BOSTON – There are no difficult decisions to make about shootout participants if your team avoids the post-overtime spectacle.
That was Bruins head coach Claude Julien’s big decision tonight in his team’s 3-2 overtime victory over Buffalo at TD Garden.
Faced with a team that has dropped all three of its shootouts this season and hasn’t fared too well in the gimmick since Julien took over as bench boss, the coach went all out after the extra point by going with three forwards and one defenseman during the 4-on-4 portion of overtime.
“Well, it’s been tough for us, I think, in that area,” Julien said after the game about getting points in games that go beyond regulation. “Number one, as you saw tonight, we used three forwards and one D to try to get some more offense in that five-minute overtime, 4-on-4. Most of our offense has been coming from up front. At the same time, we haven’t been very good in shootouts. We don’t have a very good percentage as a group, so I guess, for the time being, you try to adjust and try and put the odds on your side. We went that way and ended up on the power play and were able to score.”
The forward-filled strategy paid off when Marc Savard drew a high-sticking call on Buffalo rookie Luke Adam at 1:16 on an attempted break out with Nathan Horton and Milan Lucic. Less than a minute of game time and one video review later, the Bruins had their extra standings point. Even that power-play goal came with a stroke of coach’s intuition.
During a power play late in regulation, Julien had replaced Dennis Seidenberg with Andrew Ference. Julien told TheBruinsBlog.net after the game that he could tell Seidenberg was struggling to move the puck on previous man-advantages and Ference had been enjoying a solid night. But with the 4-on-3 power play in overtime, Julien sent Seidenberg out onto the ice with Zdeno Chara, David Krejci and Mark Recchi.
Seidenberg’s one-timer from the high slot was originally credited as the game-winning goal before it was changed to Recchi. Nonetheless, Julien’s decision to stick with his preordained four-man power-play unit paid off. Julien credited Seidenberg for getting into the shooting lane so he could do something with Krejci’s pass, which is something the defenseman is usually adept at.
Julien takes a lot of heat when things aren’t going well. At different times the masses want him to change his defense-first approach, pick better shooters for the shootout (see yesterday’s column for more on that) and stick with one goaltender for longer stretches. Some want him to juggle his lines, while others want more consistency in the lines.
What it comes down to is, Julien showed tonight that he’s both aware of his team’s situation when it comes to shootouts, and he’s willing to do something about it. It’s telling, I think, that the Bruins didn’t practice shootouts yesterday – their first day back on the ice after Saturday’s shootout loss in Toronto. It was almost like Julien was saying “let’s not practice it because we’re not going to do it.’
Things could’ve easily gone the other way. Buffalo could’ve exploited Boston’s three-forward alignment for a breakaway goal or the Sabres could’ve earned their own power play. However, Julien still would’ve been right to roll the dice because the Bruins in the shootout almost always come up snake eyes.
It’s difficult to decipher how much difference coaching makes on a night-to-night basis in sports. Obviously, Tim Thomas, Seidenberg, Recchi and others deserve most of the credit for this win. But Julien should receive his due as well this evening.