Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports

Bruins finally face Claude Julien's Canadiens tonight

Ty Anderson
January 13, 2018 - 4:01 pm

It’s been 25 days short of a full year since the Bruins fired Claude Julien, and 32 days short of a year since Julien took over as Montreal's head coach. 

But it's tonight that we'll see these former partners in crime clash for the first time. 

It's a meeting that surprisingly comes with little regret from the Black and Gold. 

Letting your franchise's all-time winningest coach walk across the border for nothing should have been dangerous and borderline indefensible given where the B's were as a franchise and how many pieces they had already let walk for zip, especially given the league’s new division-focused format. But it's actually been the perfect fix for this team. 

Obviously re-energized by the shake-up, the Bruins have gone 41-18-8 since Bruce Cassidy took over as the team’s head coach last February, which equates out to a 50-win and 110-point pace over an 82-game season. Their 90 points are the fifth-most over that span, too, and it’s obviously worth noting that the Bruins have played at least four fewer games than all four of the teams above them in the standings.

It’s been a different story for Julien’s Habs, though, who have recorded the 11th-fewest points in the NHL since Julien took over last Valentine’s Day, with 73 points in 66 games. That’s a 90-point pace over a full season, which as everybody in Boston can attest to, would likely be just short of playoff positioning. For what it’s worth, the Canadiens enter tonight’s game eight points short of the second wild card spot, and a staggering 13 points away from a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division (they’re complete toast there).  

Yet, maybe you throw that out the window when these coaches finally collide tonight.

Given the way it became undoubtedly personal towards the end of his time in Boston -- Julien felt that his roster needed more talent while management felt that Julien needed to coach a different way to adapt to an increasingly faster and skilled NHL -- Julien wants nothing more than to stick it to the Bruins. I mean, that should have been obvious to everyone when he signed a deal with their chief rival a week after getting fired instead of taking a year off from coaching to make subtle adjustments to his system. He clearly felt that his methods were fine, and it was that the B’s that simply couldn’t execute. Going to a team with the likes of Carey Price and Shea Weber was the best way to show the B's organization just that. 

So if there's one game Julien could coach and gameplan for above the rest, it would be tonight. 

At the same time, there are definitely players in that Boston room that would like to do the same and show the ex-Boston coach just how poorly he utilized their skills.

Ryan Spooner, a player that consistently caught grief from Julien, has three goals and nine points in his last 10 games, and has fully embraced life as a winger. This never seemed to be the case when Julien asked him to play wing last season. David Backes, a player Julien tried to force into a second-line right-wing spot with David Krejci (they honestly could not have had less chemistry), is thriving in a third-line role.

It goes beyond the misused, too.

Let’s be real: The final year of Julien really stripped the fun from this team and its players. They completely took on the personality of their coach and were an obviously tense, wound-up bunch that seemed ready to explode at any moment. They knew everything was going to go to hell and knock them out of postseason contention for the third year in a row, and that they were stuck in the mud. That all somehow changed overnight with Cassidy, and the aforementioned results have obviously told the story of what ailed this team. 

While I've done my part to explain the potential animosity between the parties in this game, Julien has declined to talk about his former team this week, saying that he doesn’t want to take the focus off his team, especially with points at an absolute premium.

Cassidy tried to take a similar approach following the B’s first practice back from a bye.

“At the end of the day, he’s got his team to worry about, I got mine. That’s where our focus is,” Cassidy said after Friday’s practice in Montreal. “We haven’t seen Montreal, so that’s the interesting part. It’s the middle of the season and you haven’t played a team in your division... that’s a little bit odd. But it’s always been a great rivalry.

“I’m actually looking forward to it.”

He’s most definitely not alone. But just who that benefits will be revealed around 9:30 p.m. tonight. 

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