By Spencer Lindsay Follow Me On Twitter @suspenceful9
In the (13) games since Bruce Cassidy has taken over as interim head coach, the Boston Bruins have soared upward. They have become one of the hottest teams in the NHL and have played to the tune of a 10-3-0 record in the era of Bruce Cassidy. In those 13 games, there have been noticeably good changes in the way the team is playing. The structure hasn’t changed much, most of the defensive zone play, neutral zone play, powerplay, and penalty kill structure has remained largely the same. The structure that did change? The way they attacked the net.
Bruce Cassidy told reporters in his first press conference as interim head coach that he wanted his players to use their skill more in the offensive zone to create better scoring chances. So far the team has reaped the rewards of that philosophy. Outscoring opponents 47 to 27 in that time and only dropping three games. They tallied wins against three division leaders, two of them being the San Jose Sharks, and the third being a 4-0 beat-down against the Bruins most hated rival, the Montreal Canadiens. Perhaps the most satisfying win of them all. With this recent improvement of play, the Bruins have soared back into a playoff spot, and appear poised to once again be playing hockey in April, rather than golf.
However, besides just winning and the hope of playoffs, there are other reasons to be excited as a Bruins fan right now. First of all, the Bruins have quite a few decent to potential star players in their farm system. Names like Charlie McAvoy, Anders Bjork, Jakob Forsbacka-Karlsson, and Jeremy Lauzon, have the organization looking primed for the future. The Bruins also have arguably two of the better younger players in the NHL as well in David Pastrnak and Brandon Carlo. They even have the second overall point scorer in the NHL, in Brad Marchand, who has emerged as an elite talent in the league within the last two seasons.
All of these positives signs aside, there is one sign getting overlooked, and that is that the Bruins finally seem to have decided on a direction for the team, and even more re-assuring is that it happens to be the same direction the league is going.
Within the last 3 years, NHL fans have seen the size of the nets increased, the depth of the nets decreased to encourage plays behind the goal line, and rule changes regarding the size of the equipment that goalies can use. All of these changes were made with one purpose, and that was to increase scoring league wide. NHL executives realized that a 6-4 game is much more exciting to most fans than a 1-0 or a 2-1 overtime game, and took action to make the former results more plausible. It’s with these rule changes in mind that my reasoning comes for the Bruins finally moving with the league, instead of against it.
Under Claude Julien, the Bruins were continuing to play a more defensively minded game, and we saw what kind of results that brought. It seemed the Bruins were bound to come just short of a playoff spot again, and a rebuild would be almost certain. However, the roster that General Manager Don Sweeney was putting together the last two years did not have the proper players to play this defensive structure. That’s why more often than not, you saw players like Ryan Spooner and Frank Vatrano being underutilized because they weren’t responsible enough defensively, to fit with Claude Julien’s system. However league wide, players like Spooner and Vatrano seem to shine. Why is this? Coaches know their player’s strengths and weaknesses and put them in situations to shine, rather than fail.
Now, this is not saying that Claude Julien is a bad coach. Julien brought a cup back to Boston, something I and other Bruins fans are eternally grateful for. But he also was a big part of the reason the Bruins didn’t make the playoffs the last two seasons, and why they were close to not making the cut again this season. The NHL is going to get what they want, regardless of whether or not your team is on board with it. Playing a defensively minded game when the league has explicitly said and acted on the fact that they want more scoring seems redundant. If this team was going to continue with a defensive coach but an offensive roster, mediocrity would be its destiny until one of those things changed. With all these new rule changes to increase scoring, and Julien coaching his style, the Bruins would manage to be not the worst team in the league, but not the best either.
Thankfully, it seems as though with Bruce Cassidy at the helm, the Bruins are finally getting on board the offensive train. Albeit later than most teams, but not too late. In his time as coach, we’ve seen players like Adam Mcquaid suddenly activate offensively, going on a three-game point streak (the longest in his career) which included a beautiful backdoor goal against Carey Price. Other defensemen have also gotten involved more offensively as well with Kevan Miller scoring here and there, Colin Miller finally playing like the player we traded for, Brandon Carlo with a couple goals, you get the picture. The fact is, this is the way the league is going. Defenseman jumping in on the play instead of posting up at the blue line, teams having lines of just offensive forwards who rarely take defensive zone faceoffs, and forwards using their skating to create time and space.
So rest easy Bruins fans. The Bruins did not miss the offensive style train, they may have been late getting on, but the point is that they did get on.