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  • What exactly does “playing fast” entail?

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    What exactly does “playing fast” entail?

    Tim Rosenthal September 29, 2016

    Throughout the history of the Boston Bruins, words like grit and toughness are fired as hard a Zdeno Chara slap shot. Even as the NHL has changed to a faster paced, up-tempo brand of hockey, these words will likely come up at some point during the course of the Bruins’ season.

    But that doesn’t mean that the Bruins’ won’t adjust to the current climate of today’s game. Well if you judge by the comments said by Claude Julien and the pace of this year’s Training Camp.

    For a guy who’s often criticized for his defensive first mentality, Julien’s comments are quite refreshing for Bruins fans.

    “Our goal is to play fast,” Julien said during last Thursday’s schedule of off-ice activities. “Every coach in this league is going to tell that is where we’re at right now.”

    But what does playing fast entail? Is it filling a lineup full of speed and quickness? Is it establishing a system that encourages high scoring outcomes? Does it involve tempo and transition?

    “We want to play fast. It doesn’t mean speed. It means playing fast: the puck has got to move fast, and the transition has got to be fast,” Julien added. “So we want to play fast.

    To their credit, the Bruins want to evolve with today’s landscape. Through sound bites and situational drills, Julien’s approach is being echoed during the first week of training camp at the state of the art Warrior Ice Arena.

    Trying to “play fast” is one thing. Executing that philosophy is a different story.

    “I think it starts in practice. I think you practice the way you’re going to play. I know our coaches have spent an awful lot of time this summer in looking at the drills and some of the things they’re going to do to incorporate that into it. It’s a mindset of the players to play that way,” GM Don Sweeney said last Thursday.

    “I think the players would like to play that way and dictate rather than being on sort of a retreat mentality. I think that’s what we’d like to do. We’d like to, hopefully, spend as much time in the other team’s end as possible, and that generally comes from moving your feet.”

    Looking at the current roster personnel, one has to wonder if that plan can be executed. Aside from Torey Krug, the Bruins don’t have a blue-liner leftover from last year’s squad that can help things in the transition game. Instead, they have a defense that includes an aging Zdeno Chara, a pair of stay at home d-men in Kevan Miller and Adam McQuaid, and a pair of unproven blue-liners in Colin Miller and Joe Morrow, who while still young have yet to tap into their potential.

    On the flip side, there’s still room for Miller and Morrow to grow and some of the defensive prospects in the pipeline like Brandon Carlo, Matt Grzelcyk, Jeremy Lauzon and Rob O’Gara who could find themselves in the lineup sooner rather than later. Establishing themselves in the “play fast” system could speed up their development.

    It’s a system that the players and coaching staff seem to appreciate. But there’s still an area that can’t be ignored: protecting the puck.

    “I certainly am all for it,” former P-Bruins bench boss and current Boston assistant coach Bruce Cassidy, who is overlooking the Bruins defense at Training Camp, said about adjusting to a new style of play. “The catch phrase going around that is ‘playing fast’ — there’s a little more that goes into it than that. It’s managing the puck and moving it around. From my end, and not just for defensemen, puck support becomes a big issue if we’re going to play fast. So that’s going to be part of the process as well — killing a few more rushes and taking away time and space defensively as well.”

    What does playing fast mean for a goaltender? Would it entail stopping more odd man rushes if things don’t go smoothly in transition? Would it mean getting involved in the transition game themselves?

    Whatever it is, Tuukka Rask got a good look at the opposite end of the spectrum after watching Team North America fly past the Finns at the World Cup of Hockey.

    “Well that’s what hockey is now, it’s a fast game,” said Rask, who was the backup to Pekka Rinne during Finland’s loss to the under-23 North Americans. “We saw it first hand against the North American team, they’re young guys, but they play a fast game and manage the puck well. So that’s how a lot of teams like to play, and Team Finland didn’t like to play [that style] and it didn’t work for us.”

    While the emphasis starts on the defensive end, it’s up to Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci, David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner, Matt Beleskey and the rest of the Bruins forwards to create and execute their scoring chances.

    “I think going from D to forwards, moving pucks up the ice and being relentless on teams is something that we’re trying to improve,” Beleskey said. “That’s an area they looked it obviously, and we’re going to work hard to play fast.”

    One preseason game isn’t necessarily an indication of how successful the play fast system will be. But there was one instance where the up-tempo style worked during Monday’s exhibition opener against the Blue Jackets.

    With the long line change during the early part of the second period, the Bruins caught the Blue Jackets swapping players and created a 2-on-1 with 2015 first round Jake DeBrusk and Jimmy Hayes. The Dorchester native took DeBrusk’s feed and tipped it past Columbus netminder Curtis McElhinney to even things at 1-1.

    That play started with another first round pick from last year, Jakub Zboril, finding Austin Czarnik with an outlet pass. Czarnik followed with the feed to DeBrusk and the rest was history.

    “Yeah, that was two young guys making plays there,” Hayes said following the Bruins’ 3-2 shootout loss on Monday. “[Jakub] Zboril made a great play to quick[en] it up and I hit Debrusk with some speed there, and he had some nice patience and just gave it back.”

    Even in today’s NHL, executing the up-tempo style involves performing in all three zones. That’s exactly what the Bruins need to do if they want to overcome the disappointment of back-to-back regular season collapses.

    Otherwise, it will be another slow off-season that will give a disgruntled fanbase more questions regarding the state of the Black of the Black and Gold.

    “Well we need to have a certain level of success, or we’re in trouble,” Cassidy added. “What level of success [we have] depends; sometimes your goaltender makes your defense better and sometimes your forwards make the defense better. So we’re hoping as a group the whole Boston Bruins play better so that the defense can be better as well.”

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    Tim Rosenthal

    Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.


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