By Steve Silverman
Claude Julien was fired by the Boston Bruins nearly a full year ago.
He makes his first return to Boston as head coach of the struggling Montreal Canadiens Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN), and the Bruins are likely to give their former coach a warm welcome, complete with a commemorative and emotional video.
Julien, who is in his second coaching stint with the Habs, coached the Bruins for 10 years, and he was their leader in 2011 when they won their first Stanley Cup in 39 years. He also made it back to the final with the Bruins two years later when they dropped the Stanley Cup Final is six emotional and memorable games against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Through an NHL schedule quirk, the Bruins finished their season series with the Habs in early February last year – before Julien was hired by Montreal – and they didn’t play their first game against their archrivals until last Saturday.
The Bruins won that game 4-3 in a shootout.
Since the Habs are struggling to score goals and win games this year – they are nine points out of a playoff spot and can’t string wins together — the usual hatred that is associated with the NHL’s most volatile rivalry is likely to be missing.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara and star left wing Brad Marchand have credited Julien with having developed Boston into a successful team that has excelled on defense.
“Obviously he is a great coach and a great person and he taught me a lot about how to play the game the right way in certain situations and he was a great teacher,” said Chara, per Rich Thompson of the Boston Herald. “Anytime you have that kind of teacher you want to learn as much and you can.”
Marchand, who developed into one of the top left wings in the league under Julien, wants to see his former coach receive a warm welcome and is excited to see Julien’s tribute video montage.
“I’m sure he’s excited to come back and he deserves that video,” said Marchand. “I’m sure a lot of people will be excited to see him again and I’m sure it will be a memorable game. I learned a lot and went through a lot of different things. I think the biggest thing he preached to me was how to be a good pro and how to be consistent, that was the one thing he talked about a lot.”
This will not be a typical Montreal-Boston game, but it will be memorable.
Oilers continue to flounder past midway point
A year ago, the Edmonton Oilers and Connor McDavid were the talk of the NHL.
They finished in second place in the Pacific Division and won a tough playoff matchup with the veteran San Jose Sharks in six games before pushing the Anaheim Ducks to seven games in the second round.
The Oilers were one of the favorites – and clearly the trendy pick – to come out of the Western Conference and play for the Stanley Cup this year.
Those prognostications look like a joke right now as the Oilers rank 13th out of 15 Western Conference teams, and they would have to jump over five teams if they were to earn the last wild-card spot in the West.
The Oilers are 20-23-3 through 46 games after putting together a 47-26-9 mark in 2016-2017.
How can a team with McDavid, Leon Draisaitl, Milan Lucic, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Darnell Nurse and goalie Cam Talbot fall down the ladder so far?
The Oilers are 24th in scoring with 2.72 goals for per game and 25th in goals against with 3.17 goals allowed. Those two figures are fairly basic and tend to explain what is wrong.
But the bigger issues are McDavid and Talbot. McDavid was the leading scorer in the league last year with 100 points, 11 more than runners-up Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane. McDavid is 10th in scoring this year with 52 points, and while that isn’t bad, he is not leading the team to victories.
Talbot was a monster in the net last year with a 42-22-8 record, a 2.39 goals-against average and .919 save percentage. This year, Talbot has had a disastrous run, with a 16-16-2 mark, a 3.11 GAA and a .902 save percentage.
It may take something of a miracle for the Oilers to turn it around, and McDavid and Talbot will have to be the key performers.
Crawford may not be returning anytime soon
Corey Crawford has been the backbone of two Stanley Cup victories for the Chicago Blackhawks, and while Blackhawks’ fans have often been critical of his poor games, he has shown the ability to bounce back from allowing bad goals and the occasional poor game like few other goalies in NHL history.
He has been out of the Chicago lineup since Christmas with an “upper-body” injury, and head coach Joel Quenneville has not given any hints as to when Crawford might return or what is specifically wrong with him.
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet reported that Crawford is suffering from vertigo-like symptoms, and there is a chance that he may not be able to return this season.
Crawford has a 16-9-2 record with a 2.27 goals-against average, and .929 save percentage. Backups Anton Forsberg and Jeff Glass are struggling to fill in. Forsberg is 3-6-3 with a 2.92 GAA and a .911 save percentage. Glass is 3-21-, with a 3.18 GAA and a .910 save percentage.
The Blackhawks are going to have a difficult time making the playoffs if they don’t get Crawford back quickly.
The NHL trade deadline is rapidly approaching, and there could be a slew of players moved by the February 26 trade deadline.
The top prizes are defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson of the Arizona Coyotes and left wing Max Pacioretty of the Montreal Canadiens.
Second-tier players include Evander Kane of the Buffalo Sabres, Mike Hoffman of the Ottawa Senators, Mike Green of the Detroit Red Wings, and Jack Johnson of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
John Tavares remains a possibility because he will be a free agent at the end of the season, and Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk is looking for a huge contract extension. While it’s unlikely either one of those two will be moved, they could be offered if the Islanders and Maple Leafs can get a huge haul in return.