For the next month, that task will be a little easier, but playing without a key member of his defense will make everything else tougher for Julien and the Bruins.
"We're at that stage right now where the decisions aren't always easy and it's not always fun for those healthy scratches, but it is what it is," said Julien after practice on Friday. "And that scenario could change tomorrow. You never know. Game by game situations happen, whether it's from individual play or injuries."
Julien's words proved eerily prophetic, as the Bruins lost more than just a game on Saturday night.
It was revealed Sunday evening that Boston also lost the services of top-pairing defenseman Johnny Boychuk for four weeks with a fracture in his ulna, a bone in his left forearm. The injury was the result of a slash from Rangers forward Brandon Dubinsky in the first period of Saturday's 3-2 loss to New York.
Boychuk finished the first period, but did not play in the final two periods. The Bruins made it through those last two frames with a five-man rotation on defense, as the rest of the blueliners helped pick up the slack.
"I think it goes back to the fact that you play a lot, you’re more in the game," said Julien after the game. "I thought our D’s reacted well to being down to five and everybody got lots of ice time."
Too much ice-time for some, as captain Zdeno Chara logged a season-high 31:48. Chara is used to a heavy workload, but the Bruins can't afford to wear him down too much in the early part of the season.
Of course, the club will have six defensemen in the lineup the next time it plays. But Boychuk's replacement won't be able to fill his spot on the top pairing alongside Chara or play the 20:22 a game Boychuk averaged through six games. That average is slightly skewed because it includes the 7:28 he played on Saturday, while Boychuk played over 21 minutes in every game prior to that.
With Boychuk out, seventh defenseman Adam McQuaid will likely get his first shot to play this season after being a healthy scratch in the first six games. The 6-foot-5, 209-pound McQuaid brings some additional size and toughness to the blue line, but he doesn't have Boychuk's offensive flair or the ability to log 20-plus minutes a night at this level.
McQuaid played 19 games with the big club last season, scoring one goal and finishing a minus-5 while averaging 10:44 of ice-time. He also dressed for nine playoff games, going pointless and a minus-4 while averaging 10:11 of ice-time.
McQuaid will likely get the first opportunity to try to fill the void, but has not been in a game situation since the preseason.
"For me right now, these practices are my games, so I have to try and be really sharp in practice," said McQuaid on Friday. "I try to do some little things after practice to keep my lungs and keep myself ready when my opportunity comes."
The irony is that McQuaid's opportunity could come from Boychuk's misfortune, as Boychuk's rise last year has served as an inspiration for McQuaid. Boychuk began last year as the Bruins' seventh defenseman and was a healthy scratch for 25 of the first 28 games of the season, but eventually got his chance to play and finished the postseason on the top pairing alongside Chara.
"It's definitely an inspiration," said McQuaid. "He bided his time and made sure he was ready when he got his chance. He made the most of it and I'm looking to do the same thing when I get my chance. But definitely seeing what he did last year helps me with my situation."
McQuaid might also find motivation from knowing that the Bruins do have other options as well, as they could replace Boychuk by bringing up a more offensively gifted defenseman from Providence.
First-year pro Matt Bartkowski would be the leading candidate. He was the final cut in camp, and actually wasn't demoted until after accompanying the big club on its season-opening trip to Europe. Bartkowski led the Bruins in scoring in the preseason with four points (all assists) and was a plus-3 in four exhibition games.
He hasn't been as successful so far in his inaugural pro campaign in Providence, managing just one assist while posting a minus-2 rating through four games, but showed enough in camp to warrant a look if the Bruins opt to add another body on the blue line.
The Bruins also have promising youngsters Steven Kampfer and Yury Alexandrov in Providence, along with Andrew Bodnarchuk, Jeff Penner and Nathan McIver, who each have limited NHL experience.
But for now it looks like McQuaid will finally get his shot. That means Julien will also have some additional work to do.
McQuaid isn't likely to slide into Boychuk's spot alongside Chara, so Julien will have to shuffle all of his defensive pairings. Dennis Seidenberg could go back up with Chara, as that pairing worked very well late last year.
That would make the Bruins defense a bit top heavy and would split up the effective tandem Seidenberg and Mark Stuart had become. Matt Hunwick's play has settled down since he and Seidenberg were split up and Hunwick began skating with Andrew Ference, but Ference worked well with McQuaid last year and that duo could be reunited. The Bruins would then have to hope that the stay-at-home style of Stuart would mesh with Hunwick's more offensive approach.
The Bruins have plenty of options to explore and enough talent and depth to survive the loss of Boychuk, but they won't have the best option available to optimize their defense until Boychuk returns in a month.