Bruins shoot holes in theory

MONTREAL - Claude Julien was known as a defense-first, trap-happy coach.

He preached the box-plus-one defensive system, where the priority is the slot area, nearly always filled by one defenseman, who is sometimes joined by forwards collapsing into the middle of the ice.

But going into last night's much-anticipated tilt against the Canadiens, the Julien-led Bruins could consider themselves sharpshooters as well. They had scored 65 goals in 20 games, the most lamp-lighters of any club in the Eastern Conference, two more than a Washington offense featuring Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

The makeover of the go-go Bruins starts at the back, where the defensemen have been activated to join the rush and jump up in the play. It hasn't necessarily led to an avalanche of points from the blue line - Dennis Wideman led all defensemen with 10 - but the puck has shuttled from the defensive zone to the attacking end with a quickness and crispness that wasn't often the case in 2007-08.

"We've been preaching that for a year and a half now, and eventually you hope to see the results," Julien said. "It's becoming more and more of a second-nature thing now - how quickly we move the puck, how we use each other as outlets, the D's always giving partners an out and not being lazy coming back - and we've been working on that a lot in the last year and more."

The Bruins have also benefited from a talent glut up front. Last season, when Patrice Bergeron went down, fourth-line center Glen Metropolit had to take over much of the talented pivot's offensive responsibilities. The Bruins also had to break in rookies such as Petteri Nokelainen and Vladimir Sobotka, giving the youngsters featured roles. In comparison, Nokelainen and Sobotka have had trouble cracking the lineup regularly this season because of the team's rich roster.

"Our depth in that area is much deeper," said Julien. "I think we've got more now to be able to score goals. You can see it's spread out. The scoring's spread out on our stat sheet and the scoring's spread out on our lines.

"That's something we didn't have. By the time we got to our third line, we had young guys like Sobotka just coming up. His main thing was, `Let's just not get scored on.' Nokie was the same thing."

Of all the Bruins expected to lead the club in power-play time Friday against Florida, Matt Hunwick wouldn't be the first name on any list. But Hunwick clocked in with 2 minutes 26 seconds of man-advantage time during Boston's 4-2 win.

For the first time this season, Julien selected Hunwick to serve as one of two point men on the No. 2 power-play unit. In the first three games that the Bruins were without Andrew Ference (fractured right tibia), P.J. Axelsson worked the point alongside Wideman on the second unit. But Friday, Julien used Axelsson on the first unit and chose Hunwick for the second.

Julien explained that he wanted the lefty-shooting Axelsson down low instead of the righty-shooting Chuck Kobasew against Florida.

"I think it's a little more simplified than the first unit, especially when you have big bodies in front of the net like [Blake Wheeler] and [Milan Lucic]," said Hunwick. "You try to get pucks there. The skill guys try and make the plays.

"Dennis has the one-timer from my side. He was able to get a lot of wrist shots through. I think that's something that's emphasized in our meetings: getting pucks to the net and trying to create rebounds and odd-man chances down low."

Against the Panthers, Hunwick played a season-high 17:06, continuing his upward trajectory since his introduction to the lineup. Last Monday against the Maple Leafs, Hunwick scored his first career goal. Hunwick, however, was also shaky in his own end against Toronto. Since then, he's looked more comfortable defensively while contributing to the offense.

"The Toronto game, even though I scored a goal, I didn't feel good out there," Hunwick said. "Since that game, I've played better and tried to play a lot better.

"Playing with Dennis, he and I are starting to get used to playing with each other. It's all about positioning at this level, which is something I'm continuing to work on."

Last night, the Canadiens retired the No. 33 of Patrick Roy, the four-time champion who revolutionized modern goaltending with his butterfly style.

"He was a great teammate, probably one of the best I've had," said Montreal coach Guy Carbonneau, who won two Cups with Roy.

"He's a great friend. The honor that he has tonight, he deserves it."

While the Canadiens were on the bench for the 45-minute ceremony, the Bruins remained in their dressing room.

"We're getting ourselves ready like any normal game, and the ceremony is happening before we even step out for warmups," said Julien. "It's just keeping our focus on what we have to do and respecting what they have to do.

"Obviously there's a great player being honored here tonight and deserves what's happening to him. Nonetheless, we still have a job to do here, and that's come in here and try to win a Hockey game."

Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at

Author: Fox Sports
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Added: November 25, 2008