TAMPA — Meet Tomas Kaberle, the latest success story of the Claude Julien rehabilitation and resuscitation program.
He’s now worthy of being called a top-four defenseman, even if he still might not be worth a top prospect, a top draft pick and a potential second draft pick.
After the Bruins’ Game 1 win over Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final, Kaberle was a target of derision because of his terrible play and the absence of an effective power play in Boston. Two days later, on the eve of Game 2, he faced the masses and declared that he knew that he needed to be better.
Later that day, Julien didn’t threaten to bench or scratch Kaberle or ridicule him. He did what he always does — just ask Michael Ryder, Chris Kelly and Johnny Boychuk — with a struggling player who has a track record that tells him that player can perform better. He stuck with him. He talked about “working with Kaberle” to boost his confidence, as long as Kaberle took some initiative to improve his play.
The Bruins now stand with a 2-1 series lead. Kaberle finished with two assists in Game 2. But more impressive, he didn’t hit the score sheet in Game 3 and still you could see had an excellent game. The Bruins’ overall return to their defensive structure obviously helped matters. However, Kaberle was skating hard, getting in proper position in his own end and blocked three shots. He even threw a hit. Although he didn’t attempt a shot and the Bruins’ power play was kept off the board, he made some excellent passes and used some stick work to keep the puck alive and keep momentum rolling Boston’s way.
“I try to play my best every game. Obviously, like I said, not every game you’re going to feel the same,” said Kaberle today after an optional practice at the St. Pete Time Forum. “I feel way better the last few games. It’s important for me to get confidence back.”
It doesn’t hurt when you’re being nurtured by your head coach and his staff. Even at 33, an athlete requires encouragement. Most can’t perform under the stresses of criticism.
“It’s nice to hear from them. Obviously, they’ve been positive with me and it gives you confidence when the coach talks to you like that,” said Kaberle.
Some — especially in Toronto — might make jokes about this, but Julien noted today that Kaberle has seemingly relaxed over the last couple days. Luckily he hasn’t relaxed too much, but a less-stressed Kaberle has become a more effective player that gives the Lightning something else to worry about in their game plan.
“He’s passing. He’s more poised. He’s a little bit more aggressive. And he’s not sitting [back] on his heels,” said Julien. “And I think that’s made a big difference in his game. And we say it almost every day when we talk about players, it’s about confidence. That word “confidence” plays big.
“And whether he feels it from others or whether he plays with it, that makes a big difference in the players’ reaction.”
Consider Kaberle graduated from Julien’s school of confidence. The reward might be increased playing time and responsibility, and in turn more victories by the Bruins.