With Rich Peverley's return to the lineup, Jordan Caron's recent surge and the sudden emergence of the third line of Benoit Pouliot, Chris Kelly and Brian Rolston as a consistent source of offense, Julien has been forced to make some difficult decisions in filling out his lineup card.
Daniel Paille has been the odd man out in the last two games, despite the versatile forward's value as a penalty killer and his chemistry with Gregory Campbell and Shawn Thornton on the fourth line.
There's a similar logjam on defense, where veterans Joe Corvo and Mike Mottau have found themselves in the press box the last six and eight games, respectively. Rookie Torey Krug joined them Tuesday after being signed as a free agent out of Michigan State.
"It's pretty obvious — we've got some pretty good players sitting out right now, and they're not sitting out because they're not good," Julien said. "It's competition. There's some guys that are playing really well right now, which is making it tough for other players to be in our lineup. That's what we wanted to create. There's nothing wrong with that. It's a good position to be in."
It's good for Julien as a coach to have such options, and the battle for playing time should bring the best out of the players competing, but that doesn't make it any easier for the guys left out of the mix.
"It definitely hurts a lot more than usual, even though it's two games," Paille said. "For me, I work every night and try to do the best that I can. Some nights, some guys are going or are streaky, and I've just got to wait it out. When I get back out there, I'm going to fight [for] every chance. It's the same story, but I'm not going to quit. I'm going to battle to the end and help the team as much as I can."
Paille has been in this position before. He was a healthy scratch for much of last season but came on strong late in the year and played a valuable role on the fourth line in Boston's Cup run. This year he had missed nine games with a variety of injuries but had seemingly solidified his spot in the lineup when healthy until the numbers game caught up to him again in the last two games.
Caron's emergence this month has helped push Paille temporarily out of a job. After managing just 3-2-5 totals in his first 30 games, Caron has put up 4-5-9 totals in his last 12, spending much of that time on the top two lines before bumping Paille off the fourth unit upon Peverley's return.
"There's a lot of good players sitting out," Julien said. "Right now, it's about competition, and the other day I kind of explained a little bit, putting Jordan on that line allows us to move him up with Rich Peverley just coming back and there's times where he needs to skip a shift here or there. Jordan's done a good job on those top two lines, so it gives us that element again. The way that he's scored and played lately, it's hard to take him out of the lineup."
Paille said he understands the situation and has kept a positive attitude.
"It definitely gets everyone working a lot harder," Paille said. "For me, it definitely does. But I think at one point we have to realize what we need to do and how we need to react. And everyone has a pretty solid attitude throughout the whole team, so I think it's good for all of us.
"It seems like we have a lot more depth this year, not just on forward, but on D as well," Paille added. "That's a part of a winning team. There's a lot of competition, and who's willing to fight for the battles. I think that's what it comes down to, is will."
Even understanding the circumstances, Paille did admit he was surprised to be the one taken out of the lineup for the last two games.
"I just felt that we'd been a good line all year and had been pretty solid," said Paille, who has 9-6-15 totals in 65 games. "But it's just a point right now where there's six games left, and our main focus for us is just to clinch that playoff spot and to get that division lead. Last year, I didn't play too much, either, and I was able to play in the playoffs. I'm going to do the best I can to work back in there. I know I'm giving 100 percent every night. Eventually it's going to come back, and I'll find the groove again."
It's a delicate balancing act for Julien, who has to put the best lineup on the ice possible with the Bruins still looking to lock up the division title and home ice, while also keeping everyone in game shape and ready to contribute when called upon. That adds some stress to the job, but Julien will gladly accept that if it helps gets the best out of his team.
"Hockey's a competitive sport, especially at this level," Kelly said. "Everybody wants to play well and just play. It is a team sport, and this is an extremely good team atmosphere, but that healthy competition helps us push one another to be the best."
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