Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien surprised some Friday night when he tabbed backup goaltender Chad Johnson as his starting netminder. Johnson would be making back-to-back starts and this one would come against one of the league’s best teams, the Colorado Avalanche. It was a bit of a head-scratcher.
Fast forward to late Friday night. Johnson stopped all 31 shots he faced — including 14 in the first period — as he picked up his third career shutout in a 2-0 Bruins win. In the process, he made Julien kind of look like a genius.
Julien’s decision to start Johnson was surely a calculated one.. The Boston bench boss knows his team as well or better than any coach in the league. That’s partially because the Bruins’ core has remained intact during most of Julien’s tenure, but it’s also because Julien clearly has the ability to get a good read on his team over the course of a season.
He certainly has a good read right now. The Bruins’ win in Colorado extended the team’s winning streak to 11 games, its longest such run since the 1970-71 season. Boston also became the first team to clinch a playoff spot this season while also passing the 100-point mark for the 21st time in team history with four of those times coming under Julien.
However, Julien’s name hasn’t popped up in a lot of discussions for the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year. That’s a bit puzzling. The NHL declares that the yearly award should go to “the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team’s success.” Surely Julien has been a big part of the Bruins’ success, no?
Just look at what the Bruins have gone through this season. Boston was bit hard by the injury bug earlier in the season. That biggest blow was when Dennis Seidenberg went down with a knee injury, stripping Julien and the Bruins of a top-4 defenseman and blue-line pillar for the club in the playoffs. The Bruins have lost 160 man-games to injury, a lot of those coming on defense. That’s left the defensive-minded Julien with a revolving door on the back end, which has left he B’s with three D-men age 25 or younger and 26-year-old Kevan Miller who made his NHL debut Nov. 21.
Despite all of that, the Bruins sit second in goals allowed per game and first in five-on-five play. Lately, they’ve turned it on even more. They haven’t allowed a first-period goal in 10 games. They also close games as their ridiculous plus-41 goal differential for the season is far and away the best in the league.
Julien knows which buttons to push, and he pushes them at the right time. He’s handled this abbreviated March schedule brilliantly, mixing in days off and optional skates. That’s helped a team that had five players in the Olympics (as well as Julien) post an 11-1-1 record since returning from the league-wide break.
The Bruins have turned into cold-blooded hockey hitmen as of late, and Julien is the one who keeps them going.
Julien likely won’t win the recognition he deserves when awards season rolls around. The Jack Adams is a narrative-driven award usually won by a coach who leads a surprise team to the playoffs like Patrick Roy has done in Colorado this season. That likely won’t matter much to Julien, though, as long as come June he’s hoisting a different, more important trophy.