BOSTON – Bruins head coach Claude Julien is not acting like himself these last couple weeks, and center Marc Savard seems to be the biggest victim of the bench boss’s change of approach.
Over the last three seasons, physical mistakes might have resulted in a tongue lashing from Julien, or even a shift or power play out of the rotation, but more often than not Julien provided players that make gaffes ample opportunity to make up for them.
Typically, if a player’s working hard and trying to do the right thing, he’ll get out there for a regular shift in search of redemption.
Last week, Marc Savard and Nathan Horton paid for their ineffectiveness in a win at Tampa with some third-period bench time. Tonight, however, Savard gave up ice time for his clearing attempt that wound up gliding along the ice to Minnesota forward Cal Clutterbuck’s stick for the go-ahead goal in the Wild’s 3-1 win at TD Garden.
Savard took another shift four minutes later and drew a penalty in front of the goal on Wild center Mikko Koivu. After the Bruins’ power play went nowhere for the fourth and final time, we didn’t see Savard again for around 10 minutes until Boston pulled Tuukka Rask for an extra attacker.
After the game, Julien pointed to the mistake as the reason for the benching.
“I think when you make a mistake like that, everybody’s got to be accountable,” said the coach. “And you know it’s one of those things that happens throughout a game and from the first player to the last player you want to make sure that everybody understands that [because] it was a mistake that you don’t expect a guy like that to make [it] doesn’t mean that you lose confidence in him. Because you’re going to go right back with him next game and you hope that they bounce back. That’s what coaches do. They coach and that’s what I did.”
It’s hard to fathom that after years of watching Dennis Wideman, Derek Morris, Andrew Ference and others make passes to forecheckers’ tape ahead of goals against with little impact on their ice time, Savard’s error could be so egregious as to earn him extra pine time. Every night, Tyler Seguin and Blake Wheeler make at least one foolish play at the attacking blue line that results in an odd-man chance the other way. Seguin gets his ice time trimmed late in tight games, but Wheeler rarely stops taking his regular shift.
As Savard explained, and we all saw, he knew it was the end of the shift and he wanted to get the puck up and out. He failed to lift it. It was a physical mistake.
Now that miscue has led to Julien making an example of Savard and the center not knowing where he stands with the coach.
“He put me right back out there and I felt like that was good of him to give me a chance. Then he sat me down for a while,” said Savard. “That is part of the game you have to ask him. It is frustrating. I feel like I get better then something like that happens. Then I get sat down. Confidence is swaying up and down like a boat. It gets tough. I have been through a lot worse. I am going to hang in there and whatever happens I’m going to keep trying to get better.”
Julien knows firsthand from his experience with Patrice Bergeron that it can take quite a while for a player to get back into form after a lengthy absence from such an injury, and Savard has only shown signs here and there of being all right. But after two months of waiting for Savard to rejoin the club this season, this is how Julien treats one of his most important stars?
Benching Savard is a move so out of character for Julien. This is a coach whose undying faith in his players – even ones who go weeks without scoring or turn simple breakouts into a circus act – is something he’s often criticized for. More often than not though, it pays off with a big goal or key play down the road. After all, in the salary-cap NHL, Julien knows that more often than not he’s going to have to keep coaching the players he has in that room. A mass exodus via trade or caravan to Providence isn’t really in the offing, if for no other reason than the team’s financial situation. Last spring, Wideman and Michael Ryder were two of Boston’s best playoff performers after dismal regular seasons. The coach’s tactics have worked.
So now we’re at a crossroads between coach and player. Savard has talked numerous times about how much more mature he is now than when he first came to Boston. The old Savard might’ve sulked other Julien’s handling of him, but even while a bit confused during his postgame comments, the veteran sounded like a guy ready to make things right.
For the Bruins and Julien’s success, this whole situation better end with Savard moving on from this experience, earning his usual ice time from start to finish in games and making the types of plays that typically have him atop the Bruins’ scoring chart. If not, Julien might regret his change of heart when it comes to mistakes and benchings. Without faith, there can’t be faith rewarded.