WILMINGTON, Mass. — Since Bruins head coach Claude Julien has been in Boston, his team has been able to fly under the radar. Heading into the last two seasons, the thought of the Bruins even making the playoffs was laughable to most fans and prognosticators.
But now after finishing atop the Eastern Conference regular season standings, winning the Northeast Division and advancing to within one game of the Eastern Conference finals, the Bruins are a Stanley Cup contender and an en vogue pick to hoist the Cup next June.
Needless to say, it’s a bit of a different environment in training camp this season, but the players are doing their best to take a business-as-usual approach.
“It is a tribute that writers, people, fans are picking us as the favorite,” captain Zdeno Chara said. “But you have to prove it. You can’t just live off talk. You have to prove it on the ice.”
The reigning Norris Trophy winner realizes that he and his teammates won’t be catching their opponents by surprise this season and knows they must maintain the level of play that led to their success last season.
“It’s going to be more challenging and we have to be ready for that,” Chara said. “The expectations are much higher and we have to push ourselves. We can’t sit back and think just because we had a pretty good season last year we can just sit back and relax. We have to push even harder and be harder on ourselves and expect even more from each other.”
This is why in the first few days of camp, Julien and Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli are making sure the culture on the team hasn’t changed and the hype surrounding the Bruins doesn’t inflate any egos.
“We talked about expectations, we talked about the day-to-day attitude and preparations,” said Chiarelli when discussing what he has been telling his team as they start preparing for the upcoming season. “Last year we exceeded our expectations. [But] it’s a different dynamic this year. I just want the guys to go into it with the proper mindset.”
Julien echoed Chiarelli and knows he must continue to apply the coaching skills that earned him the Jack Adams Award and a multiyear extension.
“Basically, it’s just about starting a new season here and making sure we’re ready to go,” Julien said.
Even with the absence of Phil Kessel and David Krejci being day-to-day as he recovers from offseason hip surgery, there aren’t many spots available on the roster. But Julien has made it clear he will give rookies and newcomers a fair chance to take over a spot and is hoping they push the incumbent players.
“Every year there are guys pushing other guys and forcing us to make tough decisions at the end,” Julien said. “That’s the opportunity you want to give these players coming in. You give them your word you’re going to give them an honest look. If they’re pushing other guys out, so be it.”
Training camps continue to get shorter every year and with this being an Olympic season, the schedule is even more condensed. The Bruins will play their first exhibition game Tuesday against the Rangers in New York and will play eight games in 11 days during the preseason. There isn’t much time to ease into game action but Julien is doing his best to help the players prepare.
“Well, I think you just want to give everybody an idea of what you’re trying to do as a team and give a bit of a preparation for those players that are going to play in those first couple of games,” he said. “It’s about giving them some guidance as far as [showing them] how we want them to forecheck, backcheck and perform in battle drills and see how guys compete.”
As Julien pointed out, the condensed schedule will provide a better chance to see where players are game-wise.
“It’s going to give guys some opportunities and this is where we get a chance to evaluate,” said Julien. “We go into every exhibition game trying to win, but we don’t put all our eggs in the same basket as far as we have to overplay guys so that we win.
“We need to evaluate at the same time, so we get a chance to see those guys and put those guys in those positions and hopefully they show you that they can do the job.”
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