issues. So far, so good.

“I like the situation where we put him. I think he will complement a Krejci-type player with some give-and-go hockey. He’s not a guy who needs the puck through the neutral zone. That’s where Krech excels. He makes the little plays down low. He’s been a nice fit so far.”

New coach. New player. New life.

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at fshinzawa@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeFluto.