Since Claude Julien became the Boston Bruins head coach in 2007, the Bruins have consistently ranked in the top 10 in team Goals Against Average. Boston has made the playoffs in each of Julien’s seasons, but have only advanced past the second round of the postseason twice. The Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and lost a year ago to the Chicago Blackhawks.
When the Bruins won it all in 2011, it was thanks largely in part to Tim Thomas having one of the best playoffs for a goalie in NHL history. Defense was also key in that playoff run, as Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg shut down the best offense in the Vancouver Canucks.
The same was repeated in 2013 when Boston swept the Pittsburgh Penguins and neutralized Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. But, when it came to the Cup Final in 2013, the Bruins could not match the offensive firepower of the Blackhawks, who also bolstered a top defensive unit with the likes of Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook.
Herein lies the problem for the Bruins under Julien. Boston has the ability every game to limit the opposition’s offensive production. But, the defensive responsibilities that forwards are expected to play takes a toll on the Bruins’ offensive prowess. For example, David Krejci, the leading point scorer in the playoffs in 2013, was a shell of himself offensively. His role in the defensive end, making up for the Bruins’ lack of defensive responsibility, limited his energy and creative output in the breakout game.
Unlike a team, say the Montreal Canadiens, who rely on transition hockey to score goals, Boston generally scores on well-developed breakouts and high zone-time to put the puck in the net. Under Julien’s system, the Bruins utilize a heavy forward backcheck, combined with constant board play in the defensive end to wear teams down.
Julien uses a two-man checking system in the corners and a high man in front of the net to limit offensive opportunities. The second corner man is often the center of the offensive line, forcing him to be 200 feet from the offensive goal.
For the Bruins to return to the Eastern Conference Finals, and eventually the Stanley Cup Final, they will need to develop a more potent offensive breakout while easing the responsibilities of Boston’s most talented offensive players. Julien emphasizes two-way hockey players. And that is the calling card of a strong Bruins player. But, the system does not allow for much offensive creativity.
In order for Boston to return to glory, Julien needs to devise a way to utilize his most talented playmakers and goal scorers in a more dynamic way. The Bruins’ defensive corps struggles under pressure, and it becomes more evident with teams that have top-flight speed.
For both teams in the Stanley Cup Final, the New York Rangers and Los Angeles Kings, their defense is active and engaged in the offense, while the offense uses responsibility and timely backchecking to stop the opposition. Both teams have high pressure checking in the defensive end from defensemen who create opportunities for a fast breakout and a quick transition game. Julien can take a page out of the Kings’ and Rangers’ playbooks headed into next season.