BOSTON — It took no more than a few hours for the Bruins to see the changes under their new head coach.
The B’s on Tuesday fired longtime head coach Claude Julien, midway through his 10th season behind the Boston bench. For the interim, the Bruins tabbed assistant coach and former Providence Bruins head coach to lead the team in hopes Boston can avoid missing the playoffs for a third straight season.
Cassidy has his work cut out for him. The Bruins currently sit one point outside the Eastern Conference playoff field, and no team in the conference has played more games than the Black and Gold, meaning they have even fewer chances to pick up points.
Cassidy’s work started Tuesday morning at the Bruins’ practice facility, where he put the B’s through the paces in his first session at the helm. Practice lasted more than an hour and saw a considerable uptick in pace compared to the average Julien practice.
The Bruins, systematically, will largely stay the same under Cassidy, which makes sense. He’s in his ninth season in the Bruins organization, so he’s familiar with the system, and as the head coach at Providence, one of his primary responsibilities centered around making sure younger players were comfortable with how the Bruins played at the NHL level when they were promoted.
“He might see a player in a different vain,” general manager Don Sweeney said Tuesday. “We’re going through that — as a group and have those discussions based on the best lineup and how that lineup wants to look whether that’s a top-six component with a heavy bottom six or whether that’s a balanced lineup in sets of two that a lot of teams operate under.”
The changes will be slight with the hope it’s enough to jump-start the club. And like practice Tuesday, the emphasis will be on picking up the pace.
“We’re not going to reinvent the wheel system-wise, but we’re just going to tighten up a few areas in our end in terms of getting pucks back a little quicker,” Cassidy explained Tuesday after practice. “And in our offensive end, being more opportunistic with our chances. That’s easier said than done.”
More specifically, Cassidy will urge the forwards to attack the net more in the offensive end. The Bruins rely on getting pucks deep in the offensive zone, getting in on the forecheck and then activating the cycle game. Elements of that won’t change under Cassidy, but it sounds like he wants to see a little more activity when the Bruins have the puck, using the forwards behind the opponent’s net and trying to make other teams defend in front of the net. He also noted Boston will look to incorporate the back end even more.
The Bruins don’t need to generate more chances — they lead the league in shots per game — but their production (22nd in goals per game) suggests they need to generate better chances. A lot of that does come down to talent, but maybe some slight tweaking will help.
Defensively, opponents have recently hurt the Bruins with long shifts in the Boston end that far too often end up with the puck in the Bruins’ net. Cassidy’s defensive focus, unsurprisingly, will center around getting the puck out of the defensive zone sooner and activating the rush. Again, it’s an emphasis on playing faster.
“Early on (the issue) was goal scoring, and now it’s keeping the puck out of our net, so it’s kind of changed course a little bit. If we can tinker with each and turn those one-goal losses into one-goal wins, I truly don’t believe we’re that far away from that.”
To his point, 10 of the Bruins’ last 14 losses have been one-goal losses. If the Bruins are able to do that, then, yeah, they’ll be right there in the playoff hunt.
Whether they can do that, though, remains to be seen and likely will go a long way in deciding whether the Bruins ultimately strip the interim tag off Cassidy and make him their permanent head coach.
“I think there’s an opportunity for a new set of eyes and a new voice to come in for our players to sort of start to hear and hopefully their ears are perked up,” Sweeney added.
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