Claude Julien knew his return to Boston Wednesday night would be a little difficult.
The former Bruins and current Canadiens bench boss knew he’d be recognized for his 10-year tenure with the Black and Gold. Amidst all the aura around his return, Julien’s bigger focus was getting his team to believe they can come into his former home at TD Garden and leave with two points.
As happy as he was to get that montage and standing ovation from the 17,565 in attendance, he’s also relieved that it’s happy and done with.
“It’s always something that you kind of dread a little bit because it is a little emotional and at the same time you’re trying to keep the emotions intact so you can coach the game and stuff like that,” Julien said postgame.
“I appreciate what they did for me and as I said I’ve got nothing but good things to say about this organization that gave me the opportunity to spend 10 years here, but at the same time I’m kind of happy that it’s over and that I can move on now. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t forget what’s happened here. It’s always going to be with you, but now I’m in another chapter of my coaching career and I’ve got to think about that.”
That new chapter hasn’t gone well for Julien and his Canadiens. Their 4-1 loss in Round 2 of their three-game-in-eight-day stretch left the winningest coach in Bruins history scratching his head.
It started off well, at least in the first couple of shifts. Jakub Jerbakek’s first career goal 31 seconds in off of Zdeno Chara’s thigh pad gave the Habs an early jump in Julien’s return.
The next 51:29 was a different story. Aside from having a 4-0 shots on goal advantage early in the first, the shorthanded Habs watched as the Bruins skated around them in circles. Bruce Cassidy’s Black and Gold hockey club were clearly faster in all three zones, stronger on their puck pursuit and downright giving fits to Les Habitants — something that rarely happens at all in this historic rivalry.
“Yeah, I mean, you know we know the position that we’re in, and every game is important,” Habs captain Max Pacioretty said. “You know, he wants to come home, and you know, where he was for so long, and you know, put up a good effort and it wasn’t there tonight.”
Aside from all-world goalie Carey Price once again doing all he can to keep his team within striking distance, the Canadiens looked lost. And it all led to Julien having some choice words toward his 20-man roster.
“I think those are questions that you need to ask the players – not the coach. I can’t answer for them, so it’s important for you to ask the right people. That’s part of your job. My job is to tell you that we weren’t good enough tonight, and we need to be better. And I think that’s my responsibility,” Julien said regarding his team’s mindset.
“I need to get this team to play better, and no matter what they’re thinking, they need to change their approach if that’s the case, and we need to believe in ourselves. If you don’t believe, there’s no way we’re going to get the opportunity or the chance with the goaltender that we have that gives us the chance to win every night. You should take advantage of that and good things can happen if we decide to work together and work well and be on the same page.”
Julien needs to get them playing better, and quickly. Realistically, that is easier said than done with the way his team is constructed by general manager Marc Bergevin.
Without a top line center or a reliable defense core outside of the injured Shea Weber, Julien has little depth to work with. But there were some positives heading into Boston. He saw their work ethic improve over the last couple weeks and they came into Wednesday having notched points in four straight games.
They may sit nine points in back of the Penguins for the East’s final wild card spot — and a whopping 16 points behind the Bruins — but Julien has faith that his team can make a run. But do his players believe in one another?
“Sometimes if you believe, good things will happen. But it’s got to start with the belief. If you don’t believe, then you’re wasting your time. But we have a group of guys that if they get together and believe in themselves then that chance is still there. We believe [as a coaching staff] and it’s up to them to believe as much as we do.”
Julien, after all, can only do so much with the talent he has.