Replacing Claude Julien with Bruce Cassidy behind the bench paid immediate dividends for the Boston Bruins. The real test begins Sunday night.
The Bruins, coming off an extended break, open the California portion of a four-game road trip against Brent Burns and the San Jose Sharks as the Pacific Division leaders look to get back on track at home.
Julien, the all-time wins leader of the Original Six club and a Stanley Cup winner, was fired by the Bruins on Feb. 7 and replaced with Cassidy, an assistant under Julien who previously spent five seasons coaching Boston’s top farm team.
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The early results are positive. Boston (29-23-6) improved to 3-0-0 under their new bench boss with a 4-0 victory Feb. 12 over the Montreal Canadiens, who fired coach Michel Therrien two days later and replace him with Julien for the second time.
Bruins defenseman Torey Krug said he appreciates Cassidy’s cerebral approach to the game.
“He’s so smart, and everything he does has a purpose, so I think whether it’s practice plans or trying to get the attention of a guy in the locker room, he does it with a purpose, and that’s going to be important for us moving forward,” Krug told the league’s official website upon Cassidy’s promotion.
Three days before the win over the Canadiens, Boston defeated San Jose 6-3 in Cassidy’s debut behind a season-high four points (goal, three assists) from Patrice Bergeron and two goals from David Pastrnak.
Bergeron and Pastrnak are two of five players to each record at least four points since the coaching change. Bergeron needs one assist to become the eighth player in team history with 400 assists.
However, the player who may have benefitted most from Cassidy’s promotion is David Krejci. He’s recorded a goal and four assists in the last three games after managing 34 points (13 goals, 21 assists) in his first 54 contests.
While the Bruins are perfect under Cassidy, they’ve managed only eight goals while dropping three of their last four at SAP Center.
Tuukka Rask is expected to start in goal and try to shake his recent struggles away from home. In his last four road games, Rask is 1-2-1 with a 4.18 goals-against average and .833 save percentage.
Playing in San Jose, he’s lost twice and stopped only 61 of 71 shots after blanking the Sharks on Jan. 11, 2014.
Though San Jose is 18-7-3 at home, it will try to avoid its fourth loss in five games in northern California. Despite the home ice slump, the Sharks (35-18-6) have a four-point lead over the Edmonton Oilers and six points more than the Anaheim Ducks.
The Sharks return home after Saturday’s 4-1 victory over the Arizona Coyotes thanks — again — to Burns as he recorded his 20th multi-point game of the season.
Burns scored twice, giving him 27 goals in 59 games to equal his career best set in 82 games in 2015-16. He will try to become the first defenseman with at least 28 goals since 2008-09 when Mike Green scored 31 with the Washington Capitals.
Burns also has 63 points — good for third in the league in scoring behind Sidney Crosby (64) of the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (67).
“He’s having an MVP season,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of Burns. “He’s been that good for us and it’s every night. … In my mind, he’s the best player in the league and we’re happy to have him on our team.”
No defenseman has won the Hart Trophy since the St. Louis Blues’ Chris Pronger in 1999-2000.
This may also be the final time that Joe Thornton gets to bedevil the franchise that selected him first overall in the 1997 draft.
Thronton registered at least one point in 10 of 14 career games versus the Bruins, with three goals and four assists during a five-game streak. With a helper Friday, Thornton has assists in four straight games as part of a six-game run.
The 37-year-old, who is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent this summer, needs two assists to become the 13th player to reach 1,000 for his career.
After rookie Aaron Dell stopped 36 shots Saturday, Martin Jones is expected to make his 50th start for San Jose.
Jones surrendered a career high-tying six goals in an overtime loss to the Florida Panthers on Wednesday. In the loss to Boston on Feb. 9, Jones was also lifted after allowing three first-period goals on 12 shots.