Bruins Expect Coaching Changes in Washington, Carolina to Impact Eastern Conference Race

Bruins Expect Coaching Changes in Washington, Carolina to Impact Eastern Conference RaceWILIMINGTON, Mass. — Shockwaves were sent through the NHL's Southeast Division on Monday morning with the firing of two veteran coaches, and the tremors were felt throughout the league.

The Bruins locker room was no different, as Washington's dismissal of Bruce Boudreau and Carolina's sacking of Paul Maurice were topics of conversation for Boston players and coaches alike.

"You definitely look at it and see how they're doing in the next few days and weeks," Bruins defenseman Dennis Seidenberg said. "Every time a coach gets fired teams usually pick it up again and put together a good run, so it will be interesting to see what they do."

Seidenberg played for Maurice in Carolina, and was with the Hurricanes when Maurice started his second stint there after another midseason change. Maurice returned to Carolina in December 2008 to replace Peter Laviolette, and led the Hurricanes to the Eastern Conference final the following spring, upsetting top-seeded Boston in the second round.

"He was a really good coach for me," Seidenberg said. "Off the ice he's very nice, obviously, but as a coach he put trust in me. He put me out on the ice a lot, and that's how you get better when a coach puts you on the ice and gives you confidence."

Still, Seidenberg understands why the Hurricanes may have made the move. They were 14th in the East at just 8-13-4 and a coaching change can snap a team out of such a funk.

"It definitely can work," Seidenberg said. "When I was there [in Carolina] with Laviolette and it just seemed that as a team we didn't respond anymore, and in that instance it helped us. We went on a big run and ended up making the playoffs. But sometimes it makes you pick up your game because you want to earn your ice time, there's a new face coming in and you want to prove yourself. So a lot of time it works, even though it's not always the coach's fault."

Bruins goalie Tim Thomas tries not to focus too much on what other teams are doing, but did admit he expects the Hurricanes to be better under new coach Kirk Muller. Muller comes to Carolina from Milwaukee of the American Hockey League, but previously had been an assistant in Montreal, where he made the Canadiens' power play a force. Carolina currently ranks 29th in the league on the power play, converting just 12.2 percent of its chances.

"I'm aware of them, but it doesn't really have anything to do with my backyard," Thomas said of the coaching changes. "I saw [Ken] Hitchcock and see that he's having success in St. Louis, so it's not like I don't know what's going on. I see the moves and it's interesting sometimes. I bet Carolina's power play gets better with Kirk Muller. I think he was the key to the power play in Montreal and that's why they're not doing as well because he's gone."

While Muller takes over in Carolina, the Capitals have turned the reins over to Dale Hunter. He has no NHL coaching experience, but is 451-189-23-24 over 11 seasons behind the bench for London of the Ontario Hockey League, and also played 19 seasons of the NHL. Much of that time was spent in Washington, where his No. 32 was retired after Hunter became the only player in NHL history to amass both 1,000 career points and 3,000 penalty minutes. His 3,563 PIMs is second most in NHL history.

"I don't know anything about Dale Hunter, other than the way he was as a player," Thomas said. "I don't know anything about the way he's been as a coach [in the OHL]. I know they've had some success there. Juniors and pros are different, but Dale Hunter has been at the highest level of pro hockey [as a player], so I think that experience will help him because he's at least played there and knows what it's like. Obviously you have to treat junior players differently than NHL players, but his experience as a player should help him make that transition."

Boudreau had plenty of success himself making the leap from a long tenure in the AHL to the Capitals bench four years ago. He was the fastest coach to reach 200 wins in NHL history, posting a 201-88-40 record in Washington. But he never got his talented lineup past the second round of the playoffs, and after a 7-0-0 start this season, Washington had struggled badly while Boudreau clashed with underachieving stars Alex Ovechkin and Alexander Semin.

Washington had lost six of its last eight games, and Saturday's 5-1 loss to an injury-ravaged Buffalo squad was the last straw. Still, the Capitals remain in playoff position at eighth in the East and the Bruins know how dangerous they can be if Hunter is able to get them back on track.

"They can be a very big threat," Seidenberg said. "They have all the offense that you want. They're dangerous. They've got a good mix of skill and hard-working guys, so we'll see what happens."

Bruins coach Claude Julien is all too familiar with the fickle nature of coaching in the NHL, having been fired in Montreal and New Jersey before coming to Boston. He expects both Washington and Carolina to respond to the changes, though he's uncertain how long the impact will last.

"I don't know, I guess we'll have to wait and see what that does," Julien said. "Normally it always gives the team a spark when a new face comes in, but how long does that spark last for? We don't know. You've seen that happen before, sometimes it's short term and sometimes it's long term. Only time will tell. I don't have that answer."

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